WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is breaking with the go-it-alone Bush years in a new strategy for keeping the nation safe, counting more on U.S. allies to tackle terrorism and other global problems. It's an approach that already has proved tricky in practice.
The administration's National Security Strategy, a summary of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, also for the first time adds homegrown terrorism to the familiar menu of threats facing the nation – international terror, nuclear weapons proliferation, economic instability, global climate change and an erosion of democratic freedoms abroad.
From mustering NATO forces for Afghanistan to corralling support to pressure North Korea to give up its illicit nuclear weapons program, the U.S. has sometimes struggled in leaning on friends and allies in recent years. Still, the new strategy breaks with some previous administrations in putting heavy emphasis on the value of global cooperation, developing wider security partnerships and helping other nations provide for their own defense.
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 a "reset" of relations with Russia, pushed harder to restart stalled Mideast peace talks and consulted widely on a roadmap 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.
Presidents use their 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.
For example, President George W. Bush's 2002 strategy document spelled out a doctrine of pre-emptive war.
"We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends," the Bush strategy said, with Iraq clearly in mind. The following year U.S. forces invaded, launching a conflict that has lasted far longer and cost far more money and lives than Bush intended.
Obama's new strategy is expected to move away from that doctrine.
Bush, too, valued alliances. But some of his action, especially the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, ripped holes in the fabric of U.S. foreign relations, particularly in Europe.
Bush pursued what he called "a distinctly American internationalism." One of the central pillars of his national security strategy – spelled out in 2002 and repeated in 2006 – was a call to "strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism" and to "work with others to defuse regional conflict."
But because of Iraq, the indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other actions, the Bush administration estranged some traditional allies – a situation exploited by U.S. foes.
John Brennan, the White House's top counterterrorism adviser, said Wednesday that the administration would add combating homegrown terrorism to its strategy.
Terror attacks like the shooting at Fort Hood last year, which killed 13 bystanders, as well as the failed Times Square bombing on May 1, have thrust homegrown terrorism into the spotlight, and U.S. citizens like Najibullah Zazi and David Headley have been charged with plotting terror attacks.
Obama's revision would be the first time that homegrown terror threats were a pillar of the document. President Bill Clinton did not mention domestic terrorism in his 1998 revision, even though the Oklahoma City bombing had occurred just three years earlier. Bush made only passing reference to homegrown terrorism in his final national security strategy, published in 2006.
Brennan, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, did not disclose specifics of Obama's strategy paper. But he hinted at its philosophical underpinnings. Denouncing al-Qaida as "a small band of cowards," Brennan said the U.S. would defeat the militant network while maintaining "our values as a nation."
Obama's document enshrines principles and policies that he has advocated since his election campaign. It will be the foundation for a National Military Strategy document, due soon.
The strategy makes it clear the United States intends to maintain the world's most powerful military, with unsurpassed reach and capability despite being stretched by two wars and other challenges.
Obama touched on many of the themes in the new strategy during a commencement address Saturday to graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The U.S. must shape a world order relying as much on the persuasiveness of its diplomacy as the might of its military, he said. All hands are required to solve the world's newest threats: terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, climate change and feeding and caring for a growing world population, he added.
Obama said the men and women who wear America's uniform cannot bear that responsibility by themselves. "The rest of us must do our part," he said.
"The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone."
Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan, Matt Apuzzo and Barry Schweid contributed to this report.