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Where’s the Strategy in Obama’s National Security Policy?

National Security Ksenija Pavlovic
For the growing security challenges like ISIS, America needs to show strategic decisiveness. America cannot continue to be a bystander.

Obama’s 2015 national security strategy leaves much to be desired. For the growing security challenges like ISIS, America needs to show strategic decisiveness. America cannot continue to be a bystander, says Ksenija Pavlovic

Is there really a strategy in Obama’s national security policy? Following on the previous national security strategy released during President Obama’s first term, the new strategy announced in 2015 was an opportunity for Obama to further define America’s foreign policy agenda and vision for U.S. global leadership.

The 29-page document released by the White House, however, amounts to an underdeveloped college essay, full of United Nations idealism in reference to the universal values and calls for broader coalitions. While it reads well, the document fails to address the geopolitical reality we continue to face.

Obama’s emphasis on isolation of Russia was wrong

Obama’s national security strategy states that:  “targeted economic sanctions remain an effective tool for imposing costs on those irresponsible actors whose military aggression, illicit proliferation, or unprovoked violence threaten both international rules and norms and the peace they were designed to preserve.”

However, the whole idea that political solutions can be found in economic sanctions is outdated and just a rehearsal of old remedies that mostly hurt the civilian population while still keeping the government in power.

A self-indulgent praise for Obama’s foreign-policy success in getting Europe to impose economic sanctions on Russia, did not really amount to progressive foreign policy, especially in the light of the peace talks that France’s Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel  had at that time with Putin.

Obama’s emphasis on isolation of Russia was wrong. The U.S. foreign policy success did not result from economic sanctions, but from encouraging Europe to stand up to its own defense. U.S. has already done enough and Europe has to start spending more on defense and find its own way to deal with Putin’s illegitimate warfare.

Retaliation against ISIS cannot be an object of debate any longer

Obama suggests that the U.S. efforts to counter the ideology behind violent extremism are “more important than our capacity to remove terrorists from the battlefield.” That is only partially true. The soft counterterrorism measures Obama talks about cannot replace the instrument of military power.  The U.S has the necessary military power to employ a decisive strategy and yet, hesitation is still evident.

Obama stated in an introduction to the national security strategy :  “The United States will always defend our interests and uphold our commitments to allies and partners…..But we have to make hard choices among many competing priorities and we must always resist the overreach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.”

Obama’s warnings of “overreach” unfortunately delineate his inability to make tough decisions under pressure. The president practically made a public stand that America will continue to be a bystander. What Obama calls a strengthening of an unrivaled alliance system, is in fact him waiting for consensus. He is still leading a debate at times when the tough decisions are long overdue.

President Obama does not understand that retaliation against ISIS cannot be an object of debate any longer.

America cannot continue to be a bystander

Let me tell you this. I always feel bad when I need to criticize Obama. He’s an intelligent, brilliant politician who understands domestic politics well, but unfortunately,  when it comes to global affairs, his understanding was not sufficient to America’s needs.  Under Obama’s presidency, America kept standing on the sidelines.

Susan Rice suggested once that those who criticize Obama for his reflective approach to security crises lack a broad perspective and are too reactive. “We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism in a nearly instantaneous news cycle,” Rice said.

To be fair, Obama showed decisiveness when he made the decision to authorize the mission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. If gone badly, this mission could have cost him his 2012 re-election.

“Strategic patience” could indeed be a wise decision if Obama had a comprehensive geopolitical strategy, but for the growing security challenges like ISIS, America needs to show strategic decisiveness. America cannot continue to be a bystander.



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  • I must say that Pavlovic is a tough writer. Objective and accurate. She is a streight shooter. I look forward to following her commentary of global affairs.

  • Not only did you show the holes in Obama’s strategy, but you also made it clear where we should focus. We need to clearly identify the enemy, their weakness, and devise a strategy for defeating them completely. We cannot defeat ISIS, or Al Qaeda (which is reviving btw) if we define our enemy as broadly as “racial Islam” or as Bush would say even more broadly “evil-doers”.

  • Thank you, Richard Wagner. Rhetoric makes a great speech but does not really address the issue, ISIS is a growing problem and it became so big that no matter who will be the next president will have to take a better security approach. I teach a class on the capacities and limitation of the military power against ISIS and what America needs is to incorporate and combine different instruments of national power against this evolving threat. Leading by consensus is great in the process of deliberation, but the decisions are long overdue and have to be made.

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About the author

Ksenija Pavlovic

Ksenija Pavlovic

Ksenija Pavlovic is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Pavlovic Today, The Chief White House Correspondent.

Pavlovic was a Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department at Yale University, Lead Instructor in International Affairs and Security and Politics Law and Economics programs at Yale Global Scholars, Head Writing Fellow at the Yale Graduate Writing Center, Fellow of the “Research and Travel Award in Grand Strategy” from International Security Studies (ISS) at Yale University, Fellow of the Roger Hertog Global Strategy Initiative in Religious Violence at Columbia University, a Doctoral candidate in Political Conflict and Peace Building Processes at Complutense University in Madrid, Fellow of the OSI Global Supplementary Grant Program, and a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at the Juan March Institute. She holds an M.Sc. in European Politics from the London School of Economics, an M.A. in American Politics, and a B.A. in Journalism and Communication from the University of Belgrade. She speaks English, Serbian, Croatian, and Spanish.

Pavlovic has interviewed exclusively pivotal figures including Arianna Huffington, Sir Richard Branson, President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, Karlie Kloss, filmmaker and founder of the Webby awards Tiffany Shlain, film director Lars von Trier, actors Adam Brody, Monica Bellucci, fashion designers Adolfo Dominguez, Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes; the world No.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic; novelist Martin Amis, as well as big names in the governmental arena such as the former President of Serbia Boris Tadic, the leading members of the first democratic Serbian government and Milorad Dodik, President of the Serbian entity of BIH. Moreover, Ms. Pavlovic has exclusively covered the Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, London Film Festival, Madrid Fashion Week, The Madrid Open, and a range of other international benefit and political events.


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