National Security Strategies are domestic political documents that serve two main purposes: they allow administrations to wax philosophic about America’s place in history and they provide an opportunity to mention the various foreign-policy interest groups to let them know you care. This NSS does a good job of fulfilling these rhetorical and domestic political demands of the document. (The lead drafter of President Obama’s NSS is a speechwriter with a background in fiction and poetry, not a strategist.)
If the NSS were read as an actual strategy document, it would be terribly unimpressive. It offers a variety of unsubstantiated theories about international politics (the idea that U.S. security depends on “strengthening human dignity” abroad and “speaking to the hopes” of foreign nations), as well as murky statements about the purposes of U.S. foreign policy (the international order we seek to create “will support our own interests, but it is also an end we seek in its own right.”)
Those less interested in rhetoric and domestic politics—foreign leaders, for example—will look to America’s defense budget as the real indicator of American strategy. There they will see that Barack Obama’s United States is every bit as capacious as George Bush’s, and potentially just as dangerous. Washington needs to realize that foreign leaders make judgments based more on American capabilities than on these sorts of literary exercises.