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Friday, Oct 19, 2018
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Another voice: Less than the sum of its parts

The National Security Strategy issued by the Trump administration Monday differs from those of previous presidents in some fundamental ways, as might be expected given President Donald Trumpís transgressive nationalism and protectionism. It also differs from some of the policies the president himself has favored so far, especially with regard to Russia and China. That, too, might be taken as unsurprising, given the widely reported and mostly unsuccessful attempts by the presidentís national security staff ó the authors of the strategy ó to reconcile his impulses with core U.S. foreign policy interests.

On the whole, the document may be a poor predictor of the administrationís actions ó especially as the president, according to the chief national security spokesman, may not have read it. It nevertheless is worth reviewing as a marker of how far Trumpís administration is departing from its predecessors, and as a marker of what his top aides hope to persuade him to do.

Worth noting first is what is missing from the strategy, compared with those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. For the Trump administration, there is no threat from climate change; no commitment to promote democracy and human rights, other than by example; and no impetus to seek the reduction, much less the elimination, of nuclear weapons.

The Obama and Bush administration strategies saw free trade deals as in the U.S. national interest; the Trump administration sees them as an instrument used by competitors to take advantage of America. The Trump plan further defines "porous borders" as a national security threat and predictably prescribes a wall as the solution. More surprisingly, it calls the growing national debt a "grave threat" to national security, even as Trump prepares to sign a tax bill that will add at least $1 trillion to that debt.

Even more jarring is the difference between the strategyís treatment of Russia and China, and Trumpís actions thus far. The document portrays China and Russia as dangerous rivals who want to "shape a world antithetical to our interests and values." But Trump so far has done little but heap praise on autocratic rulers Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

In short, the new National Security Strategy is less a coherent policy framework than a strained justification of some of the presidentís prejudices. U.S. friends and foes trying to guess this administrationís next moves will have to keep following Trumpís tweets.

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