President Obama today announced the administration’s new national security strategy, and you should read the whole fifty-two pages, not just the commentary and reporting, to draw your own conclusions.
Yes, as some liberals and progressives point out, the new strategy shows that Obama is not President Bush. Brian Katulis, an expert at the Center for American Progress, wrote yesterday in Politico that “the plan is grounded in core progressive foreign policy principles that stand in sharp contrast to mainstream conservative doctrine,” and he added:
Though some progressives clearly have deep misgivings about Obama’s policy choices — whether involving Afghanistan, drone strikes in Pakistan or the handling of terrorist detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere — they should embrace and defend his overall national security vision.
But not so fast. Especially in the wake of the revelation, in Monday’s New York Times, that the administration has approved a vast expansion of covert operations by the U.S. military in the Middle East and Central Asia, it isn’t clear whether Obama’s effort to separate himself from President Bush’s policy of unilateral interventionism, regime change, and the Global War on Terrorism is rhetorical or real. And the examples that Katulis points out – Afghanistan, drone strikes, and Guantanamo – aren’t just blips that can be overlooked.
In his introduction to the new strategy, Obama unfortunately proclaims, as did Bush, that America is “at war” with an amorphous network of terrorists. “For nearly a decade, our nation has been at war with a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” says Obama. And he falls into the old, shop-worn rhetoric about American’s greatness and the need to maintain military superiority, “We will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades. … We must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership, a strategy that rebuilds the foundations of American strength and influence.”
That’s the nub of the issue. Unlike Bush, who eschewed alliances and believed that American military power could roll over enemies and allies alike, and whose use of unilateral force in invading Iraq outraged European and Asian allies, Obama seeks the same goals – military superiority and expanded global influence – through alliances, such as NATO. Perhaps multilateralism is a good thing, when it’s compared to unilateralism (especially the sort employed by Bush, which mixed ignorance and arrogance in equally lethal doses), but Obama still insists that American must arrogate to itself a worldwide leadership role, backed by overwhelming military power.