Other than a necessary new focus on the Islamic State of 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.

Here are some elements of the NSS that I believe may not get much attention, but deserve more:
1) Importance of resilience and strength at home as the key element of national power. The US has demonstrated economic and social resilience, but the national political dynamic is broken, with little trust in elected representatives. That’s a foreign policy problem, not just politics as normal.
2) Drawing on all elements of national strength critical. For example, the statement in the NSS that “in the long term, our efforts to work with other countries to counter the ideology and root causes of violent extremism will be more important than our capacity to remove terrorists from the battlefield.” That’s a bold and true statement that needs to be followed up with a significant commitment of resources and a sustained data-driven approach.

3) We can’t only treat the Middle East as a litany of problems to be solved. In dealing with terrorism and extremism, for example, we tend to lose a broader focus on everything else going on with people in the Middle East. This is like Walmart putting all of its resources into shoplifting prevention. The paying customer figures out pretty quickly that you aren’t interested in them and goes elsewhere.

That’s why we need to stop paying lip service to broad people-to-people exchanges, (mentioned in passing in the strategy document) as just another minor tool of influence and start thinking about them as a largely untapped instrument of strategic power. We know they work and we need a long-term commitment to a vastly expanded program of two-way exchanges between Americans and Middle Easterners. We need this not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it will improve the environment in which we do everything else, signaling to citizens of the region that we see them as people, not feared problems.

Ambassador Richard LeBaron is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US Ambassador to Kuwait from 2004 to 2007.

Related Experts: Richard LeBaron