Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in an op-ed on Monday that he hopes President-elect Joe Biden will take “America First” out of the national security strategy for his incoming administration.
Mattis penned the op-ed, titled “Defense in Depth,” for Foreign Affairs with Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Jim Ellis, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and Joe Felter, a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
“In January, when President Joe Biden and his national security team begin to reevaluate U.S. foreign policy, we hope they will quickly revise the national security strategy to eliminate ‘America first’ from its contents, restoring in its place the commitment to cooperative security that has served the United States so well for decades,” they wrote. “The best strategy for ensuring safety and prosperity is to buttress American military strength with enhanced civilian tools and a restored network of solid alliances – both necessary to achieving defense in depth.”
The four authors also that the U.S. currently is “undermining the foundations of an international order manifestly advantageous to U.S. interests, reflecting a basic ignorance of the extent to which both robust alliances and international institutions provide vital strategic depth.”
“In practice, ‘America first’ has meant ‘America alone,’” they wrote. “That has damaged the country's ability to address problems before they reach U.S. territory and has thus compounded the danger emergent threats pose.”
They wrote that advocates of the Trump administration’s approach “seem to believe that other countries will have no choice but to accede to the United States’ wishes and cooperate on its terms.”
“This is delusion,” they wrote. “Sovereign countries always have choices: to compromise with aggressors, take actions opposed to U.S. interests, opt out of assistance when the United States needs it, or cooperate with one another on activities from which the United States is excluded.”
They added that “assuming otherwise has the result of emboldening adversaries and encouraging tests of the strength of U.S. commitments.”
“Not even the United States is strong enough to protect itself on its own,” they continued. “Cooperating with like-minded nations to sustain an international order of mutual security and prosperity is a cost-effective way of securing that help.”
Mattis and his co-authors said that “to dismiss U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere as ‘endless’ or ‘forever’ wars – as both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden do – rather than as support to friendly governments struggling to exert control over their own territory misses the point.”
“It is in the United States' interests to build the capacity of such governments to deal with the threats that concern Americans; that work isn't quick or linear, but it is an investment in both greater security and stronger relationships and preferable to the United States' indefinitely having to take care of threats on its own,” they wrote.
The group went on to say that allies also “supplement” U.S. “military strength.”
Meanwhile, they went on to warn that “the principal external threat the United States faces today is an aggressive and revisionist China – the only challenger that could potentially undermine the American way of life.”
“The United States' goal, however, should not only be to deter great-power war but to seek great-power peace and cooperation in advancing shared interests,” they wrote. “For that, the United States' alliances and partnerships are especially crucial.”
They also warned that “not even the United States is strong enough to protect itself on its own.”
“Crucially, the United States should not press countries to choose outright between the two powers,” they said. “A ‘with us or against us’ approach plays to China's advantage because the economic prosperity of U.S. allies and partners hinges on strong trade and investment relationships with Beijing.”
Instead, they recommended emphasizing “common codes of behavior and encourage states to publicly promulgate a vision for their country's sovereign future and the types of partnerships they need to pursue it.”