I’m with my former boss, Les Gelb, who complains that President Obama’s new National Security Strategy is essentially a grab bag of concerns that don’t amount to a coherent strategy. This is evident from the opening letter attached to it under the president’s name:
Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop the clean energy that can power new industry, unbind us from foreign oil, and preserve our planet. We must pursue science and research that enables discovery, and unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the surface of the moon and the microchip were a century ago. Simply put, we must see American innovation as a foundation of American power.
This isn’t necessarily wrong, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps finding a new judge to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol is vital to the continued strength of American soft power. By Obama’s reasoning, every facet of American society can be said to have some connection with American policy abroad.
There is much more about domestic policy in this document — as there is about every aspect of foreign policy. There are lines that gladden the heart of more hawkish commentators (like me), including a commitment to “maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades”; a ringing endorsement of democracy promotion (“our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world”); and a vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”
Naturally, there is even more to gladden the hearts of liberals, including a call for “comprehensive engagement,” a commitment “to engage and modernize international institutions and frameworks,” and to “pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”
This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also entails talk of “strengthening international norms against corruption” and “pursuing a comprehensive global health strategy.”
This is, I suppose, what happens when every branch of government gets to weigh in while such a document is being drafted. But it is possible to do something different. Love it or hate it, the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 was a truly innovative and influential document that will be long remembered for declaring the need for preventative action against aggressors and terrorists. Eight years later, I can still recalls some of its lines: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology” and “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”
There is no such intellectual groundbreaking in the Obama document, which is, as Peter Feaver notes, more than anything a continuation, with some slight adjustments, of the National Security Strategy produced by the Bush administration in its second term.
You remember that Bush National Security Strategy of 2006, don’t you? No? You don’t? Well I suspect you won’t remember the Obama strategy of 2010 either.