Obama security doctrine stresses diplomacy and economy

Washington–The Obama administration on Thursday unveiled a new national security doctrine that would join diplomatic engagement and economic discipline with military power to bolster America’s standing in the world.

In a formal break with the go-it-alone Bush era, President Barack Obama’s strategy called for expanding partnerships beyond traditional US allies to encompass rising powers like China and India in order to share the international burden, according to portions of the document obtained by Reuters.

Faced with a struggling economy and record deficits, the administration also acknowledged that boosting economic growth and getting the US fiscal house in order must be top national security priorities.

“At the center of our efforts is a commitment to renew our economy, which serves as the wellspring of American power,” the wide-ranging policy statement said.

Obama’s first official declaration of national security goals, due to be released in full later on Thursday, pointedly omitted predecessor George W. Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war that alienated some US allies.

Laying out a vision for keeping America safe as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the document formalized Obama’s intent to emphasize multilateral diplomacy over military might as he tries to reshape the world order.

The administration even reiterated Obama’s determination to try to engage with “hostile nations” — a veiled reference to nuclear-defiant Iran and North Korea — but threatened to isolate them if they continued to defy international norms.

The National Security Strategy, required by law of every president, is often a dry reaffirmation of existing positions but is considered important because it can influence budgets and legislation and is closely watched internationally.

Obama, who took office faced with the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, took a clearer stand than any of his predecessors in drawing the link between America’s economic health at home and its stature overseas.

“We must renew the foundation of America’s strength,” the document said, asserting that the sustained economic growth hinges on putting the country on a “fiscally sustainable path” and also urging reduced dependence on foreign oil sources.

There was no mention of what has become an emerging consensus in foreign policy circles — that heavy US indebtedness to countries like China poses a national security problem.

Bush used his first policy statement in 2002 to stake out the right to unilateral and pre-emptive military action against countries and terrorist groups deemed threats to the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Obama’s plan implicitly distanced his administration from what became known as the Bush Doctrine and underpinned the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

While renewing previous presidents’ commitment to preserve US conventional military superiority, the doctrine laid out on Thursday put an official stamp on Obama’s departure from what Bush’s critics called “cowboy diplomacy.”

“We need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions,” the document said. But it insisted the United States did not have the option to “walk away.”

“Instead, we must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests such as combating violent extremism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth, and forging cooperative solutions to the threat of climate change,” it said.

Obama’s insistence the United States cannot act alone in the world was also a message to current and emerging powers that they must shoulder their share of the burden.

Obama already has been widely credited with improving the tone of US foreign policy — an achievement noted when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 — but still is struggling with two unfinished wars, nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea and sluggish Middle East peace efforts.

Critics say some of his efforts at diplomatic outreach show US weakness, and they question whether he jeopardizes American interests by relying too heavily on “soft power.”

Obama’s strategy repeated his goal to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda but insisted that in the process the United States must uphold and promote human rights. It also rejected torture as a tool of US national security.

Obama has reached out to the Muslim world, where the US image under Bush was hurt by the Iraq war, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and his use of phrases like “war on terror” and “Islamo-fascism.”

Curbing the threat of “home-grown” terrorism was also listed as a top priority. This comes in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and the botched Times Square car bomb attempt earlier this month.

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