Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

National Security Fever At The White House

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on May 29, 2010

For political nerds like myself, the release of the National Security Strategy is a spectacle akin to the Superbowl for sports fans; we wait for an exceedingly long time while pretending to be experts in what the final matchup is going to be.  And just like sports fans who hope and pray that the Superbowl will be an exciting and momentous event for American sports culture, national-security specialists (and students of national security thank you very much) expect the NSS to be a document with far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign policy.  We assume all too often that a new president will automatically denounce the policies of the past and replace them with a new vision for the future.

But just like football fans who desire a close, nitty-gritty game to the last minute, we are usually disappointed with the entire process.  We may want a memorable match or a revolutionary transition in foreign policy, but our hopes rarely come to fruition.  Fans sit in their living rooms and roll their eyes at a halftime blowout, and political bloggers sit down at their computers and scratch their heads about why they were so excited in the first place.

Such is the case with President Obama’s first ever National Security Strategy, which was released yesterday to thousands of eager onlookers in press rooms, universities, and congressional offices across the country.  And to the surprise of many who thought that the Prez would lambaste the unilateralism and toughness of the Bush years in this document, the 2010 NSS revealed almost the exact opposite: a pragmatic and realistic report both supportive of the past and representative of the future.

The Obama administration does take a few shots at former President Bush for his reliance on American military might with phrases like, “the burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” which is a direct reference to Bush’s tendency in steering the world ship in America’s direction.  And of course, there are some pointed complains about America’s previous distancing from international institutions and multilateral partnerships more broadly (the President considers rebuilding alliances as one of the four key pillars of his strategy).

Other than that, the 2010 NSS is a lot like previous ones under the Bush and Clinton administrations.  Political extremism, terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, and failed states are all viewed by this president in much the same fashion: dangerous to U.S. national interests and global security.  Promoting democracy and human rights around the world is still regarded as a primary responsibility for the United States…demonstrating once again that “American exceptionalism” is still largely at play in Washington.  And you only need to read the first few pages to grasp the maintained importance of American values in U.S. national security (a.k.a.  “the success of free nations, open markets, and social progress”).

These goals seem right on par with what every president since George Washington has sought to accomplish, doesn’t it?  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, in many ways it shows that the United States is consistent in its aims and rational in its demands.  On the other hand, it also exemplifies the long standing tradition in Washington of putting change in a secondary position.  Most lawmakers hardly want to step outside their comfort zone (that could cost reelection! *sarcasm added*).

But history aside, the most important outcome of this new NSS is its very existence.  Rather than blindly sailing in whichever direction the wind blows- as the President has done in my view over the past 18 months- the Obama administration now has a concrete document to work with.

Certainly, presidents rarely follow their stated goals word for word.  And the world has a funny way of ambushing us at the most inconvenient times, just when we’re used to the way things are being handled (like before September 11, when most of us thought that the United States was invincible from any challenge and capable of scaring our enemies into outright submission).  But at least the NSS gives the White House a sense of coherence in an otherwise confusing global environment.  And at least the public now has something to hold the administration accountable for.

For some more reactions, click here, here, here, here, oh…and here.  Or you could be a real worker and read the entire strategy (although I don’t recommend that option unless you want your eyes to fall out).

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Peter Feaver of FP.com**


4 Responses

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  1. Lal Qila said, on May 29, 2010 at 2:26 am

    No-Change-Obama is Bush in sheep’s clothing
    He is continuing Bush’s illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    He is even expanding the war in Pakistan with his daily arm chair assassins manning the drones killing the innocent women and children.
    He is letting Hindoo India get away with mass graves of Kashmiris found there.
    He is letting Jew Israel continue to annex Palestinian lands and demolish Palestinian homes for one lame excuse or the other whilst building and expanding illegal Jew only settlements in Occupied Palestine.
    He is like Bush The Stupid; he is like Clinton The Intellectually Bankrupt; he is like Bush the Elder; he is like Reagen the Old Fool.
    He is not like Carter.
    No-Change-Obama is just another cog in the maddening strange people that America produces as “leaders”.

  2. Zathras said, on May 29, 2010 at 2:27 am

    The contextual foundation of any comparison between the last administration’s National Security Strategy documents and that of the Obama administration is that the former was produced under a President who left the international position of the United States vastly worse than he found it, getting many fine Americans killed in the process, while the latter is a statement on behalf of the President charged with trying to repair some of the damage.
    The closest Peter Feaver ever comes to addressing this context, or even to acknowledging it, is to complain about “cheap shots.” In the Shadow Government dialect of English,a cheap shot is any criticism whatever of the substantive record of the Bush administration. If this definition is incomplete at all, it may be because references to the many policy disasters produced or worsened through the agency of Vice President Cheney and his office and contained through the Herculean efforts of other Bush administration officials are also considered “cheap shots.”
    In any event, the Bush administration’s record is not defended, or even extolled; its former officials here instead invite readers to simply ignore it, take the Bush NSS documents out of their context, and evaluate Obama’s NSS in terms of what Shadow Government writers think the Bush NSS might mean in the abstract. As an academic exercise this is, well, an academic exercise — suitable perhaps for people with tenure and time to kill.
    As a purported contribution to serious policy discussion at a time when America’s position in the world is under great strain, very largely because of the last President’s incompetence and the manifold failings of his key associates, it is well over the line into the contemptible.

    • Anonymous10 said, on May 29, 2010 at 2:28 am

      Posted by Christopher Preble, cato-at-liberty.org, May 27, 2010
      “The key theme that the Obama administration wants us to take away from the National Security Strategy (PDF) is ‘burden sharing.’ The United States, the document explains, can no longer afford to be the world’s sole policeman. We need capable and willing partners to preserve global peace and prosperity. These are valid concerns. Unfortunately, the Obama administration lacks a vision for addressing them. In geopolitics, as in life, actions speak louder than words. So long as the United States spends nearly as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, and so long as it deploys its military in ways that discourage other countries from defending themselves, Americans will continue to shoulder the burdens of policing the planet.”

  3. Acnonpro said, on May 29, 2010 at 2:28 am

    The continuity is striking.

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