Obama redefines national security strategy, looks beyond military might

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 4:46 PM

In a broad redefinition of U.S. strategic priorities, President Obama has said that the United States must revitalize its economic, moral and innovative strength if it is to continue to lead the world.

Just as it did after World War II, the United States today must shape an international order and system of global institutions that reflect a 21st-century reality in which "America's greatness is not assured," Obama says in a 52-page "National Security Strategy" released Thursday morning.

"As we fight the wars in front of us, we must see the horizon beyond them," he writes in an introduction to the document. "To get there, we must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership -- a strategy that rebuilds the foundation of American strength and influence."

The report is the first that Obama has prepared under a 1986 law requiring 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.

Obama's new doctrine represents a clear break with the unilateral military approach advocated by his predecessor after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush tempered that guidance toward the end of his presidency, but the Obama strategy offers "a broad concept of what constitutes our national security," the document says.

Military superiority must be maintained and "the United States remains the only nation able to project and sustain large-scale military operations over extended distances," the document says. But "when we overuse our military might, or fail to invest in or deploy complementary tools, or act without partners," it says, "then our military is overstretched. Americans bear a greater burden, and our leadership around the world is too narrowly identified with military forces."

The strategy cites four "enduring national interests" that are "inextricably linked:" security, prosperity, values and international order.

"One of the things we really wanted to do is to have this document represent the appropriate context of our times," Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said in an interview.

Reiterating international engagement and collaboration as first options 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 Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the diplomatic elements of the doctrine in a speech at the Brookings Institution, while James L. Jones, Obama's national security adviser, was to explain the strategy later at the Foreign Press Club.

"We are in a race between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration, and we see that every day," Clinton said. "In a world like this, American leadership isn't needed less; it's actually needed more. And the simple fact is that no significant global challenge can be met without us."

At the same time, she added, the United States needs partners to help it tackle common problems. "Leadership means . . . building the coalitions that can produce results against those shared challenges. It means providing incentives for states who are part of the solution, whether they recognize it or not, enabling them and encouraging them to live up to responsibilities that even a decade ago they would never have thought were theirs, and disincentives for those who do not," she said.

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 people 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," Brennan 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 . . . President Obama and the administration offers our answer."

The administration, the strategy document says, will "do everything in our power to prevent these dangers . . . [but] we also recognize that we will not be able to deter or prevent every single threat. That is why we must also enhance our resilience -- the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for, withstand and rapidly recover from disruption."

The document repeats Obama's pledge to close the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo, Cuba, but offers no new details on how and when that will happen. It renews the administration's commitment to "bring terrorists to justice . . . in line with the rule of law and due process" and called for "durable legal approaches consistent with our security and our values."

The strategy restates familiar administration policy on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Iran and North Korea, and reiterates that "our relationship with our European allies remains the cornerstone for U.S. engagement with the world." It nods to strong U.S. partnerships with Asian powers, including Japan and South Korea, and Canada and Mexico as hemispheric allies.

It briefly mentions Israel, citing the importance of maintaining a "strong partnership" and supporting Israel's "lasting integration" into the Middle East. But in the same paragraph, it says that the United States "also will continue to develop our key security relationships in the region" with Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

A central part of administration strategy, the document says, is expanding U.S. engagement with "other key centers of influence -- including China, India and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia." It notes a previously announced shift in U.S. focus from the Group of Eight industrialized nations to the Group of 20 as "the premier forum for international economic cooperation."

The strategy concludes on a somewhat wistful note, saying that both domestic and international progress will depend on "broad and bipartisan cooperation" whose absence "places the United States at a strategic disadvantage."

"Throughout the Cold War, even as there were intense disagreements about certain courses of action, there remained a belief that America's political leaders shared common goals, even if they differed about how to reach them," it says. "In today's political environment, due to the actions of both parties, that sense of common purpose is at times lacking in our national security dialogue."

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