National Security

Trump seeks to make strategy out of ‘America First’

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President Trump, on Monday, unveiled a new national security strategy aimed at delivering on the “America First” theme of his campaign and correcting what he sees as the mistakes of past presidents that damaged the United States’ standing in the world.

The 55-page document, drafted over the course of a year, places the United States in competition with “revisionist” powers like Russia and China that want to realign the world in their interests while eroding American security and prosperity.

“Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition,” Trump said during a speech meant to outline the strategy.

{mosads}“We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries,” the president said of Moscow and Beijing, as long as it “protects our national interest.”

Trump’s rhetoric, however, diverged from the document’s tougher talk on Russia and China at times, raising questions about how significantly the strategy will reshape administration policy.

An animated Trump at one point hailed a recent phone call with Vladimir Putin in which the Russian leader thanked the administration for a counterterrorism tip.

Such cooperation is “the way it is supposed to work,” Trump said in a remark that seemed in line with the general approach he has taken toward Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump reiterated his campaign promises to strengthen U.S. borders and fight “radical Islamic terrorism,” a favorite term of the president that was not used in the strategy document. Trump also made it clear he is willing to buck the international community to get his way.

The president rattled off a number of moves he said delivered on those promises, including the withdrawal from the “job-killing” Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and the “expensive and unfair” Paris climate accord.

He also promoted stock market gains, a strong jobs market and the expected passage of a tax bill in Congress as evidence of his success.

“A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad,” Trump said.

Every president is mandated by Congress to issue a national security strategy, which is designed to guide the administration’s decision making in foreign affairs.

The formal strategy articulates two broad themes of the Trump administration’s approach — what senior officials call “an unprecedented focus on homeland security and the border” and a greater emphasis on economic issues.

It asserts that “a nation without borders is not a nation,” calling for Trump’s signature campaign promise of a border wall and more recent demands to end so-called chain migration and the diversity visa lottery.

In a break with former administrations, the document does not include the goal of spreading democracy abroad, nor does it consider climate change to be a national security threat, as the Obama administration did.

While the strategy was meant to set a unified approach to tackling the world’s thorniest problems, Monday’s rollout showed the divisions within the Trump administration over Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

The document calls out the “subversive tactics” Moscow uses to interfere “in the domestic political affairs in countries around the world,” including the use of “information tools” to “undermine the legitimacy of democracies.”

But it does not spell out in detail how the U.S. should confront Russia over its election meddling, even as it prescribed specific ways to address Chinese trade practices and alleged intellectual property theft.

Briefing the document to reporters on Sunday, senior officials identified Russia’s primary sin as the annexation of Crimea in 2014 — not election meddling.

Trump on Monday made no mention of the intelligence community’s belief that Moscow attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, an assessment that he has repeatedly declined to accept as fact.

The subject is a sore spot for the president, who has chafed at the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign cooperated with the Kremlin’s efforts to intervene in the election.

The omission laid bare the divisions between Trump and some senior officials in his administration. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel’s investigation, attended the speech, sitting in the front section.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom Trump has continually undercut on issues from Iran to North Korea, also attended the speech, arriving late and sitting off to the side.

Trump signaled flexibility in dealing with adversaries — even the so-called revisionist powers — an approach that the document labels as “principled realism” from a president who has styled himself as the consummate dealmaker.

Trump has touted his “chemistry” with Xi and said he “trusts” Putin, arguing that a better relationship with the two strongmen will translate to progress on matters of U.S. concern abroad.

And while the president seemed to take pleasure in spiking international agreements he said are bad for the country, he expressed his willingness to work with allies and partners to curb North Korea’s nuclear program and counter Iran in the Middle East.

“But,” Trump said, “while we seek such opportunities for cooperation, we will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.”

Tags China Donald Trump Rex Tillerson Rod Rosenstein Russia

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