With the Biden administration expected to release a major, statutorily mandated document setting out the president’s broad-brush thinking on U.S. national security in early 2022, conservative national-security thinkers are gearing up to rebut what they anticipate to be its wrongheaded approach.
In a brief, ten-page paper released last week, a group of experts from the two most recent Republican administrations and conservative think tanks outlined an alternative to the Biden administration’s expected national-security-strategy document. Those experts include former Trump administration National Security Council officials and Bush-era figures, such as Will Inboden, a former National Security Council staffer who worked on the 2006 strategy, as well as researchers with the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The point of the project, housed at the Forum for American Leadership, a new conservative national-security group, is to offer suggestions for the White House’s eventual strategy, and also to draw a contrast with it, the two co-chairs of the FAL strategic-studies working group told National Review.
“We hope that the administration would take some of these approaches and use them and draw them out in their own NSS. If not, this could serve as potentially a standard or benchmark against the NSS they put out,” said Paul Lettow, another former NSC staffer in the Bush administration. Gabriel Scheinmann, the executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, a nonprofit foreign-policy network, said part of the goal was to craft a report that would be “stapled to the top of the Biden NSS anytime it gets distributed to a member of Congress.”
But if the conservative alternative to the upcoming Biden NSS were to be summed up in a phrase, it would be, as Scheinmann put it, countering “the [Chinese Communist Party] first, but not the CCP alone.”
Since 1947, the president has been required by law to release a national-security strategy annually, but in practice, most administrations issue one per term. The most recent NSS, from the Trump administration in 2017, was significant because it reoriented the focus of U.S. national-security strategy toward addressing great power competition for the first time since the post-Cold War era.
While the White House hasn’t yet released an official strategy document, it did issue “interim national security strategic guidance” in March. “Recent events show all too clearly that many of the biggest threats we face respect no borders or walls, and must be met with collective action,” that document stated. Meanwhile, Biden and his top aides throughout the past year have talked up rebuilding domestic strength, competing with authoritarian regimes, and bolstering democracy at home as their central objectives.
Perhaps similarly, the conservative strategy articulated by FAL begins linking national security to challenges that Americans face in their daily lives, spanning drug trafficking, human trafficking, cyber attacks, jobs, privacy, and more. “The previous administration called this America First and the current one is talking about a ‘foreign policy for the middle class,’” said Scheinmann.
While the report addresses a number of national-security challenges across the world, however, the main emphasis is on the U.S.-China competition.
In an apparent swipe at the Biden administration’s preferred approach to seeking cooperation with Beijing on climate change, the FAL document says it is unrealistic to maintain an approach “that neatly separates domains of ‘competition’ and ‘cooperation.’” The CCP, the document states, leads an uncompromising “ethno-nationalist Leninist party state that seeks to establish a tribute-state system in eastern Eurasia, and ultimately to challenge the United States for global preponderance.”
The report calls climate change “a long term threat to Americans’ prosperity and well-being” and discusses global public health, while also pointing out that these are not areas for potential U.S.-China cooperation. “What people have considered transnational or global challenges often originate with specific countries that are adversaries of ours. That ought to be said clearly and dealt with forthrightly and honestly in the strategy,” said Lettow.
But the White House is likely to be far from forthright about that, if Biden’s early foreign-policy moves are any indication. So as the administration issues its national-security strategy next year, being able to draw a sharp contrast will be as important as ever.
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