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Obama’s National Security Plan Highlights Diplomacy, Global Economy

May 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The Obama administration unveiled its new national security plan, with calls for increased diplomacy and economic discipline. Margaret Warner discusses the president's new security announcement with Jim Lehrer.
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight: The Obama administration presents its new national security strategy. Today, in a 52-page document, the principles behind the policies were laid out.

In a Washington speech, Secretary of State Clinton said that includes the smart use of power.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: We are no less powerful, but we need to apply our power in different ways. We are shifting from mostly direct exercise and application of power to a more sophisticated and difficult mix of indirect power and influence. So, smart power is not just a slogan. It actually means something.

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner covered the speech and read the document behind it.

Margaret, welcome.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: How should smart power be defined in these new terms?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it really reflects the assessment in this 52-page document that they’re saying they’re looking at the world as it is, not as it used to be.

And that means that, though the U.S. is still number one economically and militarily, it really isn’t alone in exercising power, and that, to work it will in the world and protect its interests, the U.S. is going to have to more skillfully manage cooperation among allies, adversaries and all these emerging new powers.

So, it means more emphasis — obviously, I mean, military remains an important tool in the kit bag, but greater emphasis on cooperation and persuasion. And it is a strategy or an approach that, as she said today, requires patience.

JIM LEHRER: Patience. And were there any specifics, either stated or implied, like Iran, North Korea, anything like that, that you can kind of say, yes, I understand that?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I think so.

I mean, this document is not — it’s not like a State of the Union or it’s not like a policy speech that announces new policies.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what — the specifics would be tucked into sections.

Let’s take Iran. So, that would be in the section about how important it is to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And in there would be a paragraph about the approach they’re taking to Iran, which is the same as North Korea, to show them there are incentives for doing the right thing and incentives for doing the wrong thing.

But, of course, implicit in that is that takes international cooperation, as we well know. But this was more their sort of broad strategic concept, not a specific policy.

JIM LEHRER: What — where did this come from? What drove the need for this or the desire for a new strategy?

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sure some of the people who have been working on this for weeks and months were wondering the same thing.

MARGARET WARNER: Congress, oddly, actually requires this of the president every year. Now, President Bush did it only twice, in ’02 and ’06. And this is the first Obama national security strategy.

And it was just like any of these huge White House pronouncements. Think of State of the Union, only even more players, I mean, really, too many cooks to fit in the White House kitchen.

JIM LEHRER: Was there — if you had to say, all right, this really changes the way the United States has been operating, can you say that in a…

MARGARET WARNER: A couple quick things.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: One is, he — they put for the first time America’s economic and other kinds of strength here at home at the center, says America can’t be strong abroad unless we’re strong at home. And it’s the first national security strategy to mention the deficit and the national debt, and how important it is to address that.

JIM LEHRER: It’s never been in one of these before, has it?

MARGARET WARNER: Never. Never.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: So, it’s way more, they like to say, comprehensive. Or one could say it’s an acknowledgment of reality.

Another difference is in the use of military force. The interesting thing to me there is, I mean, he doesn’t reject preventive war. He reserves the right to use force unilaterally. But he does warn against the danger of overusing military force.

And, as he said at his speech at West Point, our adversaries would like nothing better than to have the United States, America, sap its strength by overextending itself abroad. So, there was an explicit acknowledgment of the dangers there.

And then, on terror — as we know, no longer a war on terror, a war against al-Qaida — that’s more tonal. As we see how they’re operating around the world, they are still keeping up pressure in where they think al-Qaida and its affiliates are — are either resurgent or just there.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Margaret, did he — is it correct to say that there are fingerprints and thought prints by the president in this? This is not something that came out of a groupthink?

MARGARET WARNER: Very much. And I’m glad you mentioned that.

I mean, this is really the Obama doctrine from the campaign, but tempered by 16 months in the real world. So, for example, in the Iran — again, going back to the Iran section, he said some — it says something like, we are pursuing engagement — I don’t have the exact words here — but, you know, essentially, without any sense of illusion.

And, I mean, there’s no doubt that this strategy of cooperation, they have seen the limits of that. I mean, Hillary Clinton said today, you know, it’s one thing to get in a room with a lot of other countries and we think we have a community of interests, but to go from there to common action is very tough.

She used Copenhagen as an example. We all want to have a world in which we don’t have global warming, but we came in with what we thought was a great idea. So did everybody else. And we know what happened at Copenhagen.

JIM LEHRER: She made the speech today.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Should she be considered a co-author, at least, of this?

MARGARET WARNER: She is one of many co-authors.

JIM LEHRER: One of…

MARGARET WARNER: I mean, I think they took the Obama strategy, and then everybody filled — I mean, they — they collectively filled out all their sections.

What we are seeing is that they’re rolling this out. I mean, President Obama gave the overall themes at West Point. John Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser, at the White House, gave a speech at a Washington think tank yesterday laying out the terrorism policy. She did the sort of diplomacy and development. And — and then Jim Jones, the National Security Council director, is going to lay out the strategy again tomorrow.

So, each is taking a piece and trying to develop it.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Margaret, thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Jim.