The Obama administration recently unveiled a new national security doctrine that would join diplomatic engagement and economic discipline with military power to bolster America’s standing in the world.
Striking a contrast to the Bush-era emphasis on going it alone, President Barack Obama’s strategy called for expanding partnerships beyond traditional US allies to encompass rising powers like China and India in order to share the international burden.
Faced with a struggling economy and record deficits, the administration also acknowledged that boosting economic growth and getting the US fiscal house in order must be core national security priorities.
“At the center of our efforts is a commitment to renew our economy, which serves as the wellspring of American power,” the wide-ranging policy statement said.
Obama’s first official declaration of national security goals, due to be released in full later on Thursday, pointedly omitted predecessor George W. Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war that alienated some US allies.
Laying out a vision for keeping America safe as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the document formalized Obama’s intent to emphasize multilateral diplomacy over military might as he tries to reshape the world order.
The administration even reiterated Obama’s determination to try to engage with “hostile nations,” but warned nuclear-defiant Iran and North Korea it possessed “multiple means” to isolate them if they ignored international norms.
The National Security Strategy, required by law of every president, is often a dry reaffirmation of existing positions but is considered important because it can influence budgets and legislation and is closely watched internationally.
Seeks “fiscally sustainable path”
Obama, who took office faced with the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, took a clearer stand than any of his predecessors in drawing the link between America’s economic health at home and its stature overseas.
“We must renew the foundation of America’s strength,” the document said, asserting that the sustained economic growth hinges on putting the country on a “fiscally sustainable path” and also urging reduced dependence on foreign oil sources.
There was no discussion of what has become an emerging consensus in foreign policy circles — that heavy US indebtedness to countries like China poses a security problem.
But the report did reflect Washington’s enigmatic relationship with Beijing, praising it for a more active role in world affairs while insisting it must act responsibly. It also reiterated unease over China’s rapid military buildup.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States’ fiscal problems presented a long-term threat to its diplomatic clout. “We cannot sustain this level of deficit financing and debt without losing our influence, without being constrained about the tough decisions we have to make,” she said in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Bush used his first policy statement in 2002 to stake out the right to unilateral and pre-emptive military action against countries and terrorist groups deemed threats to the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Obama’s plan implicitly distanced his administration from what became known as the Bush Doctrine and underpinned the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which lacked UN authorization.
While renewing previous presidents’ commitment to preserve US conventional military superiority, the doctrine laid out on Thursday put an official stamp on Obama’s break from what Bush’s critics called “cowboy diplomacy.”
“We need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions,” the document said. But it said Washington did not have the option to “walk away.”
“Instead, we must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests such as combating violent extremism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth, and forging cooperative solutions to the threat of climate change,” it said.
Message to emerging powers
Obama’s insistence the United States cannot act alone in the world was also a message to current and emerging powers that they must shoulder their share of the global burden.
Obama already has been widely credited with improving the tone of US foreign policy but still is struggling with two unfinished wars, nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea and sluggish Middle East peace efforts.
Critics say some of his efforts at diplomatic outreach show US weakness, and they question whether he jeopardizes American interests by relying too heavily on “soft power.”
Obama’s strategy repeated his goal to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda but insisted that in the process the United States must uphold and promote human rights. It also rejected torture as a tool of US national security.
Obama has reached out to the Muslim world, where the US image under Bush was hurt by the Iraq war, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and his use of phrases like “war on terror” and “Islamo-fascism.”
Curbing the threat of “home-grown” terrorism was also listed as a top priority. This comes in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and the botched Times Square car bombing attempt earlier this month.
Pic: Chinese military