US National Security Strategy document leaves much to be desired

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Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

On October 12, the White House released a much awaited, particularly by think tanks and policy analysts, National Security Strategy or NSS, a document that sets forward the Biden-Harris approach to US response to global crises, how the US plans to deal with allies in various regions of the world and its foreign policy foundations regarding both Russia and China, and how it views its role in a changing world, among others.اضافة اعلان

The 48-page document makes for interesting reading, even though critics say that such a paper is usually issued at the beginning of the presidency and not more than two years later. The document comes a few weeks before US voters head for the crucial midterm elections that could render Joe Biden a lame duck president for the remainder of his first term. Moreover, the document was released as the US and Europe find themselves embroiled in the most serious crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Critics also say that the NSS has been written after the fact; meaning that the authors had the luxury of looking at how the world has evolved since Biden took office and were able to make corrections that can be aligned to the current policy.

Why the White House took so long to deliver it is an open question. But now that the NSS is made public, one can examine it and hope to understand what this Democratic administration is trying to achieve in terms of its foreign policy.

One of the most intriguing reads is the part about Russia. The NSS says that over the past decade, Moscow has been pursuing an imperialist foreign policy with the goal of overturning key elements of the international order. But if analysts and strategists knew this was going on for decades, why did they not predict Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Actually, some US analysts believe the NSS document was ready to be released last February, but the war in Ukraine took everyone by surprise in Washington and the Russia part had to be rewritten. We may never know.

What the NSS misses is how the war in Ukraine has changed the discourse, the dynamics and the foundations of foreign policies across the world. The NSS talks about the US-European alliance, which is now under unprecedented strain as a result of an acute energy crisis, rampant inflation and financing a seemingly never-ending war.
Some of America’s regional allies will try hard to understand how US actions in the region can be reconciled with what it now claims to be its objectives.
The Transatlantic alliance is facing new challenges as European voters and politicians cast doubt on this costly partnership. The reality is that the US has the option to isolate itself from the rest of the world, and focus more on the challenges the southern hemisphere poses to it, such as illegal immigration and drugs. It can afford to wash its hands of Europe, just as some Trump surrogates suggest; they say that if they take the House of Representatives come November, they will not be signing blank checks to Ukraine.

The NSS also talks about preserving the existing international order, that is America’s standing as the world’s sole superpower. It talks about defending the UN Charter as well. On both counts the US track record is dismal. Enough to think about the invasion of Iraq, the toppling of the Libyan regime and the humiliating pullout from Afghanistan; under America’s watch, the world saw many violations of the UN Charter and a capricious handling and implementation of international law.

The NSS has positive parts, with regard to boosting international cooperation on climate change, energy security, arms control and non-proliferation, food insecurity and pandemics, but if the latest US reaction to a technical decision by OPEC+ to lower oil production is an indication, then one can see how impulsive US reactions can deviate from the written foreign policy commitments.

The part on the Middle East is of interest to us. It talks about eschewing grand designs in favor of more practical steps that can advance US interests and help regional partners lay the foundation for greater stability, prosperity, and opportunity for the peoples of the Middle East and the US. It further talks about setting forth a new framework for US policy in the region, based on America’s unparalleled comparative advantage in building partnerships, coalitions, and alliances to strengthen deterrence, while using diplomacy to de-escalate tensions, reduce risks of new conflicts, and set a long-term foundation for stability.

Some of America’s regional allies will try hard to understand how US actions in the region can be reconciled with what it now claims to be its objectives. The NSS suggests a framework of five principles, all linked to common defense and regional cooperation. Countries of the region are already working along these lines without the need for outside help.

But when it comes to the thorniest of issues, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the NSS tries to set the UN Charter aside and repeats that the US will continue to promote a viable two-state solution that preserves Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state while meeting Palestinians’ aspirations for a secure and viable state of their own. When it comes to this particular conflict, the NSS has little to offer other than the usual hollow statements that have no value in the real world.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. This article was first published in the Gulf News.

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