- - Monday, December 25, 2017


Decades of “national security strategies” have left us jaded. Required by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, they haven’t been strategies at all, just statements of principals and goals without plans to achieve them.

Worse still, they provide every administration an opportunity for pretentiousness. The February 2015 National Security Strategy published by the Obama administration was almost Churchillian in tone, but neither President Obama nor his national security team acted as if they took it seriously.

President Trump’s new strategy aims to deal with the big flock of chickens that have come home to roost. None of his three predecessors prevented North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Mr. Obama’s risible “Russian reset” led to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unrestrained strategic aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and beyond. Mr. Obama was so desperate to sell his nuclear weapons deal done with Iran that he reportedly derailed a federal task force that aimed to stop the Iranian-backed terrorist network Hezbollah from smuggling $1 billion of drugs annually into the United States.

Iran, benefitting enormously from that deal, is partnered with North Korea in developing both nuclear weapons and missiles at a rapid pace. China is expanding as fast as it can in the South China Sea and in Pakistan. The world is on fire, and the new NSS is Mr. Trump’s first try to quench the flames. The question is whether his actions will match the NSS’ bold words. There are good reasons to believe they will.

The new NSS, like its predecessors, isn’t a specific plan to achieve stated goals, and it isn’t meant to be. That will be contained in the classified National Military Strategy that is being drafted by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford and his Pentagon team. But, as we’ll see in a moment, Mr. Trump may have hinted at one highly important part of what Gen. Dunford is drafting.

Protecting Americans’ lives, homeland and way of life, according to the Trump strategy, includes not only what is expected — enhanced missile defense, targeting terrorists and countering biological threats such as North Korea now brags about assembling — but also building the border wall Mr. Trump promised during his campaign. After the tax bill passed last week, Mr. Trump evidently isn’t going to rest on his laurels. He said that he was going to press forward with building the border wall.

Noticeably absent from Mr. Trump’s NSS list of threats is “climate change,” which Mr. Obama (and his generals) insisted nonsensically was the greatest threat to national security.

Since our economy recovered from the Depression of the 1930s, it has been the engine that propelled freedom through two world wars, the Cold War and since. Our failures to produce victories in the Korean War and Vietnam — and arguably in Iraq and Afghanistan — were failures of leadership, not economic failures. Mr. Obama’s February 2015 NSS said that America’s strong economy was a feature of national security, but his actions served only to weaken it.

Mr. Obama and his administration tugged their forelocks, muttered that our national debt is a threat to national security and proceeded to massively increase government spending. Mr. Trump’s NSS, while labeling the debt a threat, poses the heretical — by liberal standards — methods of tax reform and spending cuts as a means to deal with it. If the president is serious about spending cuts, he has yet to demonstrate that.

One of the most important parts of the NSS are stated halfway through it. It says that our adversaries — again naming China, Russia among them — recognize that ” the United States often views the world in binary terms, either ‘at peace’ or ‘at war’ when it is actually an arena of continuous competition.”

Peace, as Henry Kissinger wrote in his 1954 book, “A World Restored,” is not just the absence of war but the stability of world order. China and Russia seek to place themselves at the top of a new world order based on their nationalist and, in China’s case, communist ideologies. Iran, North Korea and the Islamic terrorist networks are revolutionaries whose ideology compels them to destroy that order.

Ideologies are the centers of gravity of the conflicts we face. Though the NSS notes that we need to combat the jihadist ideology, the president may have hinted at what Gen. Dunford’s classified strategy will contain. In his Dec. 18 speech announcing the National Security Strategy, Mr. Trump went beyond that, saying, “In addition our strategy calls for us to confront, discredit, and defeat radical Islamic terrorism and ideology and to prevent it from spreading into the United States.”

As I have written since March 2006, the sine qua non of defeating Islamic terrorism is the defeat of its ideology. The president, who is not an ideological man, and some of the people in his administration understand this. We know how to fight ideological wars but whether we will is questionable because the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is strongly opposed to doing so.

It took more than four decades to defeat the Soviet ideology. It will take at least that long, and perhaps longer, to defeat the ideology of the Islamic terrorists. But unless we do, Mr. Trump’s strategy — and the National Military Strategy being drafted by the Pentagon — will fail.

Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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