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Obama calls for a strategy of global cooperation

In a commencement speech at West Point, the president gives a preview of key ideas from an upcoming national security document.

May 23, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Returning to the place where he unveiled his war strategy, President Obama on Saturday presented a broad view of national security policy grounded in international cooperation, marking the latest repudiation of the foreign policy of George W. Bush.

In a commencement address at West Point, Obama said U.S. security policy works best in concert with international institutions, which he acknowledged were imperfect.

The strategy Obama outlined stood in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, whose approach to national security was based on the right of the United States to act unilaterally.

"America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of cooperation; we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice — so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don't," Obama said.

This week, the administration is expected to release its first national security strategy document, and aides said Obama's speech provided a preview of key ideas.

In coming to the U.S. Military Academy, Obama returned to the location where six months ago he revealed his plan for sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

It is also where Bush in 2002 established his own policy by staking out the right to unilateral and preemptive military action against terrorism in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

What became known as the Bush doctrine was widely criticized by those who believed military might without broader international cooperation would not defeat the terrorist threat, especially because interlocking terrorist organizations operate along dangerous frontiers between developing countries.

Obama has steadily moved toward a reversal of that approach, first on the campaign trail and now as his presidency articulates a national security strategy grounded in international cooperation.

"We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by your side in Afghanistan and around the globe," Obama told the cadets. "As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we must also build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions."

The president also forcefully linked national security strategy to his domestic agenda.

He argued that education, clean energy development to power industries without relying on foreign oil, and science and research are necessary to foster the innovation that is a foundation of American power.

"We must first recognize that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home," Obama told those gathered at Michie Stadium.

The president also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the rule of law as a cornerstone of a national security strategy.

Regarding the complex fight against global terrorism, Obama acknowledged the need to back up military power with a range of civilian forces — diplomats, development experts, intelligence officers and law enforcement personnel.

Andy Johnson, director of the national security program at Third Way, a Washington think tank, said: "It's a sobering account the president is giving the American people that the fight against terrorism is going to take a while … and it's going to take significant investment."

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

cparsons@latimes.com

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