Back off: New Trump Security Strategy Warns Frenemies & Foes

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President Donald Trump’s new national security strategy foreshadows a more muscular projection of U.S. interests abroad and defense of its people, businesses and borders at home, through a strengthened U.S. military and more aggressive trade negotiations, diplomatic outreach and military maneuvering. Its hawkish approach signals a switch to “gray zone” war footing, where the U.S. detects and reacts to aggressive acts short of physical violence—like Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election through third-party hackers. There’s no guarantee, though, that the president will follow his national security team’s blueprint.

  • The national security strategy is a document required by Congress that will be followed by more detailed strategies on subjects ranging from missile defense to bio threats. Senior administration officials said they were not aware of any previous administration delivering the strategy in its first year. The Obama administration produced one in 2010, and its second in 2015.
  • The strategy stresses four organizing principles: protecting the American homeland, protecting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing U.S. influence.
  • The document stresses America’s interests as paramount and views U.S. allies as tools to bolster U.S. power and expand its influence. It argues that what’s good for America will benefit the whole world. “As a force for good throughout its history, America will use its influence to advance our interests and benefit humanity,” a summary of the document states.
  • The document’s emphasis on fighting terrorism and protecting U.S. borders tracks with current administration policy and will please Trump’s base.
  • Break with the past: The document portrays the Trump administration using a muscular military and foreign policy to restore U.S. influence in the world. That’s a clear reference to Trump’s charge that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was “apologist” in its attempts to strengthen international alliances, as it preferred to work through coalitions. The trend was cemented—and then parodied—in the phrase “leading from behind” that was applied to 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya. The new strategy also drops the Obama administration’s mention of climate change as a national security threat, speaking instead of “environmental stewardship.”

John McLaughlin, former Acting Director, CIA

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