It’s no surprise that Trump’s newly released National Security Strategy (NSS) is a far cry from the Obama doctrine. Trump prefers to think of national security as an inward-out projection of power. It starts with an America that secures its borders and fosters its economic and military strength. Trump believes our security as a nation depends on our success as a nation, and that means competing and winning against adversaries around the globe.
Obama’s national security philosophy, on the other hand, took a decidedly internationalist, multilateral approach for eight years. The former president’s security philosophy was rooted in collective action and consensus building. Obama’s vision of national security was a combination of U.N. charter pablum and faculty lounge banter. He saw good faith in enemies where none existed, and highlighted flaws in allies who had stuck with us through the toughest of times.
But when comparing Trump and Obama’s NSS, the most glaring difference is in the approach to combating radical Islamic terrorism. Obama wished it away. Trump plans to crush it.
Of all Obama’s myriad security misconceptions, his unwillingness to speak honestly about the specific challenges of radicalization in the Islamic world was the most bizarre and self-defeating. Such rhetorical pandering failed to placate the rising tide of jihadism around the world in 2015, and may well have given pause to our Muslim allies about the seriousness of Obama’s fight against the enemy he refused to name.
Hubris is the simplest and most direct explanation here. Obama and his national security team always fancied itself a professorial group. As a result, there was a pretentious tendency in both the substance and style of their foreign policy. The stubborn refusal of the administration to join the rest of America in calling the terrorist group “ISIS,” instead opting for the name “ISIL,” was arguably the most obvious manifestation of this. But the decision to excise any mention of radical Islam in the National Security Strategy of the United States while a caliphate was in full swing is utterly astonishing.
Trump has changed course on this point, and rightly so. The term “jihadist” appears 24 times in Trump’s NSS, and the document goes into some detail about the plans to fight radical Islamic terror groups. This White House plans to take the fight to the enemy, including actions that may carry political risk, but will mitigate the risks of our citizens losing their lives in yet another catastrophic attack.
At a minimum, Trump’s approach to counterterrorism sets the stage for the fights to come. Our allies in the Muslim world can now know that the dictates of political correctness will not determine battlefield strategy. The Obama-era approach of battlefield timetables abroad dictated by the polls in battleground states here at home is over.
An even more powerful signal to our allies than the vision articulated in Trump’s NSS is the greatly underreported victory over the Islamic State in 2017. The commander-in-chief accelerated and escalated the campaign against ISIS, while keeping the Iraqis in first position and minimizing the deployment of U.S. troops. That the so-called caliphate was shattered during Trump’s first year in office has set a tone going forward. The jihadists, and all those who fight with us against them, have taken notice.
To be sure, an NSS is as much a political philosophy document as a policy template, and it is only the first year. The Trump administration has inherited two wars and countless ongoing counterterrorism operations around the world. But a clear-eyed view of the battlefield is necessary for victory. Everywhere that U.S. troops currently endure gunfire and explosions on a regular basis has some connection to Jihad. Any overview of U.S. security that omits this fact isn’t worthy of the word “strategy.”
It was sanctimonious nonsense for Obama to play word games with jihadism in the past. Trump has set this right, and it bodes well for our success in the future in the ideological war against radical Islam, in all its manifestations.
Buck Sexton is a political commentator, national security analyst and host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Buck Sexton with America Now.” He is a former CIA officer in the Counterterrorism Center, appears frequently on Fox News Channel and CNN and has been a guest radio show host for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Follow Buck on Twitter @BuckSexton.