The administration plans to avoid operations that will cause civilian casualties and wants to work with partners in its operations.
Use of force will be part of a larger strategy to deal with instability and hostility. Obama discussed strategies for promoting democratic governance and economic development and fostering U.S. engagement around the world.
The president also raised the unpopular topic of foreign aid, presenting it not as charity but as a means of national security. It amounts to less than 1% of the national a budget but is integral to fighting terrorism, he said.
"For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists," he said.
Republican: Obama speech 'a victory' for terrorists
Several Republicans panned Obama's speech.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized the idea of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and said, "The president's policies signal a retreat from the threat of al Qaeda."
"The Obama administration's return to a pre-9/11 counterterrorism mindset puts American lives at risk," the Texas Republican said. "This war will continue whether the president acknowledges it or not."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said that announcing plans to close the facility "sends the message to ... detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen."
"The president's speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory," Chambliss said.
But at least one Republican, Sen. John McCain, pledged that he'd work with Obama and his administration.
"In light of the president's speech today, we will pledge our willingness to work with (Obama) to see that Guantanamo Bay is closed," said the Arizona Republican.
The reproaches didn't only come from the right.
The American Civil Liberties Union's leader -- even as he cheered plans to close the Guantanamo prison and allow for more oversight on drone strikes -- criticized "still insufficient transparency" regarding drones, what he called "unconstitutional military commissions" and the lack of what he'd call a "clear plan" to end "indefinite detention."
"President Obama's efforts to repair his legacy in the eyes of future historians will require that he continue to double down if he is to fully restore this nation's standing at home and abroad," Anthony Romero said in a statement.