Our Take on the National Security Strategy

The Obama administration rolled out its second-ever National Security Strategy (NSS) on February 6.

Atlantic Council analysts weighed in on the NSS. This is what they had to say:

Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, Vice President and Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East:

“This is a strong statement of the goals, but does not address the plans or the resources needed to realize them. … This means that the substance of the President’s speeches and budget submissions has to be the planning and resourcing that will be part and parcel of the strategy.”

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Ambassador Richard LeBaron, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council:

“Other than a necessary new focus on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the new National Security Strategy is largely consistent with past reports. The document is an important statement of intent, but we can be pretty confident that no one in the US foreign policy apparatus will sleep with it next to their bed. Crises get most attention and they are largely unpredictable.”

Some elements of the NSS “may not get much attention, but deserve more.”

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J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center:

On the references to Africa in the National Security Strategy: “[T]here is little in this litany that most Africanists would find to take issue with — there are several things which will leave both the administration’s critics and even some of its supporters befuddled.”

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Robert A. Manning, Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security:

“My first thought upon seeing the long-awaited National Security Strategy was to recall the comments made to me some years ago by a prominent international leader when asked why he said certain things that seemed well beyond his ability to deliver, ‘Les mots, n’importe pas.’ (Words don’t matter).

“For an administration six years on, its deeds precede whatever well-crafted phrases of noble intent it puts forward. There tends to be an element of boilerplate ritual in these congressionally mandated reports, and this one is no exception. Obligatory statements about promoting values of democracy and human rights are de rigueur, though in the real world, transparent limits of the US ability to do so are too often painfully obvious. Statements like ‘Today’s strategic environment is fluid,’ while accurate, tells us precious little.

“To be fair, in the introduction, President Obama has it right, pointing out, ‘[T]he question is never whether America should lead, but how we lead.’”

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Bilal Y. Saab, Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security:
“The National Security Strategy released on February 6 is solid for a second-term president who has two more years in office.

“The document puts a premium on and is crystal clear on leadership. That is comforting following accusations by international partners and allies  — some legitimate, others unfair — that the United States was disengaging and more often than not leading from behind.”

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Alex Ward, Assistant Director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security:

“The fact that the 2015 National Security Strategy
was released a year before the Obama administration becomes a lame duck has made it almost inevitable that it will become an after-the-fact justification for the administration’s national security policy to date.

“Nonetheless, the NSS is an important document. Here’s why: we now know that the Obama administration fully understands the world in which it’s in, but it doesn’t know how to deal with it.”

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Image: US President Barack Obama shakes hands with troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 25, 2014. The Obama administration on February 6, 2015, rolled out its second-ever National Security Strategy. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)