Continuing with my analysis of the National Security Strategy document…

In my last post on this subject,

National Security Strategy (part 1),

I got only as far as the first paragraph and was struck by the rhetorical use of the word “freedom” so I dedicated the post to this opening paragraph alone. I questioned the liberal but unqualified use of the term in defining a critical policy that effectively serves as license to use the most powerful forces in the world to achieve it’s objectives. The burning question is – freedom for who? As far as I can tell, the National Security Strategy makes no attempt to answer this question.

The paragraphs that follow, making up the rest of the strategy overview, contain more buzzwords designed to evoke emotional support for the policy while being vague enough for clever interpretations should any party of influence decide to bend the document to suit their desires. The overview introduces the notion that this is a new century requiring new rules, but already the document uses questionable language to set the stage.

“For most of the twentieth century, the world was divided by a great struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality.”

Obviously, this line was meant to build up sympathy for the side we commonly associate with freedom and equality – us. Still, this battle of ideas, or as many refer to it, the battle of “isms” was actually a little less clear on issues of freedom and equality. As Bill Emmott, Chief Editor for the Economist, in his book 2020 Vision puts it, “Marxism and its adaptations, Leninism and Maoism were said to be up against liberal, democratic capitalism in it’s various forms.” Emmott continues to explain, “An egalitarian ideology, rejecting private property and the profit motive and enforced by totalitarian methods, confronted an ideology of inequality made acceptable by freedom, democracy and private property.” Already you can see the discrepancies. Did the US fight for freedom AND equality or just the freedom that makes inequality acceptable?

This question pops up before we even move beyond the realm of ideas and into the real events of the 20th century where the inequalities of democratic capitalism were often enforced by US supported dictators and industrial protectionism and the visions of Marxism were most often replaced by whatever policies, suited the totalitarian authorities of communist states. In reality, the battle was between power centers and the ideas were mere symbols, good for rhetoric but otherwise inherit. Really, this line in the National Security Strategy document is no more informative than if it referred to the great struggle as one between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

The overview continues with a description of the current situation where, the “good guys” have won the battle of ideas, but there are still the “embittered few” – “bad guys” that continue to pose an unacceptable threat.

“We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few. We must defeat these threats to our Nation, allies, and friends.”

The comparison between old threats presented by fleets and armies and new threats presented by the potentials of WMD seem very straightforward and hard to argue with, but this is a time where internally our nation seems more divided than ever and externally, our ties with our allies and friends seem more stressed than ever. Again, my point being that this language is very generalized and open to interpretation. When the authors and supporters of this strategy refer to the threats to our nation, are they referring to the threats to the people of our nation or do they really mean something else? The document continues…

“The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests…”

Maybe a good idea to understand then, what our values and our national interests are. With any luck, they may have something to do with American people. OK so I’m being a little cynical, but why do I get this feeling that our national interests and values are determined more by lucrative agreements than by moral integrity? In any case, these values and national interests don’t seem to be defined anywhere in the document and leaving it up to our interpretation may be a problem considering our national incoherency. Just take a look at American voters as we draw close to the 2004 elections. As a nation, we can’t seem to agree on what our national interests and values are. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact I think quite the opposite – disagreement is a privilege enjoyed only by democracies with a reverence for freedom. All the more reason to be specific about what values and interests a national security strategy is designed to support.

“The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. Our goals on the path to progress are clear: political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity.”

That’s the aim? …To make the world “not just safer but better”? Safer for who? Better in what way? Political and economic freedom for who? Are these unreasonable questions to ask? After Indonesians in the province of Aceh protested the Mobil Oil Corporation’s economic freedom to destroy their environment, literally destroying their homes, crops and water supply, Mobil asked their commercial partner, the Indonesian government to suppress their protests, which the government did by literally slaughtering them**. Does that count as part of the struggle for “economic freedom”?

Is our warning to all the sovereign nations of the world that they should choose sides in a global war an example of “peaceful relations with other states”? And are the prisoners locked up without trial in Guantanimo or humiliated in Abu Ghraib an example of “human dignity”? Are all of these things necessary? I’m not saying they are – I’m not saying they aren’t. I’m just saying the language of the document is too vague and from my humble perspective it doesn’t really seem to reflect our actions either.

This document can easily be described as a license for our government to attack anyone it wants to. The qualifications are vague and interpretive and the reasoning is just as vague. Personally, I think we should insure our national defense and as the most powerful nation in the world we should make efforts to protect the liberties and welfare of people around the world. I think most Americans feel this way.

* Indonesia’s state-owned oil monopoly, Pertamina, holds a controlling 55 percent stake of Arun while Mobil owns 35 percent.



I’m currently reading the National Security Strategy, which the Bush administration established last September. According to Noam Chomsky, this document essentially declares the right to attack any potential challenge to the global dominance of the United States. I admire Chomsky and I respect his always lucid observations, but of course I need to look at this document for myself. I could not get past the first of many sections without commenting, so I think what I’ll do is treat this one section at a time and post my comments as I go. My objective is to identify the risks that we may be taking when we accept documents like this from our government. 1

The document opens up with …

The United States possesses unprecedented— and unequaled—strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.

The overview illustrates a nation that emerges from the cold war without counterbalance and suggests that this superpower be leveraged to promote a balance of power that favors freedom. But the problem that I see with this document is that it lacks any indication of who the freedom is for. Freedom is a relative quantity. In South Africa, the Dutch created the Orange Free State, so named because the people there were free to have slaves unlike in the British controlled regions where slavery was banned, for them that constituted a free society. Free trade often means that corporations are free from protective regulations, in other words, free to exploit the workers – free to rip off the consumers… Freedom might mean the freedom to rape, the freedom to kill or the freedom to steal.

Words like freedom and liberty should have modes of operation; in it’s “pure” mode for instance, the term freedom or liberty might carry the singular meanings that we most often think about when we see these words installed in American culture like gleaming jewels that adorn our proclamations, our songs of patriotism and our political speeches. In pure form they can remain suspended in a metaphysical world of idealism and inspiration, but once applied to the physical world, where pure states are rarely ever preserved, these words should switch to an “applied” mode where we should automatically ask questions, starting with who gets the freedom and who pays for it. In applied mode the terms must be qualified.

The National Security Strategy is a document that sets these words down, without qualification, as actual objectives upon which strategies are built. This means we are permitted to understand the strategy but the objectives may remain elusive, or worse yet, open for interpretation. The document provides absolutely no guarantee to anyone that the prescribed strategy won’t be used to secure the freedom for a dictator to enslave his people. Of course there is some language in the second section that uses another unqualifed term “human dignity” but again without qualification it’s hard to know what people this applies to and what people it doesn’t. Obviously, doctrines can be misleading… Our own founding doctrines state that all men are created equal but what they really meant was that all landowners were created equal, the rest of the Americans had to fight for representation.

This is not a direct attack on the strategy so much as it is an effort to look at it from another angle and to at least recognize the potential danger of such a declaration. The document starts off by stating how the power and influence of the United States is unparalleled. Anytime you have an unmatched power, I don’t care if it’s the United States or anyone else – you should always challege their intent and you should always read between the lines.

  1. (2019 Edit: The Bush strategy is no longer posted on the White House website.)