National security strategy with a progressive twist

The Obama administration’s new 2010 National Security Strategy—unveiled on May 27—is getting good reviews, plus some caveats, from progressive organizations. “The plan is grounded in core progressive foreign policy principles that stand in sharp contrast to mainstream conservative doctrine,” wrote Brian Katulis, of the Center for American Progress.

Leaders of the National Security Network (NSN) agree. “Rather than addressing…challenges through radical doctrines or ideologies, the President’s pillars rest on a return to the best and most sustainable tradition of post-World War II American foreign policy,” says the group on its website. “While there remains work to be done, the administration has made concrete and meaningful progress towards addressing the security challenges of the 21st century.”

At The Nation, columnist Robert Dreyfus notes that, “The best thing about Obama’s new strategy is that the president recognizes that national security starts at home, and he stresses the importance of a strong economy, education, technological innovation, and the search for clean energy as key to American power in the new century.”

Dreyfus goes on to wonder whether the new strategy, which sounds good on paper, is “real or rhetoric.” He notes, too, that some already-in-play tactics—such as expanding the war in Afghanistan, falling short on withdrawal from Iraq, and authorizing more covert operations around Iran—may be de facto contradictions to the high-minded policy announced on May 27.  For its part, the National Security Network, looking at the newly formalized policy in the context of actual accomplishments to date, cites a number of areas in which progress has already taken place.  Overall, progressive commentators seem hopeful, and at least grateful to see, in writing, policies that are distinctly different from those of the Bush administration.

Significantly, the 2010 NSS breaks with the Bush administration’s policy of pre-emptive war. In addition, the strategy breaks new ground by including “homegrown” terrorism as an emerging threat not included in the official strategies of previous administrations.

So, specifically, what’s in this brave new strategy that makes it appealing to progressives? Here’s a look at some key sections, as reported and interpreted by NSN. [Some quotes are from President Obama’s introduction to the new policy at his commencement address at West Point.] You decide:

What the 2010 National Security Strategy says about security:

“This Administration has no greater responsibility than protecting the American people. Furthermore, we embrace America’s unique responsibility to promote international security-a responsibility that flows from our commitments to allies, our leading role in supporting a just and sustainable international order, and our unmatched military capabilities.”

In practical terms, says the National Security Network, this policy means:

  • Broadening our understanding of security
  • Anticipating 21st Century threats
  • Disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and its violent extremist affiliates
  • Reducing the threat of nuclear weapons
  • Increasing cooperation with international partners
  • Building strong partners
  • Correcting course in the wars

What the 2010 National Security Strategy says about prosperity

“Our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home… Simply put, American innovation must be a foundation of American power.  Because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy.”

“The foundation of American leadership must be a prosperous American economy. And a growing and open global economy serves as a source of opportunity for the American people and a source of strength for the United States.”

The challenges presented by this aspect of the National Security Strategy, by National Security Network:

  • To project influence abroad, the U.S. must tend to the sources of American strength at home.\
  • Leading the way out of the global financial crisis
  • Investing in a clean energy economy
  • Strengthening America’s infrastructural backbone
  • Preparing for tomorrow’s world through investment in education and innovation
  • Securing the well-being of Americans through comprehensive health-care reform

2010 National Security Strategy on international order

“[W]e  have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation. We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by [our] side in Afghanistan and around the globe.  As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.  This engagement is not an end in itself.  The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times…”

“Even though many defining trends of the 21st century affect all nations and peoples, too often, the mutual interests of nations and peoples are ignored in favor of suspicion and self-defeating competition.  What is needed, therefore, is a realignment of national actions and international institutions, with shared interests.”

Interpretation, by National Security Network:

  • America must shape the 21st century, not resist it
  • Rebalancing and reviving global economic governance
  • Redefining diplomacy on the nuclear agenda
  • Re-engaging the United Nations
  • Engaging through regional organizations

2010 National Security Strategy on values:

“A fundamental part of our strategy is America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding.  We will promote these values above all by living them -through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard.

“The United States believes certain values are universal and will work to promote them worldwide… The United States was founded upon a belief in these values. At home, fidelity to these values has extended the promise of America ever more fully, to ever more people.  Abroad, these values have been claimed by people of every race, region, and religion… And nations that embrace these values for their citizens are ultimately more successful – and friendly to the United States – than those that do not.”

Translation, by National Security Network

  • America’s strength and resilience is based on living in accordance with the values we were founded upon.
  • Combating terrorism by bringing terrorists to justice
  • Limiting executive privilege and increasing transparency
  • Recognizing Congress as a co-equal branch of government
  • Reestablishing America’s commitment to human rights

2010 National Security Strategy on broadening of capabilities

“As we build these sources of strength, the second thing we must do is build and integrate the capabilities that can advance our interests, and the common interests of human beings.  We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts; and development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves.”

“To succeed, we must update, balance and integrate all of the tools of American power and work with our allies and partners to do the same.”

What this means, by National Security Network:

  • Advancing American interests depends on all elements of national power, not just military
  • Restoring the neglected instruments of American power: Diplomacy and development
  • Adopting a 21st century approach to resourcing the military
  • Improving the safety and resilience of the homeland

As with all broad policy statements issued by presidents, it will take time and close observation to determine if lofty ideals match real-world activities.