At West Point, a Preview of Obama’s National Security Strategy
Speaking to the graduating class of 2010 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, President Obama laid out the broad themes of the National Security Strategy he’ll unveil next week. It’s an assertive multilateralism with “American innovation” — that is, a vigorous, healthy and balanced American economy — at the core of the international order. And it’s a rejection of the proposition that American power is either restricted by international cooperation or generally on the decline.
U.S. success internationally is found “by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don’t,” Obama told the cadets, newly commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. The measure of success is found in that cooperation’s ability to “lessen conflicts around the world.” And in guiding the international order toward it, the approach the U.S. has to take on its own must involve a more equitable distribution of its military and civilian power.
Next week, Obama will release his National Security Strategy, fleshing out the themes here in greater detail and connecting them to the course his foreign policy is already on. Already, much of them have been on display in the Quadrennial Defense Review, Obama’s Oslo speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and a recent speech by Jim Jones, his national security adviser.
Some relevant excerpts from the West Point commencement address:
American innovation must be the foundation of American power — because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy. And so that means that the civilians among us, as parents and community leaders, elected officials, business leaders, we have a role to play. We cannot leave it to those in uniform to defend this country — we have to make sure that America is building on its strengths.
As we build these economic sources of our 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 around the world. America’s armed forces are adapting to changing times, but your efforts have to be complemented. We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts. We need development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves. We need intelligence agencies that work seamlessly with their counterparts to unravel plots that run from the mountains of Pakistan to the streets of our cities. We need law enforcement that can strengthen judicial systems abroad, and protect us here at home. And we need first responders who can act swiftly in the event of earthquakes and storms and disease.
The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone. Our adversaries would like to see America sap its strength by overextending our power. And in the past, we’ve always had the foresight to avoid acting alone. We were part of the most powerful wartime coalition in human history through World War II. We stitched together a community of free nations and institutions to endure and ultimately prevail during a Cold War.
Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system. But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation — we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don’t.
There’s also this assertive declaration that American power and American leadership are hardly in decline. Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post has spent Obama’s presidency hysterically and unconvincingly trying to argue that Obama is a “declinist” in practice, so expect a forthcoming Krauthammer column to explain this away:
We believe, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And that truth has bound us together, a nation populated by people from around the globe, enduring hardship and achieving greatness as one people. And that belief is as true today as it was 200 years ago. It is a belief that has been claimed by people of every race and religion in every region of the world. Can anybody doubt that this belief will be any less true — any less powerful — two years, two decades, or even two centuries from now?