By Carlo Muñoz - 01/21/13 08:59 PM EST
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
The president otherwise provided little detail on what direction U.S. national security policy will take on the global stage, particularly against looming threats in the post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan world.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he wasn’t concerned the speech didn’t focus more on foreign policy. “No, I think it was really a mood-setter, and that’s what these speeches are all about, to get the country to share in that common view that we just have to work together,” Panetta said as he was leaving the inaugural luncheon.
The Obama administration is still facing several high-profile national security concerns.
Despite enacting economic and political sanctions, Washington is still no closer to forcing Iran to back off its nuclear enrichment program.
Obama has consistently maintained the White House will pursue a political solution to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, despite protests from regional powers like Israel and others inside the Beltway who are calling for a harder line against Iran.
However, the president and the Pentagon have been adamant that a military option to dismantle Iran's nuclear efforts, which many claim will put the country on the path to a nuclear weapon, remains on the table.
While the administration has touted the fact that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere have decimated the core leadership of al Qaeda, the terror group's forceful reemergence in Africa could draw the United States into a protracted engagement on the continent.
The group's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, has begun to ally itself with other Islamic militant factions inside Africa, including the Somali-based al Shabab and the terror group known as Boko Haram operating in Nigeria.
Last September, four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during an assault by extremists against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
On Monday, the State Department confirmed four Americans were among the foreign hostages killed in Algeria, when local forces attempted to take back a BP-owned oil refinery overrun by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in the country.
Escalating violence in the nearly two-year-old civil war in Syria by rebels looking to overthrow longtime president Bashar Assad threatens to destabilize the Mideast, creating a powder keg of anti-American sentiment fueled by extremists groups looking to fill the power vacuum in the country.
— Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.