This NY Times report on Obama's "New Foundations" strategy makes the diff clear: he is an intelligent, sophisticated thinker not blinded by hegemonic fervor as was his predecessor:
President Obama’s first formal National Security Strategy argues that preserving American leadership in the world hinges on learning to accept and manage the rise of many competitors, and dismisses as far too narrow the Bush era doctrine that fighting terrorism should be the nation’s overarching objective.
In a 52-page document that tries to balance the idealism of Mr. Obama’s campaign promises with the realities of his confrontations with a fractious and threatening world over the past 16 months, Mr. Obama describes an American strategy that recognizes limits on how much the United States can spend to shape the globe.
An America “hardened by war” and “disciplined by a devastating economic crisis,” he argues, cannot sustain extended fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, while fulfilling other commitments at home and abroad.
“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” Mr. Obama writes in the introduction of the strategy being released on Thursday. “Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.”
That line is just one of many subtle slaps at President George W. Bush. Much of the National Security Strategy, which is required by Congress, reads as an argument for a restoration of an older order of reliance on international institutions, updated to confront modern threats. While Mr. Bush’s 2002 document explicitly said the United States would never allow the rise of a rival superpower, Mr. Obama argues that America faces no real military competitor, but that global power is increasingly diffuse. “To succeed, we must face the world as it is,” he says.
The principal author of the report, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, noted in an interview that Mr. Obama’s move to replace the G-8 nations with a broader group, called the G-20, that includes China, India and Brazil, recognizes this reality. “We are deeply committed to broadening the circle of responsible actors,” Mr. Rhodes said.
Although the administration has put renewed focus on the war in Afghanistan and escalated C.I.A. drone strikes against militants, the strategy rejects Mr. Bush’s single-minded focus on counterterrorism as the organizing principle of national security policy. Those efforts “to counter violent extremism” — Mr. Obama avoids the use of the word “Islamic” — “are only one element of our strategic environment and cannot define America’s engagement with the world.”
He goes on to argue that “the gravest danger to the American people and global security continues to come from weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.” And he dwelled on cyber threats, climate change, and America’s dependence on fossil fuels as fundamental national security issues, issues that received relatively little or no attention in Mr. Bush’s 2002 document, although his administration focused on them more in its second term.
Mr. Bush’s 2002 document articulated a vision of American power that foreshadowed the American involvement in Iraq. Mr. Obama’s version could fuel the ongoing debate about whether his philosophy expands or constricts American influence.
Critics already argue that Mr. Obama does not place enough importance on fighting terrorism or fully embrace America’s singular role in the world as he seeks the favor and cooperation of other nations.
A section on the use of force makes no mention of pre-emptive attacks against countries or non-state actors who may pose a threat, as Mr. Bush did in 2002, just six months before the invasion of Iraq. But Mr. Obama does not explicitly rule out striking first.
“While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction,” he says. When it is necessary, he adds, “we will seek broad international support, working with such institutions as NATO and the U.N. Security Council.”
Mr. Bush’s aides said they would not seek a “permission slip”’ for such actions. Mr. Obama phrases that idea differently, writing, “the United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests, yet we will also seek to adhere to standards that govern the use of force.”
Mr. Obama also defines national security more broadly than his predecessor did, making the case, for example, that reducing the deficit is critical to sustaining American power. He emphasizes issues like the economy, education, climate change, energy and science. In that way, he tries to draw a broader theme linking his presidency to the notion of a “new foundation,” the phrase he previously has coined as a slogan for his domestic program.
“Our national security begins at home,” the strategy says.
Still, for all its self-conscious rejection of the Bush era, the document reflects elements of continuity. For example, it does not disavow using the state secrets act to withhold information from courts in terrorism cases, although it argues for prudent and limited use. It also insists that “we will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades.”
The document does not make the spread of democracy the defining priority that Mr. Bush did, but it embraces the goal more robustly than is typical for Mr. Obama, a reflection of a struggle within his administration about how to approach a topic that became so associated with Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama commits to “welcoming all peaceful democratic movements” and to “supporting the development of institutions within fragile democracies.” But he also broadens the goal, by saying “We recognize economic opportunity as a human right.”
And the document offers assessments of several flashpoints that seem drawn from wording used by the last administration. For instance, it says that if North Korea and Iran abandon their nuclear programs, “they will be able to proceed on a path to greater political and economic integration with the international community” but if not, “we will pursue multiple means to increase their isolation.”
It calls on China to take on “a responsible leadership role” and vows to “monitor China’s military modernization program and prepare accordingly” while saying that disagreements on human rights “should not prevent cooperation on issues of mutual interest.”
It lays out a vision of a “stable, substantive, multidimensional relationship with Russia” but promises to “promote the rule of law, accountable government and universal values” within Russia and “support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbors.” And it reaffirms that the United States is “building a strategic partnership” with India and that “we welcome Brazil’s leadership.”
The bottom line, argued Ms. Rice, is that the security of the United States is inextricably linked to that of people everywhere. “By necessity, we need to build to the greatest extent possible cooperative relationships not only with traditional allies but with new allies,” she said.
In a speech on Wednesday previewing the strategy, John Brennan, the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said it offers a sharper definition of America’s struggle with radicalism.
“Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington. “Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.”
He also rejected the terms jihad, holy war or Islamists because “there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.” Instead, he said, “our enemy is Al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates.”
Mr. Brennan noted the spate of attacks and attempted attacks lately inside the United States, some by American citizens or legal residents. “This is a new phase to the terrorist threat, no longer limited to coordinated, sophisticated 9/11 style attacks but expanding to single individuals attempting to carry out relatively unsophisticated attacks,” he said. “As our enemy adapts and evolves their tactics, so must we constantly adapt and evolve ours, not in a mad rush driven by fear, but in a thoughtful and reasoned way.”