As soon as it was released on December 18, U.S. President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) met with an expected wave of criticism. The document, an attempt to turn Trump’s “America First” instincts into a foreign policy doctrine, had failed to align ambitious ends with ways and means; to prioritize among objectives; and to convey actual presidential intent. Those criticisms are well-founded. But the flaws don’t just stem from the failures of the Trump administration; they also serve as an extreme reminder of what has gone wrong with the entire endeavor of the NSS—problems that predate the Trump era.
The NSS is supposed to map out a strategy, but over time, the project has devolved into a rhetorical exercise, characterized by grandiose ambitions and laundry lists of priorities. Rather than forcing the U.S. government to engage in serious strategic planning, it has become a case study in the failure to do so. This year’s NSS is unlikely to influence the Trump administration’s foreign policy in any meaningful way. But it should serve as a wake-up call, reminding Congress above all of the need to refashion the NSS so that it fulfills
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