Trump Touts New Security Strategy as Congress Warns of Costs

President Trump lays out a national security strategy that envisions nations in perpetual competition, reverses warnings on climate change, and de-emphasizes multinational agreements, in Washington, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Trump lays out a national security strategy that envisions nations in perpetual competition, reverses warnings on climate change, and de-emphasizes multinational agreements, in Washington, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump outlined Monday a new "America first" national security strategy reliant on a dominant military worldwide and left Congress to deal with how to pay for it.

In a half-hour address described by the White House as a "dramatic" departure from his predecessors, the president said America had entered a new era of "strategic competition" against the rest of the world.

The U.S. would look to cooperate where possible, Trump said, but "to succeed we must integrate every dimension of our national strength, and we must compete with every instrument of our national power."

In renewing his "Make America Great Again" campaign theme, he said, "we will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before."

"We know that American success is not a foregone conclusion," the president said. "It must be earned and it must be won. Our rivals are tough, they're tenacious, and committed to the long term but so are we."

"This strategy recognizes that, whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition," he said. "We accept that vigorous military, economic, and political contests are now playing out all around the world."

The main "strategic competition" will come from Russia and China, Trump said, and the outcome will be determined by America's commitment to its core values.

"We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth," he said. "We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest."

Protecting the national interest will be the main responsibility of a strengthened U.S. military, he said. To meet the challenge, "we are once again investing in our defense -- almost $700 billion, a record, this coming year," he said.

However, the $700 billion was a policy proposal under the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 that has yet to be cemented in the budget for 2018. Congress faces a Friday deadline for enacting a 2018 budget or passing yet another continuing resolution to keep spending at 2017 levels, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if no action is taken.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, quickly endorsed Trump's vision while warning about the politics of the costs. He said in a statement: "This strategy is a good start, but only sufficient funding for our military can make it real."

To achieve the goals outlined by the president, "Congress has to stop asking our military to do more with less and pass adequate and reliable funding for our troops," Thornberry said.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis backed Trump's plan, saying that it "provides our nation a clear and comprehensive strategy to address the security challenges that America faces."

In a statement, Mattis also stressed his long-held belief that the first choice of the military in any potential conflict was to support diplomacy.

"As the world's most lethal armed force, the men and women of the United States military ensure our diplomats always speak from a position of strength," Mattis said.

Much of the new strategy embodied Trump campaign themes -- building a border wall, achieving energy independence, rejecting unfair trade deals and climate change, and putting a halt to "nation building" as a component of military interventions.

The foundation of national defense rested on prosperity at home, Trump said in singling out what he called the failure of the Obama administration to recognize that reality.

"To seize the opportunities of the future, we must first understand the failures of the past," Trump said in his address at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

"For many years, our citizens watched as Washington politicians presided over one disappointment after another," he said.

"Our leaders in Washington negotiated disastrous trade deals that brought massive profits to many foreign nations, but sent thousands of American factories, and millions of American jobs, to those other countries," he said.

His election had altered the dynamic, the president said. "Last year, all of that began to change. The American people rejected the failures of the past. You rediscovered your voice and reclaimed ownership of this nation and its destiny," he said.

"Upon my inauguration, I announced that the United States would return to a simple principle: The first duty of our government is to serve its citizens, many of whom have been forgotten. But they are not forgotten anymore. With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first," Trump said.

"We are rebuilding our nation, our confidence, and our standing in the world. We have moved swiftly to confront our challenges, and we have confronted them head on," he said.

Trump's address was backed up by a 70-page paper released by the White House giving detail to the new strategy.

In personally outlining the plan, Trump broke with the practice of his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush. They chose simply to issue the paper mandated by Congress, and did not make a speech to promote it.

The Trump document stated China and Russia "are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence."

"These competitions require the United States to rethink the policies of the past two decades -- policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners," the Trump strategy said.

The document, already being called the "Trump doctrine," stated that "for the most part, this premise turned out to be false."

In the document and in his address, the president said his granting of more authority to field commanders led to the "crumbling" of the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

"We're now chasing them wherever they flee, and we will not let them into the United States," Trump said of ISIS fighters.

On Afghanistan, Trump said, "Our troops are no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies of our plans. We are beginning to see results on the battlefield."

On North Korea, the president said his policy "has resulted in the toughest-ever sanctions. We have united our allies in an unprecedented effort to isolate North Korea."

"However, there is much more work to do. America and its allies will take all necessary steps to achieve a denuclearization and ensure that this regime cannot threaten the world," he said.

"This situation should have been taken care of long before I got into office, when it was much easier to handle," he said. "But it will be taken care of. We have no choice."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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