"Our strategy goes beyond meeting the challenges of today, and includes preventing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of tomorrow." No, this is not from my poetry-album. This cookie-fortune strategic wisdom for the future is from the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States. I realised today that I have written a couple of times about just how much I anticipated Obama's NSS and that now it is published I haven't lost a single word about it. So this might certainly not come as a surprise to you, but your humble blogger was a bit disappointed by it. And here is why:
1. I do know that the NSS is an official document by the White House and will openly be scrutinised. So I do not expect a document totally about stratgy. But the NSS is not even attempting to formulate a strategy. It is not even a statement of principles. It openly advocates an utopia. It is not even about the priorities the United States have. It is about the United States being the most important global power and remaining just that by, well, by doing things.
You might ask for an example. Well, how about defeating al-Qaida, which by the way is the only moment where the NSS at least tries to be specific. So here we go: "We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida and its affiliates through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, stengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a brankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity." How will that work, you ask? Well, among other things, we will be "establishing new practices to counter evolving adversaries." Will we always be looking for a United Nations Security Council-mandate when we do so, you want to know? Maybe, because our position is that we will be seeking broad international support by "working with such institutions as NATO ad the U.N. Security Council."
Let us shift back to President George W. Bush for a moment, who was more outspoken when it came to the underlying rationale of his NSS. Claiming that "America is at War", the Bush-administration put forward a strategy that claimed to be in line with the legacies of Ronald Reagan and perhaps more importantly Harry Truman. In his strategy Iran, for instance, was not simply following a different path, which it could abandon easily and at any time. Bush understood that Iran threatened U.S. interests not only because of its WMD-programme, but more so because it was a tyranny. The 2006-NSS clearly stated that the survival of liberty at home increasingly depended on the survival of liberty abroad. In doing so it recognised that the ultimate liberty was freedom and it was in that notion that the GWOT was a war of ideas. One does not need to agree with that, but it was in itself a comprehensive understanding of what drove the world and its conflicts.
2. The NSS is wishful thinking at its best. It is not before page 43 that the relationship with China is explicitly mentioned. Which is fascinating since much of the first fourty pages were spent describing the "World As It Is". Well, in the perception of the White House, the world as it is, is not really about the rise of others, as Fareed Zakaria once put it. Instead it is about the US underpinning the international order. How that is supposed to work when China is the world's leading exporting nation is a question you might want to ask. But do not look for an answer in the NSS.
3. To top it all: now that the United States is about to do anything everywhere, the White House considered it to be a good time to talk about spending. Because, well, with such a deficit U.S. power will not underpin the international order forever. So, we are going to cut spending. It is here, where the reader finally has to realise that this isn't so much a strategy as it is one of Obama's lofty speeches. Which might also explain why all of a sudden expanding health care is part of the national security narrative. Next time, let us do something really bold: let us establish world peace. Since proclaiming it is the better part of valor, we can do that, right?