The roll out of the administration’s first National Security Strategy this week has been a classic exercise in strategic communication, Obama style – a highly coordinated, choreographed exercise involving the highest levels of government. First, the President himself laid the groundwork at the West Point graduation last weekend. Then, Deputy National Security advisor John Brennan handled the counterterrorism part of the strategy at CSIS on Wednesday, promulgating some depressingly sophistical approaches to terrorism, jihadism and Islamism. And Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the Brooking Institution, presenting a bewilderingly broad range of issues that are now part of national security, according to the administration’s strategy. In the Obama administration, tightly controlled messaging is almost an obsession, and what a message this was.
From the get go, as far back as her confirmation hearings, Clinton has embraced the concept of “smart power” – a kind of Hegelian synthesis of the elements of hard and soft power. Just like the government’s messaging involves the totality of all its major parts, according to the Obama administration’s National Communications Strategy, so in its National Security Strategy, everything is related to national security – “defense, diplomacy and development.” As Clinton stated at Brookings, the three are not separate entities, either in substance or in process . . . but have to be viewed as part of an integrated whole,” which will demand the involvement of “the whole of the government.” Clinton promised that these ideas would be further fleshed out in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which is allegedly now in its “final lap” as well as the Presidential Study Directive on global engagement, also reportedly close to completion.
Not only is the U.S. government in this interpretation an ever evolving entity, but so is the world around us – which is evolving at an ever greater pace. “This is a comprehensive National Security Strategy,” Clinton said, “because we believe we have to look at the world in a much more comprehensive way.” All this change and interconnectedness, and the speed with which information travels, makes diplomacy so much more difficult than it has ever been, Clinton averred, even more so than during the days of the Clinton administration. One of the aims of the administration is to turn this “multi-polar world,” into a “multi-partner world.” In other words, confrontation is out, and diplomacy is in.
It is significant that it fell to Clinton to give the primary address on the NSS, on the day of its publication. The signal this sends suggests that, in the Obama world view, the State Department is the lead agency on national security. It also means that as the budgets for diplomacy and development will increase, so the Defense Department budget will shrink – which is fact a real national security problem. Equally troubling is the overly expansive view of national security outlined by Clinton. If everything is national security, then critically important focus on actual national security challenges is lost. Rhetoric becomes a substitute for action, and redefinition and relabeling becomes the way you deal with real national security threats like “jihadism.” The world may be changing, but some things haven’t changed nearly as much as the Obama administration would have us believe. The threats of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, international confrontation and rivalry remain stubborn and real, and it remains the responsibility of the U.S. government to protect its citizens from them.