While teaching at the National Defense University’s Joint Forces Staff College, I had a Chilean Navy Commander as a student in the fall of 2002. He mentioned President Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy remained front-page news in his home country for two weeks. The reason the 2002 National Security strategy made headlines was one comment. Section 3, entitled “Strengthening Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism and work to Prevent Attacks Against Us and our Friends,” President Bush stated the US would, “defend the United States, the American people, and our interest at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders.” The controversial NSS line continued, “while the United States will consistently strive to enlist the support of the International Community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right to self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from harming our people and our country.” Put another way; the US will offensively go it alone.
Offensive is precisely how the world took to the Bush Administration’s September 2002 National Security Strategy. My Staff College Chilean Navy student told our seminar how his nation viewed our new National Security Strategy; the United States, if threatened, will act preemptively. If intelligence reports identified a specific threat before attacking us, President Bush could use offensive means to keep the citizens of the United States safe. As you can imagine, many people on the world stage viewed this Lone Wolf preemptive strategy with ire. There is one example of how preemptive attack saved a nation, one of the world’s smallest but most potent.
The Trump Administration released their National Security Strategy of the United States or NSS on Monday 18 December to much cheering and jeering here and abroad. There has not been this much anticipation for the publication of an Administration’s National Security Strategy since President George Bush published his National Security Strategy one year after the attacks of September 11, 2001, while hunting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq. Both the Trump and Bush Administration’s NSS capture the nation at war against extremist Islamic ideology and an old nemesis with a new leader, North Korea. Both use a word not spoken in political lexicons: offensive.
President Trump ran on the platform of taking care of America and its citizens first. The first pillar of his four pillar National Security Strategy is “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.” In the section “Pursue Threats to their Source,” the NSS states; “There is no perfect defense against the range of threats facing our homeland. That is why America must, alongside allies and partners, stay on the offensive against those violent non-state groups that target the United States and our allies.”
The Trump Administration Security Strategy identifies the primary transnational threats as jihadists terrorists and transnational criminal organizations. An example of Jihadi terrorist organizations is, of course, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. An example of transnational criminal organizations recently in the news is the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah, a Shia political party and militant group based in Lebanon, led by Hassan Nasrallah. The magazine Politico uncovered Hezbollah trafficking $438 million in cocaine into the United States in their three-part article “A Global Threat Emerges.” Hezbollah is not only a terror organization but now a drug cartel trying to gain a foothold in the US.
Pursuing threats to their source as stated in the 2017 National Security strategy means the US and the Trump Administration operates offensively. These offensive operations can be viewed as either preemption against an emerging threat such as Hezbollah, or going offensive against all of the sources of power ISIS possesses. Those sources of power which we call centers of gravity mean the US and willing Allies go after them diplomatically, informationally, militarily, and economically with determination. “Offensive” is defined as going after bank accounts, recruitment tools, any source of weapons, and those individuals in leadership positions.
As the US faces so many threats on so many levels, an offensive strategy gives us many advantages and disadvantages. We have proven that intelligence collection and Analysis can provide our military opportunities to strike critical targets in infrastructure around the world. It took us awhile, but we eventually found Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad Afghanistan compound. But an offensive strategy requires a constant review of Rules of Engagement and how ROE conforms to international law. Many of our allies withheld support from us because of what they viewed as our Cavalier and Lone Wolf strategy and methods of fighting the global war on terror. I applaud the Trump administration’s offensive approach to eliminating some of our nation’s enemies. I would love to be a fly on the wall as Secretary of Defense Mattis works through the issues of Rules of Engagement to find, fix, and finish terror leaders, and the things allowing them to live and breathe.