US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy declares that Israeli is not the root cause of Middle East turmoil, while also pillorying Iran as the world’s leading exponent of state-sponsored terrorism.
The document — designed to serve as a framework for the Trump administration’s approach to the world — says that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been regarded as the main obstacle to regional peace and prosperity, the rise of jihadist terror groups and Iran have made plain that this is not the case.
“For generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region. Today, the threats from jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats,” the document states.
The hard-hitting text released Monday also says the US “remains committed to helping facilitate a comprehensive peace agreement that is acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The document — which has been 11 months in the making — is required by law, and is designed to form a framework for how America approaches the world.
Previous national security strategies have been released without much fanfare and served as guideposts, rather than doctrinal commandments.
But in this topsy-turvy administration, the document has taken on extra significance. Allies will now look to it for clarity about the intentions of the world’s preeminent economic and military power.
The text slams the Iranian nuclear deal and says Tehran is continuing to destabilize the Middle East.
“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence through partners and proxies, weapon proliferation, and funding. It continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles and intelligence capabilities, and it undertakes malicious cyber activities. These activities have continued unabated since the 2015 nuclear deal,” it reads.
The document struck out at Russia and China, using remarkably biting language to frame Beijing and Moscow as global competitors.
“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” the document states — a sharp break from Trump’s friendly approach to Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.
Accusing China of seeking “to displace the United States” in Asia, the strategy is a litany of US grievances, from the Chinese stealing data to spreading “features of its authoritarian system.”
“Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others,” it says.
Russian nuclear weapons are deemed “the most significant existential threat to the United States,” and the Kremlin is described as a power that “seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders.”
“Russia aims to weaken US influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners,” it warns.
Trump expanded on the new strategy — based on his trademark “America First” slogan — in a Washington speech Monday.
He said a new era of competition was underway and that the US will follow his 2016 campaign doctrine of “America First.” The US, he said, will cooperate with other countries in a manner that always protects our national interests.”
Trump also said that the United States “will stand up for ourselves and our country like we have never stood up before.” He called for competing “with every instrument of our national power.”
Guidepost or diversion?
The text identifies four main priorities: protecting the country and the American people; promoting American prosperity; preserving peace through strength; and advancing American influence.
Foreign officials in Washington often complain that there are effectively “two administrations” — one that they hear from day-to-day in contacts with the State Department and Pentagon, and another coming from Trump, often via Twitter in 280 characters or fewer.
Trump and his advisers often publicly differ starkly on fundamental security issues from the Middle East to talks with North Korea.
But there is little evidence that Trump, who has bucked norms repeatedly in his meteoric rise to power, will stick to the script.
His comments about Russia will be especially closely watched. He has repeatedly played down concerns from the Pentagon, State Department and CIA about Putin’s meddling in the 2016 election.
So far, four Trump campaign aides have faced criminal charges as a result of an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Moscow.
Legacy of ashes
Since coming to office, Trump has work to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from climate change to free trade, sometimes leaving Washington isolated on the world stage.
On Monday, the United Nations Security Council overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution to reject Trump’s controversial recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — a move Washington blocked with its veto.
Trump’s National Security Strategy also breaks with allies on the threat of climate change, avoiding the term outright and instead calling for “energy dominance.”
“America’s central position in the global energy system as a leading producer, consumer, and innovator — ensures that markets are free and US infrastructure is resilient and secure,” it says.
Ascending to power on a message resolutely skeptical of climate change, Trump said in June that he would pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change signed by almost 200 countries.
A year before he left office, Obama said climate change would affect the way America’s military must defend the country, through profound adjustments in organization, training and protection of infrastructure.