Obama Security Strategy Backs Away From Pre-Emptive War, Stresses Diplomacy

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's new national security strategy says armed conflict should be a last resort when diplomacy is exhausted, stepping back from the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive war and its call for the U.S. to go it alone in defending against foreign threats.

The overarching goal of Obama's National Security Strategy, intended to guide U.S. military and diplomatic policy for years, is to eliminate the need for the U.S. to strike first or take unilateral military action.

In the president's first formal declaration of his national security strategy, Obama breaks with some of his predecessors in putting heavy emphasis on the value of global cooperation, developing wider security partnerships and helping other nations defend themselves.

Obama's apparent effort to move away from the Bush national security legacy without outright repudiation of it seemed likely to draw criticism from the left, which had hoped for a more direct rejection of the doctrine of pre-emptive war. Republicans, on the other hand, seem certain to criticize the policy's emphasis on diplomacy and development aid as evidence Obama is weak on defense issues.

While the document describes the Obama administration's broad national security goals, it mentions al-Qaida specifically and repeatedly and singles out U.S. adversaries Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

Like some of his predecessors, Obama includes a commitment to building U.S. economic health as part of his security strategy. A key tenet of his domestic agenda is creating what he calls a "new foundation" for the economic future through better education, national debt reduction, a stronger U.S. clean energy industry, greater scientific research and a revamped health care system.

Obama says in the document that success in these areas is crucial to maintaining U.S. influence abroad.

"Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home," the president wrote in a preface.

The strategy also says that in an age of globalization, economic turmoil in other nations can directly affect the lives of Americans. "We have also seen how shocks to the global economy can precipitate disaster," the document says.

The strategy paper, required by Congress and the first produced since 2006, departs from past practice in citing the threats of homegrown terrorists, cybersecurity and climate change.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the new strategy Wednesday and was briefed on the White House thinking that produced it.

In his first 16 months in office, Obama has pursued a strategy of gentle persuasion, sometimes summarized as "engagement."

His administration has attended more closely to ties with Europe, sought to improve relations with Russia, pushed harder to restart stalled Mideast peace talks and consulted widely on a road map for defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Obama's critics, however, assert that his policies have largely failed, given the continued defiance of Iran and North Korea on nuclear development, the stalemate in Afghanistan and rising worries about terrorist attacks at home. The White House argues that there is movement in the right direction, albeit sometimes small, and that more time will show the approach is working.

Presidents use the National Security Strategy to set broad goals and priorities for keeping Americans safe. But the document isn't an academic exercise: It has far-reaching effects on spending, defense policies and security strategy.

John Brennan, the White House's top counterterrorism adviser, said Wednesday that the administration would add combating homegrown terrorism to its strategy for the first time.

Attacks like the shooting at a Texas military base last year, which killed 13 people, as well as the failed bombing in New York's Times Square on May 1, have thrust homegrown terrorism into the spotlight, and U.S. citizens such as Najibullah Zazi and David Headley have been charged with plotting terror attacks.

President Bill Clinton did not mention domestic terrorism in his 1998 revision, even though the Oklahoma City bombing had occurred just three years earlier. President George W. Bush made only passing reference to homegrown terrorism in his final National Security Strategy in 2006.

Obama's document calls for more robust U.S. efforts at diplomacy, intelligence gathering and development aid to make the use of military force less likely.

"What we want to do is give ourselves more options," said Ben Rhodes, communications director for the White House National Security Council. "There are obviously going to be times when you have to use force. ... But in order to use force less, you need other means for addressing security threats and resolving problems."

The document spells out that force would be carried out in a way that reflects U.S. values and strengthens the nation's legitimacy in the eyes of an often skeptical world.

"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 of risks of inaction," it says. 

Click here to read a copy of Obama's national security strategy