US President Donald Trump delivers remarks regarding his administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington on December 18, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Joshua Roberts

January 20 will mark the end of the first year of the administration of Donald Trump in Washington. President Trump was nominated for and then elected president contrary to the almost unanimous opinion of the media, the pollsters and the political talking heads that those outcomes were impossible. He was also elected to the office by the Electoral College despite having received almost 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

Since taking office on January 20, 2017, he has been the object of the unremitting hostility of all the forces that were arrayed against him in 2016 – the Democratic Party, a substantial minority of Republicans, academia, minority voting blocs, the media, most of the federal bureaucracy, and the commentariat. In the face of this massive counterattack, the president has governed with many turns and tumbles, demonstrating his lack of political experience as well as his personal style, which resembles that of a whirling dervish.

His administration is still far from complete – many important posts remain unfilled, partly because of the obstructionism of congressional Democrats. His lack of political experience and that of a network of congressional supporters have meant that he has suffered serious defeats in attempting to forge his domestic programs. He has also supported and signed into law a budget bill that violates not only his own fiscal promises during the campaign, but also, and massively, the presumed dedication of the Republican Party to fiscal responsibility, adding, as it does, more than a trillion dollars to the federal debt.

In the case of foreign policy and execution, however, the record of the Trump administration is very different, and much more positive. This has now been codified in the recent publication of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. This is an annual report issued by the executive branch as mandated by Congress. What does the 2017 version demonstrate to the country and the world?

In the first place, the document is moderate and measured in both tone and content. Efforts on the part of the conspiratorial opposition to characterize it as incendiary and incoherent are meaningless babble. It is nothing of the kind, and any such descriptions are simply manifestations of political malice.

Efforts on the part of the conspiratorial opposition to characterize the NSS as incendiary and incoherent are meaningless babble. It is nothing of the kind, and any such descriptions are simply manifestations of political malice

The overall strategic paradigm is declared to be “a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology.” There you have it: no more invading countries in order to “democratize” them. No more military reactions to situations that do not merit military action. No more being sucked into violent situations because of stubborn adherence to ideology. Bottom line, no more Iraqs.

The national interest will be paramount over all other considerations and massive armed response will be authorized only in the case of an imminent threat to the national security that cannot be addressed in any other way.

The report recognizes that no strategic plan can ultimately be successful unless the resources are available to implement it, and that means resources of all kinds: economic, financial, scientific, technological and military, and most important of all, will – the will to do what is necessary and to succeed. Consequently, the report makes it clear that one of its principal objectives has to do with the ability of the United States to recover its position in the world in the face not only of external opposition, but also of internal dissension and social decay.

The conceptual framework of the overall strategic vision is set out as follows:

  • “First, our fundamental responsibility is to protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life” (emphasis original throughout).
  • “Second, we will promote American prosperity….”
  • “Third, we will preserve peace through strength….”
  • “Fourth, we will advance American influence….”

There is, frankly, nothing that can be seriously objected to in this list.

The principal threats to the implementation of the strategic plan are set forth in starkly realistic terms, beginning with Russia and China in the foreseeable future, moving on to North Korea and Iran and finishing with “jihadist terrorism.” None of the pussy-footing around engaged in by previous administrations (and reflected in some earlier pronouncements about Russia by Trump himself). No obfuscation of what kind of terrorism is being referred to.

The final of the five major threats is unambiguously identified as “jihadist.” The term “jihadist” is found only in Muslim literature; it cannot be identified as anything other than Muslim, again contrary to the practice of the government of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

Finally, a realistic and sober review of US challenges in the various regions of the world is undertaken, again with no attempt to avoid or hide difficult situations. It is unambiguously stated that the US will support its friends and allies and firmly oppose its enemies and the enemies of the West in general, using all the instruments of statecraft in so doing. This principle is being illustrated by the administration’s support of the Iranian people in the ongoing anti-government demonstrations, contrary to the attitude of the previous administration when faced with a similar situation in 2009.

One of many examples of truth-speaking in the document is the following from the section on the Middle East: “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.” Indeed it is not, but this anodyne conclusion goes contrary to decades of inane international concentration on the Israel-Palestine dispute almost to the exclusion of attention being paid to threat situations in the region many orders of magnitude more significant.

Realistic, moderate in tone, firm in conception and well-expressed, the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” is a document worthy of study and respect. If successfully implemented, such a strategic plan has the potential to reverse a process that in 16 years of George W Bush and Obama turned the richest and most powerful country not just in the world but in the history of the world into a pathetic, crippled giant.

A final, cautious note. If the massive over-indebtedness of the US is not reversed, however, and there is no sign yet of that, as noted above, such implementation will be impossible.

Norman A. Bailey

Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist...

14 replies on “Trump’s National Security Strategy marks return to realism”

Comments are closed.