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Obama manifesto outlines tough, nuanced approach to security

The administration statement says the fight against terrorism is only one facet of its national security approach. Others include addressing climate change and the economy.

May 27, 2010|By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — — The Obama administration on Thursday released a sweeping statement of its national security goals, emphasizing a strong counter-terrorism effort but also citing the importance of government action on issues such as climate change and the economy.

The 52-page manifesto, called the National Security Strategy, aims to draw contrasts with President Bush's 2006 version, which focused heavily on the anti-terrorism fight, and began by saying, "America is at war."

The Obama plan says that the government campaign against radical extremism is "only one element of our strategic environment and cannot define America's engagement with the world."

The document calls for the United States to strengthen international institutions, heed treaties and norms, and build stronger ties to allies, including to the emerging powers of India, Brazil and China. It says the United States needs to manage the emergence of new powers, while pressuring other nations to shoulder more of the burden of international problems.

It also declares that there are limits to how much the U.S. government can spend fighting in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq.

That message may draw uneasy attention from governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which already are worried that the administration may reduce its expensive efforts in those places.

The security report is required by Congress. Ben Rhodes, the White House aide who is its principal author, said its policies weren't new but were pulled from other statements and presidential speeches.

The document isn't binding but is likely to be carefully studied by Congress and Republicans in an election year. White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, national security advisor James L. Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made public appearances Wednesday and Thursday to promote the document.

The report defines national security broadly to encompass work on domestic issues such as education, the economy, climate change and energy independence. It says the economy is the "wellspring" of American strength and calls for a reduction of American debt.

The report's discussion of terrorism is carefully nuanced. It describes the effort as a "war" against Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, but it avoids use of the term "Islamic" and asserts that the effort against "radical extremism" is not aimed at any religion.

It cites terrorism as one threat, along with natural disasters, cyber attacks and pandemics.

The strategy report is carefully modulated in its treatment of democracy promotion efforts overseas, a cause associated with Bush and sometimes criticized by Democrats and international leaders.

"We are promoting universal values abroad by promoting them at home, and will not seek to impose these values through force," the report says.

At the same time, it emphasizes that the administration "welcomes all peaceful democratic movements."

Though the report seeks to draw contrasts with Bush, in many ways it also shows the continuity of American foreign policy. The administration will seek to follow international norms on the use of force, but it adds that "the United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally."

In language the Bush administration also could have used, the Obama strategy document says the government must steer other nations "in the direction of liberty and justice" so that they will prosper by meeting their responsibilities and "face consequences when they don't."

paul.richter@latimes.com

Christi Parsons in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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