President Obama released his blueprint last week for pursuing a new world order that offers no compelling vision to guide the ship of state. Rather it dangerously shifts our military’s focus from counterterrorism to nation building and subordinates aspects of our foreign policy to international organizations like the United Nations.
The 2010 National Security Strategy outlines Obama’s strategic approach and priorities for advancing American interests. Obama’s report, which is supposed to be submitted to Congress 150 days after the beginning of the administration, provides a bleak assessment of our current state, abandons key parts of President Bush’s security strategy and identifies Obama’s vision for a new world order with no new approaches.
Obama’s assessment of the current strategic environment is bleak. “We live in a time of sweeping change where events far beyond our shores impact the safety, security, and prosperity of Americans,” Obama writes.
His strategy calls for strengthening “our military’s capacity to partner with foreign counterparts, train and assist security forces, pursue military-to-military ties with more governments.” This means he will refocus military priorities away from more traditional war-fighting to nation building. Preparing other nations to defend themselves has merit but that mission shouldn’t sap scarce resources from more important missions.
Obama’s nation building plan is a whole of government effort. He intends to assemble a civilian expeditionary capacity to join the military in nation building as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps instead of sending that force to places like Sudan they ought to go to Louisiana to help clean-up the oil or to Arizona to guard our border.
He also states the risk of nuclear attack has increased since the Cold War and nuclear dangers continue to proliferate. We no longer fight wars over ideology, Obama explains, but “over religious, ethnic and tribal identity.” Inequality and economic instability have intensified and “the international architecture of the 20th Century is buckling under the weight of the new threats.”
President Obama’s strategy discards significant parts of his predecessor’s blueprint. He repudiates the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption by rejecting “the false choice” of “an endless campaign to impose our values.” This was a backhanded comment regarding Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
He drops the concept of the global war on terrorism, arguing we are not waging a “global war against a tactic—terrorism—or a religion—Islam,” but a “war with al Qaeda.”
He also drops the use of the term “radical Islam” or “jihad” because as his spokesman explained, we don’t want “to validate the perception that Islam somehow justifies their violent actions.”
Obama restates his intent to close the prison for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His spokesman argues the prison serves “as a recruitment and propaganda tool for terrorists” and endangers “our troops when they are captured” which has never been proven. An administration spokesman argues that moving enemy combatants to an Illinois prison—the proposed replacement site for Guantanamo—will cut our costs in half. However, he fails to mention the legal and terror threat implications associated with that move.
The President reaffirms his prohibition for “torture,” which allegedly some American interrogators used on al Qaeda suspects, including waterboarding the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Obama claims such methods of interrogation “are not effective means of obtaining information” and they serve as a recruitment and propaganda tool for terrorists. He offers no proof for either claim.
Obama introduces his strategy with dreamy rhetoric that calls for Americans to “see the horizon beyond” our current situation to a world in which “America is stronger.” He calls for “a strategy of national renewal and global leadership” that rebuilds the foundation of “American strength and influence.” But his strategy is mostly generalities and devoid of substance.
Obama’s strategy puts America at the center of the world from which he intends to manipulate our international engagements to address global challenges. He promises to be “steadfast in strengthening old alliances” and expand cooperation with 21st Century centers of influence, such as Russia, China and India. His plan calls for building “deeper partnerships in every region,” and strengthening international institutions like the United Nations and the G-20, the top 20 economic nations, to be more capable of responding to challenges.
The blueprint outlines elements that advance America’s interests. On security he seeks to end the war in Iraq, defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates, and stop the spread of nuclear and biological weapons. He seeks a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution and a broader engagement with Muslim communities to “spur progress on critical political and security matters.”
He wants to advance our prosperity by reducing dependence on foreign oil and our cutting our budget deficit. He promises to spend taxpayer money wisely and get our allies to share more of the security burden.
Advancing a just and sustainable international order is an Obama priority. That includes expanding cooperation with nations like Russia, with which we have “reset” relations and pursuing international effort to combat climate change, beginning with the Copenhagen Accord.
But Obama provides little detail on how he intends to realize his global vision. His intentions for our military and engagement with international organizations are revealing and troubling.
“Our armed forces will always be a cornerstone of our security,” Obama writes. Then he outlines plans to “rebalance” our military’s capabilities. He wants our forces to excel at counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and stability operations. Those missions fit the current wars—Iraq and Afghanistan—but not the possible high-intensity conflicts against a near peer competitor like China. Obama promises “We will monitor China’s military modernization program and prepare accordingly to ensure that U.S. interests … are not negatively affected.”
Obama’s plan is to fight the last war over again—terrorism and insurgencies—an option the American people should reject. We need a “rebalanced” armed force that can field a credible full spectrum capability to respond to future challenges from counterterrorism to high-intensity conflicts, and helping others should be part of that strategy.
Obama’s blueprint also calls for significant engagement with international institutions. He naively hopes to galvanize collective international institutional action to resolve the most pressing challenges of our times.
He argues past administrations have engaged organizations like the United Nations “on an ad hoc basis.” He intends to strengthen institutions like the United Nations to “face their imperfections head on and to mobilize transnational cooperation.” Obama is right about the UN’s “imperfections” but it is not the place to mobilize cooperation, at least for America. The UN has proven to be a corrupt anti-Western arena for the world’s malcontents to waste our money on radical and inefficient programs.
“We need a UN capable of fulfilling its founding purpose—maintaining international peace and security,” Obama writes in his strategy. He says “we are enhancing our coordination with the UN … [and] paying our bills,” a dig at former administrations which fell behind on UN contributions. He also promises to help reform the organization’s “overall performance, credibility and legitimacy.” Rather than “enhancing our coordination with the UN,” we ought to distance ourselves from the world body and strengthen alliances elsewhere.
President Obama’s strategic blueprint is devoid of new approaches to solving our nation’s international issues and showing a clear military strategy that ensures our sovereignty. It’s full of rhetoric and little substance with which to guide the ship of state.