Earlier today, the White House unveiled the augustly titled "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," which sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. Here's what you need to know about it.
What is this report?
It's a document that is required by law to lay out a view of American power in its many formsdiplomatic, military and economicand how it should be used in the world. The last time the U.S. issued one of these was in September 2002, after 9/11 but before the invasion of Iraq, so observers have been waiting to see if perhaps the administration has changed its mind about anything in the wake of the very tough slog U.S. troops continue to face in Iraq.
What does it say?
Despite the difficulties in Iraq, the 49-page report unapologetically reasserts the administration's belief in the doctrine of pre-emption, attacking states or terrorists groups that it believes are a threat to the United States before they can attack us. It declares diplomacy to be the first option in resolving crises, but goes on to say that "we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack." The document also reiterates the administration's commitment to spreading democracy around the world.
So does that mean we're going to attack Iran or another threatening country?
Hardly. The document is not binding and it's largely theoretical. After all, since 9/11 North Korea is widely assumed to have developed at least a few nuclear weapons and Iran has continued with its nuclear program, and we've taken no military action against either country. Indeed, the U.S. military is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and is severely limited in what it can do elsewhere. Still, the document turns up the heat on Iran saying, "we face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,"though it notably does not single out North Korea as a major threat on the horizon.
Are any other major countries taken to task?
The document does go out of its way, albeit rather cryptically, to warn China against "old ways of thinking and acting" in its worldwide pursuit of oil and other energy sources. And it also laments Russia's faltering commitment to democracy.
Anything else interesting in the report?
The document weighs in on genocide, avian flu, AIDS, drug cartels and other stateless threats to American safety, but it doesn't offer a new strategy on these topics, beyond reiterating what the administration has done such as the $15 billion, five-year effort to stem AIDS. As with much of life, especially in Washington, the details get worked out later.