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What's missing in Obama's National Security Strategy

Michael Gerson Tuesday wrote about the absurdity of including “affordable health care” and “redeveloping our infrastructure” as part of the new National Security Strategy. Earlier, Jackson Diehl pointed out what is left out of that new strategy -- any meaningful discussion of the need to “combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy.”

Jackson’s critique touches on a deeper problem with this administration’s approach to what was once called the war on terror: It does not see this war as an ideological struggle. While there is a passing mention to “extremist ideologies,” the National Security Strategy explicitly states that, in the twenty-first century, “Wars over ideology have given way to wars over religious, ethnic, and tribal identity.” As a result, the administration refuses to even name, much less describe, the ideas that animate our enemies -- or how we intend to defeat them in the battle of ideas.

The National Security Strategy declares, “this is not a global war against a tactic -- terrorism -- or a religion -- Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qaeda, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.” This is woefully insufficient. In the Bush administration, we struggled with what to call the enemy’s ideology. At one point, we even threw up our hands and went with “all of the above.” Speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2005, President Bush declared: “Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology… exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”

Despite internal debates over what to call the enemy’s ideology, Bush made clear the enemy had one -- and was equally clear about how we intended to combat it. To mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush even dedicated an entire speech to discussing the ideology of the terrorists -- describing “in the terrorists' own words, what they believe, what they hope to accomplish, and how they intend to accomplish it.” He cited speeches by Osama bin Laden and captured enemy documents, explained “the threat posed by different strains of violent Islamic radicalism” and discussed how this informs “the strategy we're pursuing to protect America, by defeating the terrorists on the battlefield, and defeating their hateful ideology in the battle of ideas.”

He understood that America cannot stop the terrorists with Predator strikes alone; we need to defeat their evil vision for the world as well, by advancing an alternative vision -- the one Jackson explains is so woefully lacking in the Obama strategy document -- of democracy, hope, and freedom.

This is what America did in the ideological struggles of the last century. The Obama National Security Strategy correctly states that “When the United States encountered an ideological, economic, and military threat from communism, we shaped our practices and institutions at home -- and policies abroad -- to meet this challenge.” So why not the same in the war on terror? The administration does not say. In the Cold War, we were not simply in a struggle with “Russia” or even the “Soviet Union” -- we were in a struggle with the ideology of “Imperial Communism.” The same was true in World War II. We were not simply in a struggle with “Germany” -- we were in a struggle with the ideology of “Nazi Fascism.”

The same is true of the war on terror. We are not simply in a struggle with “a specific network, al-Qaeda, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners,” as the Obama National Security Strategy declares. We are in a struggle with an evil ideology. Call it “Islamic radicalism,” or “Islamo-fascism,” or “militant jihadism,” or something else entirely. But call it something -- and explain what our strategy is to defeat it.

By Marc Thiessen  | June 3, 2010; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  Thiessen  | Tags:  Marc Thiessen  
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Well stated and accurate.

It appears that this is a very intentional omission. Obama does not believe in American Exceptionalism but, instead, believes that American ideology is on equal footing with any other ideology (European, Asian, South American, etc.). He apologizes for Americans trying to impose their ideals of democracy and freedom on other countries and sees no threat to our security from other countries attempts to impose their ideal on us.

If the notion of national security is to preserve our way of life, Obama falls woefully short.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 3, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Things are very different now than when Bush spoke these words in a speech. It is
very obvious that the drones are accomplishing their purpose, the "leaders" of al-Qeada are being killed one by one,
and these tactics do not take form over-night. Long, quiet, behind the scenes preparation is required, along with it,
a certain degree of secrecy. President
Obama has the final decision to make when these strikes will occur, and this policy
is incredibly successful. We must allow this process to proceed at this pain-staking, stealthy pace. This is the way
President Obama governs, staying the course and dealing with each element of
governance with his eye on the ball. In it's entirety, this policy keeps the enemy guessing. Best strategy right now. The top two are undoubtedly in danger of being discovered and taken out, in good time.
We can take assurance that this matter is of the utmost importance, and time will tell just how effective this approach to
it will be. Unlike Bush, President Obama walks the walk, and quietly talks the talk when it is necessary. Make no mistake, he is fully aware of it all.

Posted by: patriotgmalou | June 3, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"In the Bush administration, we struggled with what to call the enemy’s ideology."

Says it all in so few words.

Had you been interested in listening to the things NSA, CIA, DIA, State, and all the rest of the body of experts who were paying attention to what the rest of the world was doing, instead of inventing enemies and debating what to call them, we wouldn't be in two un budgetted wars, wouldn't be rebuilding our national reputation in the real world, and wouldn't be up to our a.s.h.l.s in alligators and could get on with draining the swamp.

You used eight years of incredible opportunity to demonstrate your total unfitness to talk about foreign affairs, except perhaps the Bush Infatuation with the Saudi Royal Family, (but wrong kinds of affairs) or National Security, which you set back by a couple of centuries.

We voted Obama into the White House so we could get rid of incompetents like you, so why won't you take the hint and GO HOME AND SHUT UP!

Posted by: ceflynline | June 3, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

And just what do you think is the animating ideology? Is it terror for its own sake? Is it the desire to establish the “blessed Caliphate”? That at least is close. But there is something that underlies that - a deeply imbued sense of religious based entitlement. It is not enough for them to save their own souls or work to influence the choices of others. Rather, they are a critical mass of believers whose convictions promote, or even demand violent modes of “persuasion”.

So the animating ideology is the same, common religious entitlement that in gentler forms engenders government declared days of prayer, opens court proceedings and commissions military chaplains. The secular aspirations of western governments are continually breached by fear and custom. It is easy to forget that the current balance includes national churches in many western countries. There is a reason that the Church of England is called the Church of England. And much blood was spilled to achieve it.

So the “Islamic radicalists” are not really alone. Given that, it would be hard for the current administration to oppose the real animating ideology because it has a large, hypocritical constituency that Obama hopes will embrace inactivity. So he simply objects to the means of the currently violent jihadists to avoid focusing on the glaring hypocrisy. The difference is that the previous administration had no problem embracing hypocrisy so they could make those ludicrous pronouncements that you favor.

Posted by: SCKershaw | June 3, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Amen, Mr Obama. The two most important parts of a national security strategy are health care and public education.

With conservatives in charge, we measure success by the number of enemy killed. This is the type of "success" enjoyed by Spain during the 16th century and Rome in the fifth. In others words, conservative Christians aim to place America on the ash heap of history - right on the top of the ash heap.

Posted by: rbdave | June 3, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Let me paraphrase for Mr Thiessen:

What's missing is a bogeyman.


Posted by: bsimon1 | June 4, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

More and more, Pres. Obama is coming across as an inexperienced person who should have waited another 10 years to run, and is learning basic facts while in office instead of long before. With Islam he's unfortunately still stuck in his childhood mindset of rosy memories at a mosque in Indonesia, despite the country groaning under the mental subjugation that makes even an attempt to quit punishable by death. His comments about defending a woman's right to wear a veil, a symbol of male supremacy is revealing. In Sharia countries women caught in public without veils are arrested by Sharia police, and often beaten and raped in jail, with zero legal recourse. The Islamic Sharia supremacist intolerant mindset is totally at variance with the Western and particularly U.S. equality and freedom mindset, and as president he must rise above his childhood and recognize that Islam has always been at war with the U.S. and will always be, and it's a question of which will win, not one of making the war go away by ostriching. How lucky he is to be an American - does it ever sink in?

See how deep Obama's rabbit hole goes with the Historyscoper's free Obamascope:

Posted by: tlwinslow | June 4, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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