- - Wednesday, December 20, 2017

President Trump’s new national security strategy lists expanding American influence around the world as one of four pillars of the new doctrine.

“America will lead again,” Mr. Trump said Monday in unveiling the new strategy. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but we will champion the values without apology.”

The goal, according to the president, is to develop stronger partnerships with states that share American goals and interests, and turn common interests into a common cause.

The administration also will oppose what he termed “inflexible ideology,” a reference to the state-run systems of China and Russia.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the strategy said the administration will use three methods to expand American influence: cooperation, persuasion and coercion.

“We want to emphasize cooperation,” the official said.

For competitors on the global stage, cooperation may not be possible or will be limited. In that case, persuasion will be employed. “That persuasion is bilateral, but also in multinational and international organizations where we know that our adversaries and rivals have been very active in advancing their interests, often at our expense,” the official said.

For example, the official noted that the United Nations human rights organization has been taken over countries that are themselves egregious violators of human rights. Similarly, the U.N. International Telecommunications Union is run by a Chinese national in a bid to advance China’s view of repressive telecommunications controls, while a Russian official is in charge of the U.N. counterterrorism office.

“We can’t be passive members of organizations and just feel good because we’re a member,” the official said. “We have to recognize we have to persuade others in the context of multilateral as well as bilateral relationships.”

On the use of coercion, the official said using coercive means to expand influence often requires “just pulling back the curtain on nefarious activities that cut against our interests.”

In the case of Iran, the senior official said the regime was “able to get a way with murder” by using its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Tehran’s shock troops, as a proxy force that allowed Iran to escape responsibility for covert operations ranging from Yemen to Syria where they are supporting the Bashar Assad regime.

Another example was the White House disclosure on Tuesday that North Korea carried out the global cyber attack using a malware called WannaCry that remotely encrypted data within thousands of computer systems and then demanded payment to unscramble the data.

“So one of the ways we can coerce is also by exposing,” the official said.

Additionally, the administration plans to integrate all the tools of national power in ways that have not been done in the past to promote U.S. interests, the official said, an indirect reference to the use of law enforcement and intelligence operations.

“And really the charge to us is to become more effective operating across all of our departments and agencies and also cooperating with others,” the official said.

Removing military constraints

The Trump administration is hailing its new policy of giving more authority to military commanders in the field as one of the more significant achievements of President Trump’s first year in office.

“The biggest thing he did is he let our military fight. Just talk to the commanders about that,” said a senior administration official.

“There were so many restrictions on the use of force and those restrictions were in many ways a substitute for a clear strategy.”

The administration decided to “get rid of these tactical restrictions that were no longer necessary when you had really clear objectives in mind,” the official said.

One example was the restriction imposed by the Obama administration to limit the number of helicopters allowed inside Syria at any one time to three helicopters. The removal of the restrictions permitted special operations forces in Syria to conduct support operations in ways that accelerated reaching military objectives.

The loosening of curbs has benefited the operations of the Central Command and Special Operations Command, both of which have been conducting airstrikes and other attacks on Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

In the past, for example, Central Command was criticized for not conducting aggressive airstrikes against numerous Islamic State training camps in the Middle East. In recent months, however, the command’s forces have greatly increased both aircraft and drone strikes against all elements of the terror network.

On the helicopters, the official said the restriction meant the military could deploy a single air weapons team of two attack helicopters at one time, because for such operations “three gets you two” — with one helicopter kept in reserve.

“There’s a maintenance issue, because you always need two to fight,” the official said.

“But what that doesn’t allow you to do is a relief on station, which means if you’re in the middle of a fight as an air weapons team in support of Syrian democratic forces, you have to leave the country for your other air weapons team to come on station.”

That created new problems for the mission.

“There are all sorts of restrictions like that that really didn’t make sense,” the official said.

Nominee grilling on Beijing embassy

President Trump this week nominated career Foreign Service officer Susan Thornton to be assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific.

The appointment is seen as a setback for officials within the administration who were urging a more muscular policy toward China.

Ms. Thornton is regarded as among the most pro-China diplomats in the State Department, one who favors conciliatory policies toward China that the president has said will be changed under his newly released national security strategy. The assistant secretary post is one of the most important policy posts in government regarding dealings with China and the region.

Senate Republicans are expected to grill Ms. Thornton on the issue of the Chinese government blocking U.S. efforts to repair the new U.S. Embassy building in Beijing.

According to two administration officials, Ms. Thornton opposed a White House plan drawn up last summer to restrict Chinese government construction of its new diplomatic residence in Washington until Beijing agreed to allow American contractors to securely bring in parts needed for elevator and air-conditioning repairs at the Beijing post. China refused to permit entry of the parts needed for repairs through secure diplomatic pouch without inspection.

U.S. security officials refused the Chinese inspection requests over concerns Chinese intelligence could implant listening devices or other spying gear in the equipment.

The equipment breakdowns at the embassy building made working conditions difficult for American diplomats, especially last summer.

The Chinese government demanded close inspections of all materials brought in by U.S. contractor, even though the parts sent should be free from such inspection under diplomatic protocols.

To resolve the dispute, White House officials wanted to require the Chinese Embassy in Washington to follow the same security protocols as a reciprocal constraint. But Ms. Thornton, who has been acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs since January, opposed the reciprocity plan as too disruptive of U.S.-China relations, the officials said.

The failure to impose strict reciprocity has been a major point of emphasis for the president who is demanding that foreign nations not be given benefits unless the United States is with similar treatment.

The new Trump administration national security strategy places a high priority on “fair and reciprocal” economic relations with foreign states like China.

Ms. Thornton faces a grilling on the controversy at her confirmation hearing in the coming weeks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Bill Gertz can be reached on Twitter at @BillGertz. There will be no ‘Inside the Ring column next week. The column will return on Jan. 4.

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