President Obama's national security strategy looks beyond military might

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Military superiority is not enough to maintain U.S. strength and influence in the world, and the United States must build global institutions and expand international partnerships beyond its traditional allies, according to a new national security strategy prepared by the Obama administration.

Maintaining U.S. global leadership will also depend on a strong domestic economy and a commitment to "education, clean energy, science and technology, and a reduced federal deficit," the White House said in talking points summarizing the strategy document, which is scheduled for formal release Thursday.

The new doctrine represents a clear break with the unilateral military approach advocated by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bush tempered that doctrine toward the end of his presidency, but the Obama doctrine offers a far broader definition of national security.

While military advantage will remain "a cornerstone of our national defense and an anchor of global security," the strategy calls for "new partnerships with emerging centers of influence" and a "push for institutions that are more capable of responding to the challenges of our times," the summary said. At home, the strategy recognizes "American innovation . . . as a leading source of American power."

The report is the first President Obama has prepared under a 1986 law that requires the president to present Congress with an annual strategic statement. Most administrations have only sporadically adhered to the requirement; George W. Bush issued two national security strategies during his presidency, in 2002 and 2006.

The document serves to set administration priorities inside the government and communicate them to Congress, the American people and the world. It also is intended as a framework for strategy documents produced by other parts of the government, including the Pentagon's national defense strategy.

Reiterating international engagement and collaboration as a first resort against national security threats, themes that Obama has emphasized throughout his 16 months in office, the strategy emphasizes his commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and combating climate change. Obama previewed elements of the document Saturday, when he told the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., that "America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation."

In a choreographed series of events, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will discuss the diplomatic elements of the doctrine in a speech Thursday, while James L. Jones, Obama's national security adviser, will explain the strategy at the Foreign Press Club.

On Wednesday, John O. Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, discussed homeland security elements, saying the document "explicitly recognizes the threat to the United States posed by individuals radicalized here at home."

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan described a "new phase" in al-Qaeda tactics, one in which individuals who do not fit the "traditional profile" attempt to carry out relatively unsophisticated attacks. He cited the Nigerian suspect in the failed Christmas Day airliner bomb attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani American who allegedly parked a car bomb in Times Square this month.

"As our enemy adapts and evolves their tactics," Brennan said, "so must we constantly adapt and evolve ours, not in a mad rush driven by fear, but in a thoughtful and reasoned way that enhances our security and further delegitimizes the actions of our enemy."

Implicitly rejecting the antiterrorism rhetoric of the Bush administration, Brennan said that "our enemy is not terrorism, because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror, because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear."

"Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists," Brennan said, because use of these religious terms would "play into the false perception" that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are "religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers."

"The United States is at war," he said. "We are at war against al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates."

The administration "will take the fight" to the extremists "wherever they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond," he said, but "will exercise force prudently, recognizing that we often need to use a scalpel and not a hammer."

"When we know of terrorists who are plotting against us, we have a responsibility to take action to defend ourselves, and we will do so," Brennan said. "At the same time, an action that eliminates a single terrorist but causes civilian casualties can, in fact, inflame local populations and create far more problems -- a tactical success but a strategic failure."

Even as the United States strengthens internal and international defenses, American values and resilience remain the primary U.S. weapons, he said.

"Terrorists may try to bring death to our cities, but it is our choice to either uphold the rule of law or chip away at it . . . to either respond wisely and effectively or lash out in ways that inflame entire regions and stoke the fires of violent extremism. That is our choice. And with the strategy we are releasing tomorrow, President Obama and the administration offers our answer."

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