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I was of course planning to read the entire new U.S. National Security Strategy statement released last Friday by the White House before posting on it, but my plans have been upended, at least for now, by the sheer number of ditzy statements in President Obama’s two-page introduction.  (After all, he’s the boss.)

Here’s the first (it’s clear that this document will be blogging fodder for many days going forward): The president’s ideas flunk the most basic test of a successful strategy – aligning ends and means on a sustainable basis.  He seems to be no more willing than any of his post-World War II predecessors to deal seriously with the dangerous contrast between the sweeping, and indeed millennial goals set for the nation’s foreign policy on the one hand, and the finite amount of resources inevitably available to pursue these goals on the other. Indeed, it’s arguable that the gap between Mr. Obama’s views on the wherewithal that can be brought to bear on international objectives (or at least, his views on the resources that should be brought to bear), and the objectives he seeks, is unusually large by historical standards.

In his introduction to the strategy document, the president speaks of (in order of appearance):

>”shaping the opportunities of tomorrow”:

>”promoting global security and prosperity as well as the dignity and human rights of all people”;

>”confronting the acute challenges posed by aggression, terrorism, and disease”:

>”cementing an international consensus on arresting climate change”;

>”shaping global standards for cybersecurity”:

>”advancing human rights and building new coalitions to combat corruption and support open governments and open societies”:

>”defending our interests and upholding our commitments to allies and partners”; and

>”countering the ideology and root causes of violent extremism”:

It’s important to note that none of these objectives is accompanied by any geographical limitations. In other words, the United States is going to seek these goals everywhere. These positions are nothing more than the president’s distinctive version of the utopian – and bipartisanly supported – milieu goals that have led the nation so disastrously astray so often, and which in fact conveniently define most genuinely strategic challenges and dilemmas out of existence. 

To be fair, the president does address resource issues. He touts the multi-dimensional strengths of the American economy, which certainly looks good compared with the economies of most major allies and, among rivals, Russia. But is a recovery still heavily dependent on unprecedentedly loose monetary policies a strong enough foundation for such worldwide endeavors?  

Mr. Obama also promises to “continue to insist on budgets that safeguard our strength and work with the Congress to end sequestration, which undercuts our national security.” In addition, he emphasizes the importance of contributions from allies, although wheezing economies in Japan and Western Europe, along with the chronic internal weaknesses, to put it kindly, of Middle East partners appear to make these countries less reliable than ever.

But in the same preface listing all those ambitious goals, the president also specifies that although the nation will “lead from a position of strength,” this “does not mean we can or should attempt to dictate the trajectory of all unfolding events around the world. As powerful as we are and will remain, our resources and influence are not infinite.” He adds that “we have to make hard choices among many competing priorities, and we must always resist the over-reach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.”  Not a word is devoted to what these priorities and hard choices might be, or how the president proposes to make these decisions.

Just as serious, the president makes no acknowledgment that the nation’s unrivaled strength and geopolitical security argues, even in at least some cases, for less, rather than more international engagement, or at least moving toward that goal (e.g., in the Middle East, whose role as an energy supplier has been greatly reduced by the boom in America’s domestic energy production).  In this post, I sketch out some of the case for such retrenchment.

That’s just one reason that it seems long overdue to rename this series of National Security Strategy blueprints. National Security Wish List is much more appropriate.

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