President Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy on December 18th, which is driven by “principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology.” It is based on a sober evaluation of the world as it really is, not as some wish it to be. Policy makers responsible for America’s national security must remain fully cognizant that, as the National Security Strategy document puts it, “a central continuity in history is the contest for power.” This includes economic as well as military power. Today is no different, except that the threats to America’s national security come not only from major Cold War era global players such as Russia and China. They also come from rogue countries such as North Korea, already equipped with nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, and Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism that harbors nuclear ambitions. And the threats come from Islamic terrorists acting out a hateful jihadist ideology that “justifies murder and slavery, promotes repression, and seeks to undermine the American way of life.”
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy is a much-needed corrective to the misguided foreign policies of the Obama era. The Obama administration avoided confronting challenges to U.S. national security head-on. It preferred instead to engage in what it called “strategic patience” with North Korea. The Obama administration enabled Iran to mimic North Korea’s path to becoming a nuclear armed nation via its disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. The Obama administration’s foreign policy of “leading from behind,” political correctness and micromanagement of battlefield decisions by bureaucrats in the White House hindered the fight against jihadist terrorist groups. Refusing to acknowledge the common radical Islamist ideology that links the jihadist groups together world-wide compounded the problem. The Obama administration also rushed into multilateral agreements that jeopardized America’s economic security, most notably the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The U.S. government’s first duty, the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy document declares, is to put “America ﬁrst.” This starts with policies to protect America’s national sovereignty, which means placing top priority on strengthening America’s economic competitiveness, bolstering America’s energy independence, protecting America’s borders and enhancing America’s military preparedness to meet the serious challenges confronting our nation.
The National Security Strategy identifies four vital national interests, or “four pillars” as: (1) protect the homeland, the American people, and American way of life; (2) promote American prosperity; (3) preserve peace through strength; and (4) advance American influence. “Just as American weakness invites challenge, American strength and confidence deters war and promotes peace,” states the National Security Strategy document.
The National Security Strategy addresses, without any equivocation, the key geopolitical challenges to America’s vital national interests, which are more diverse and complex than they were during the Cold War. They include:
a The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy document also focuses on challenges to America’s economic security, which arise from “unfair trade practices” and from countries (particularly China) exploiting “the international institutions we helped to build,” subsidizing their industries, forcing technology transfers, and distorting markets. Excessive regulations and high taxes have stiﬂed growth at home.
Finally, the National Security Strategy document notes the threats to the security of the American people arising from “porous borders and unenforced immigration laws.”
After clearly stating the national security problems facing the United States, the National Security Strategy document lays out a multi-pronged blueprint to surmount them. The jihadist threat, for example, must be countered by a “fight and win” strategy, which President Trump has already implemented by giving battlefield commanders more authority to decide on the appropriate military tactics to use in defeating the enemy decisively. It has paid off with the rapid expulsion of ISIS from their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
The National Security Strategy views a strong military as the best deterrent against the aggressive designs of our enemies and as the best means in the dangerous world that we inhabit to preserve the peace. “A strong military ensures that our diplomats are able to operate from a position of strength” and will “deter and if necessary, defeat aggression against U.S. interests,” the National Security Strategy document states.
The National Security Strategy also includes the deployment of a more robust, layered missile defense system “focused on North Korea and Iran to defend our homeland against missile attacks.”
Strengthening control over our borders and enforcing our nation’s immigration laws will help “keep dangerous people out of the United States.” President Trump is already implementing this strategy through his “extreme vetting” policies, his plans for constructing a border wall, and the employment of additional enforcement personnel. President Trump intends to put an end to randomized entry and extended-family chain migration, and to refocus our immigration policies around a merit-based admission system.
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy does not blur the distinction between our allies and partners who “share our aspirations for freedom and prosperity,” and our adversaries who seek to exploit instability, poverty and sectarian conflict. “There can be no moral equivalency between nations that uphold the rule of law, empower women, and respect individual rights and those that brutalize and suppress their people.”
Facing the world as it is, while demonstrating “a positive alternative to political and religious despotism” through our “words and deeds,” is the essence of President Trump’s “principled realism.” A great example of how “principled realism” works is the Trump administration’s 180 degree turn from the Obama administration’s inexplicable coddling of Iran and its willingness to throw our only true ally and the only genuine democracy in the Middle East, Israel, under the bus. The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy recognizes Iran as a major threat to our national security, and Israel as a reliable partner for peace. “Today, the threats from jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.”
Just about a year after the Obama administration stood by and allowed a blatantly anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution to pass, the Trump administration vetoed a Security Council resolution that sought to invalidate President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In discussing the U.S. veto, Ambassador Nikki Haley reminded the other members of the Security Council, who had denounced President Trump’s decision and voted for the resolution, that national sovereignty matters. “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” she said. “The fact that this veto is being done in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us; it should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the Security Council.” She added that “the United States had the courage and honesty to recognize a fundamental reality. Jerusalem has been the political, cultural, and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years. They have had no other capital city. But the United States’ recognition of the obvious – that Jerusalem is the capital and seat of the modern Israeli government – is too much for some.”
The UN’s handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, operating under the thin veneer of meaningless diplomatic jargon and self-righteous pronouncements, is divorced from reality, history and morality. It demonstrates why President Trump’s re-examination of the role of international institutions in the context of his administration’s National Security Strategy is so necessary. The United States, as the strategy document states, will “cooperate to advance peace abroad.” However, the United States will not sit idly by while authoritarian leaders manipulate multilateral institutions to advance their own nefarious agendas to the detriment of the interests and values of the United States and its allies. Moreover, the United States will not cede sovereignty to the so-called international community’s wishes where they are” in conflict with our constitutional framework.”
In sum, the United States need not apologize to anyone. President Trump’s America First National Security Strategy is grounded in the strong belief, missing during the previous eight years, that “American principles are a lasting force for good in the world.”