Obama's National Security Strategy

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The administration's first National Security Strategy has received deservedly bad reviews. Stephen Walt's opinion that it would be better to dispense with this ritual altogether is affirmed, I think. The rest of what Walt has to say on the subject is well worth reading. The White House document goes through the motions of accepting the limits to US power, but in every specific instance denies that there are any. It is ponderous, platitudinous, incoherent, and even self-contradictory. But Walt does give it high marks for being crashingly dull, which he feels is a virtue.

I doubt [Ben] Rhodes [the principal author] and his colleagues were trying to take my advice, but they have succeeded in producing a document that could make even the most dedicated foreign policy wonk's eyes glaze over... None of the earlier reports deserved prizes for clarity, consistency, or rhetorical achievement, but the new version manages to make the drama of world politics positively enervating. Given my earlier recommendation, I guess congratulations are in order.

In my column for the FT this week I argue that a new national security strategy is in fact needed. (Whether it should be published is another question.) In any event, the new Strategy is simply not a strategy, good or bad. One can only hope the White House understands this. 

Above all, strategy must focus on priorities and constraints. The White House says it agrees with this - the US cannot do everything, and it must have partners. But aside from such statements of the obvious, the paper is silent about what is vital in national security, what is desirable and affordable, and what is desirable but not affordable. It correctly says that ends must be aligned with means, but fails to align them. All right goals will be pursued; all available assets will be brought to bear. That is not a strategy.

Over everything hangs the greatest challenge facing the US: coming to terms with diminished power. To judge by the paper, the administration is unwilling even to think about this.
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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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