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Obama's Forgettable New Strategy

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
May 27, 2010
The Daily Beast


Just about every senior Obama official is fanning out around Washington to brief the cognoscenti and the media on the president's new national security strategy. These officials are so excited about the document released on Thursday you'd think they had discovered bubble gum. Actually, their 52-page document (mandated by law as a yearly exercise for presidents) displays a pretty intelligent list of all the things the United States needs to do to protect its security in the 21st century. And when I say “all” the things, I mean virtually every last deed and thought of goodness and good sense any Progressive (what liberals now call themselves) could possibly imagine. And yes, most of those things are quite sensible and important. The problem is they don't add up to a national security strategy.

To shape a true strategy, the president must establish and explain priorities. In the Obama document, everything seems to be a top priority: economics at home, fighting terrorists (not “terror,” as George W. Bush would have it), pursuing nonproliferation and nuclear security, forging international cooperation, building international institutions, economic development abroad, promoting democracy and human rights. You get the point. A strategy also has to set achievable objectives, not just the usual American dreams and politically driven claptrap of hope. And at a minimum, strategy has to address how it's going to get the jobs done. Just how does Washington garner cooperation from states like China and Brazil, for example, when the record has not been too promising?

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