National Security Fever At The White House
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
**Comments courtesy of Peter Feaver of FP.com**