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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Trump’s strategy boosts ‘America first’

Despite its flaws, there is a welcome clarity in the NSS about the threat posed by Iran and its proxies

Mr Trump’s national security strategy has four priorities: defending the homeland, protecting US prosperity, preserving peace by increasing military capabilities and, finally, advancing US interests. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News
Mr Trump’s national security strategy has four priorities: defending the homeland, protecting US prosperity, preserving peace by increasing military capabilities and, finally, advancing US interests. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News

“A central continuity in history is the contest for power”. So proclaims Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), which was released on Monday. Mr Trump’s document has four priorities: defending the homeland, protecting US prosperity, preserving peace by increasing military capabilities and, finally, advancing US interests.

In their own equivalent documents, Barack Obama and George W Bush emphasised America’s centrality to spreading prosperity, preserving human dignity and combating climate change. Mr Trump’s is not abashed about stressing Washington’s importance to maintaining global security, but the dominant theme of the document is the perceived threat to America’s position as the sole superpower by “the revisionist powers of China and Russia, the rogue states of Iran and North Korea, and transnational threat organisations, particularly jihadist terror groups”.

Whereas Mr Obama, as we have recently learned via Politico, was happy to let Hizbollah off the hook to advance the nuclear deal with Tehran, Mr Trump is clear that Iran, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence”.

This is a welcome departure from a failed foreign policy premised on the misguided belief that Iran’s conduct could be moderated by quickening its readmission into the community of nations. The result of Mr Obama’s endeavours is an Iran that is wealthier and even more aggressive.

In order to protect its “interests abroad”, Mr Trump said America will have to guard “its prosperity at home”. This, he explained, means building a wall on the border with Mexico. In other words, isolation from the world is now a necessary condition for America’s engagement with the world.

The rapid ascent of China has unnerved Americans across the board over the last decade. Beijing was emerging as a major fixation of Washington’s foreign policy establishment before Russia took the spotlight away from it with its annexation of Crimea and support for Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. Mr Trump’s national security strategy is kind to neither and blunt about both.

The 68-page document, a collage of world views, does not advance a coherent foreign policy. But what it does say is not altogether unsurprising: Mr Trump will put “America first” in the coming years.

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