The Trump administration unveils a National Security Strategy next week, but National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster provided an advance glimpse of the plan on Tuesday.
A helpful way to understand where this still-new administration is leading is to compare McMaster’s bullet-pointed speech to the final strategy documents released by two previous administrations, in 2015 and 2006, and note what is changing. McMaster spoke at a Washington conference hosted by Policy Exchange, a U.K. think tank that I chaired from 2014 until earlier this year. Granted, his short speech inevitably abridged the long-form document. Yet even allowing for that, the differences can be seen.
The Obama administration’s 2015 document addressed in some detail epidemics and climate change. The Bush administration committed the United States to supporting human dignity, opening societies, and supporting the building of democracy. The main lines of the Trump approach jettison these concerns. If McMaster fairly summarized the new approach, the United States will soon formally commit itself to a lonelier and less generous course.
The new Trump policy is headed by four priorities: defending the homeland, protecting American prosperity, sustaining peace through strength, and advancing American influence. All these themes were present in 2006 and 2015 too, but the differences in emphasis in 2017 are crucial. The two previous presidencies spoke of American economic interests as both shared and expanding. The Trump approach is narrower and gloomier: American prosperity is to be protected, not enlarged; foreign economies are seen as rivals, not partners. McMaster spoke of fighting back against currency manipulation and unfair trade. Which is important as far as it goes—and indeed such themes have been struck before. But what is missing this time, if the advance summary is indicative, is awareness of the American economy as integrated into a global system, giving the U.S. an interest in the health of the whole.