THE NATIONAL Security Strategy issued by the Trump administration Monday differs from those of previous presidents in some fundamental ways, as might be expected given President Trump’s transgressive nationalism and protectionism. It also differs from some of the policies the president himself has favored so far, especially with regard to Russia and China. That, too, might be taken as unsurprising, given the widely reported and mostly unsuccessful attempts by the president’s national security staff — the authors of the strategy — to reconcile his impulses with core U.S. foreign policy interests.
On the whole, the document may be a poor predictor of the administration’s actions — especially as the president, according to the chief national security spokesman, may not have read it. It nevertheless is worth reviewing as a marker of how far Mr. Trump’s administration is departing from its predecessors, and as a marker of what his top aides hope to persuade him to do.
Worth noting first is what is missing from the strategy, compared with those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. For the Trump administration, there is no threat from climate change; no commitment to promote democracy and human rights, other than by example; and no impetus to seek the reduction, much less the elimination, of nuclear weapons.
The Obama and Bush administration strategies saw free-trade deals as in the U.S. national interest; the Trump administration sees them as an instrument used by competitors to take advantage of America. The Trump plan further defines “porous borders” as a national security threat and predictably prescribes a wall as the solution. More surprisingly, it calls the growing national debt a “grave threat” to national security, even as Mr. Trump prepares to sign a tax bill that will add at least $1 trillion to that debt.
Even more jarring is the difference between the strategy’s treatment of Russia and China, and Mr. Trump’s actions thus far. The document portrays China and Russia as dangerous rivals who want to “shape a world antithetical to our interests and values.” But Mr. Trump so far has done little but heap praise on autocratic rulers Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. In a speech nominally meant to introduce the strategy, he instead exulted over a friendly phone call he had received from Mr. Putin.
The strategy praises U.S. alliances and reaffirms support for NATO, but in his speech Mr. Trump reiterated misguided claims that “immensely wealthy” allies had been “delinquent in . . . payment while we guarantee their safety.” The document says the United States will favor democracies over unfree states, but Mr. Trump has clashed more with the leaders of Britain and Germany than Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
In short, the new National Security Strategy is less a coherent policy framework than a strained justification of some of the president’s prejudices and an attempt to wish away others. Friends and foes of the United States trying to guess this administration’s next moves will have to keep following Mr. Trump’s tweets.