Obama: U.S. nat’l security strategy to be based on education, clean energy, rights for terrorists 

President Obama’s speech at West Point Saturday is the most sweeping statement yet of his plan to create a national security policy emphasizing education, clean energy, green jobs, anti-climate change measures, the granting of full American constitutional rights to accused terrorists, and “engagement” with America’s enemies.

Obama is set to release his first formal full-scale national security strategy in the coming week.  At West Point, he told the Class of 2010 that the United States must “see the horizon” beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To reach that horizon, he explained, “we must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership” and “build the sources of America’s strength and influence.”

In Obama administration parlance, phrases like “national renewal” often mean far-reaching domestic programs, and at West Point the president linked three domestic goals to national security.  First, there is education, so American children can “compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global.” Second, there is clean energy, to “power new industry and unbound us from foreign oil and preserve our planet.” Third, there is scientific innovation that “unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the microchip and the surface of the moon were a century ago.”

As for granting full U.S. constitutional rights to accused terrorists, Obama said a “fundamental part” of American national security strategy will be the support of “universal rights” abroad, which begins with a scrupulous adherence to them at home.  “We will promote these values above all by living them,” Obama said, “through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.”

“We will commit ourselves,” Obama told the West Point graduates, “to forever pursuing a more perfect union.”  When Obama talks about “pursuing a more perfect union,” it’s a good bet he is referring to big domestic programs.

Finally, there is diplomatic engagement, which Obama has stressed since the 2008 campaign.  The new engagement, perhaps best symbolized by the administration’s sputtering efforts to influence Iran’s nuclear intentions, will help the U.S. “shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation,” Obama said.  Strengthening old alliances and building “new partnerships” will help the U.S. create “stronger international standards and institutions.”

There is some debate about how much of a change Obama’s speech, and the national security strategy it previews, represents.  The New York Times saw it as a major break with the policies of George W. Bush. John Hinderaker of PowerLine read it as an indication of continuity with the recent past.  But there seems little doubt that it represents a significant change in emphasis from the Bush administration and one that sends a message to the world that Obama is dedicated to domestic concerns and the projection of soft power abroad.  Will our adversaries see that as a statement of strength?

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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