December 21, 2017

Trump Should Mind the Gaps in His National Security Strategy

By Richard Fontaine

President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy has been published and the early returns are in. Perhaps as with all things Trumpian, reactions are strongly-held and all over the map. Some observers praise the National Security Strategy as announcing the necessary return of an assertive America, while others denounce it as a farce or even dead on arrival. The reality is more complicated and more interesting. There is much to like in the new strategy, and a handful of key things to worry about, but its most striking characteristic is the gaps it opens between expressed strategy and prevailing policy.

National security strategies are funny things. Amb. Ryan Crocker once described them as mandated exercises that don’t tell us terribly much about national security or strategy. That’s a bit harsh, but there is something to his dismissive characterization. The document’s authors tend to aim high: to articulate a president’s vision of the world, describe his administration’s foreign policy and security priorities, and map the paths by which the U.S. will protect its interests and values. They hope the document will serve as internal guidance across the U.S. government, represent a lodestar for foreign observers, and explain the vision and logic to all the world.

Except that they generally do nothing of the kind.

Read the full commentary in War on the Rocks.