IR TOs WH NSS
Most in the international relations community are not amused by the president's National Security Strategy.
The reaction from the international relations community to President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, presumably the last of his term of office, has been overwhelmingly negative. James has already written several articles critiquing it and links to them here, here, and here.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s reactions are pretty typical:
Former Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn blasted the Obama administration’s national security strategy on Sunday, describing it as too narrowly focused on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We need a much broader strategy that recognizes that we’re facing not just this tactical problem of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Flynn, who retired last year as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We’re facing a growing, expanding threat around the world,” Flynn said, noting that terrorist threats have doubled in the Middle East and Africa.
Of course, if you are like most Americans, you won’t ever read it at all. Which is just as well. Along with being devoid of strategy, the document is also devoid of surprises or new ideas. That could be because its focus is not, as would be the case in a real strategic planning document, the future. Instead, it is the past. This document is really a brief filed by the president in defense of his record to date.
To be fair, most documents like this read like brochures. (Although thanks to its language and its focus, this one has more the feel of the annual report of a really big NGO than it does an official planning document of the most powerful nation the earth has ever known.)
The Obama administration released its National Security Strategy last Friday, shepherded by the National Security Courtier, Susan Rice. Even by the increasingly mediocre standards for this exercise the administration managed to hit a new low for vapid superficiality, muddled thought and brazen political appeals to Democratic Party special interest groups, notably the gay lobby and environmental activists.
In an interview at RT, Larry Johnson declaims:
I used to be a college professor. This reminds me of a poorly prepared term paper by a desperate student who hadn’t properly prepared for the exam. This thing is a mess.
One Democratic lawmaker went so far as to refer to it as a “stump speech”.
Not all of the reaction has been negative, however. Thomas Wright of Brookings finds a lot to praise:
But, in this document, the White House is also making it clear that it does not want to be defined by the return of geopolitics. It rejects the notion that the future of the order is at a hinge point. It sees many of these crises as immediate but not likely to define the next decade. It does not identify stark strategic choices that the United States must choose between.
So what is there instead? The first section, on security, focuses on homeland security, terrorism, conflict prevention, non-proliferation, climate change (which it calls “an urgent and growing threat to our national security”) access to shared spaces (maritime, air, cyber, and space), and global health. These are the transnational and largely shared challenges of our time. This is how the document begins and it clearly is what matters most to the president. It implies continuity with where the president began in January 2009.
This document is a valuable and thoughtful contribution to the discourse. I am much more in the first camp than the second, but this is a debate that needed to happen and has now truly begun.
John Feffer of LobeLog sees it as a continuation of the approaches and goals articulated in the president’s 2010 NSS:
The 2015 National Security Strategy is not a home run. It doesn’t really try to be. The 2010 document attempted to outline a strategic approach based on “the world as it is.” This latest version dispenses with this strategy chapter and, after the requisite introduction, dives straight into the thematic discussion. This deliberate avoidance of grand strategy reflects Obama’s preference for the trees over the forest but also an administration chastened by the reversal of the “reset” with Russia, the end of the “new beginning” with the Muslim world, the breakdown in the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the stalled progress toward a nuclear-weapons-free world, and other policy disappointments.
This is a theme underscored by Michael Noonan:
President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy reiterates the 2010 vision that the United States’ enduring interests are:
The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners;
A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity;
Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and
A rules-based international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.
Dr. Feffer (ibid.) continues:
The strategy document makes sure to appeal to virtually every constituency. There’s an unambiguous focus on climate change, but energy companies will warm to the section on ensuring America’s energy independence. The part on values could appeal to neoconservative advocates of democracy promotion as well as social liberals working on LGBT rights. And for everyone who urges the president to steer clear of global affairs because “it’s the economy, stupid,” the document takes pains to link the economic strength of the United States to its ability to maintain leadership in the world.
The document, in other words, understands national security broadly.
He is, however, not without criticism:
But the big missing piece in the latest National Security Strategy, which will be Obama’s last one, is any sense of how the United States and the world as a whole can afford to address the wide range of challenges—not only IS and traditional security threats, but also climate change, pandemics, and gross inequality—when the United States and its partners are committed to pouring resources into the usual panoply of tanks, fighter jets, and drones. The Obama administration’s preference for both/and instead of the hard either/or choices comes up against the problem of limited resources. Even a superpower can’t maintain dominance in every domain and also effectively address big-ticket items like climate change, not to mention all the other bullet points on Obama’s wish list. Though the 2015 National Security Strategy skimps on grand strategy, its major shortcoming is its failure to assess the real cost of leadership.