The NSS states that the United States will “isolate states and leaders who threaten our interests and whose actions run contrary to our values,” and that “We will not remain silent in the face of evil. We will hold perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities accountable.” This is a commendable statement. However, the Trump Administration’s track record with oppressive regimes has been more deferential.
President Trump has been reluctant to condemn human rights abusers around the world. The administration has given little support to multilateral efforts to hold the Assad regime and its allies accountable for their mass atrocities in Syria and it continues to support and provide weapons to the Saudi-led alliance in Yemen, whose indiscriminate attacks on civilians have contributed to one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. These actions do not rise to the level of the NSS rhetoric.
Defending religious minorities is also a stated priority in the NSS, emphasizing working with global partners to protect them from harm and ensure that their cultural heritage is preserved. But one of the Trump Administration’s most fervent policy priorities has been its ban on refugees and asylum seekers from majority Muslim countries. It has also gutted the country’s acceptance of all refugees and immigrants, many of whom are escaping religious and cultural persecution. The administration needs to recognize that these actions harm national security and should be overhauled.
The NSS also acknowledges the importance of the United States’ global influence and ability to influence other nations’ policies. It states: “No nation can unilaterally alleviate all human suffering, but just because we cannot help everyone does not mean that we should stop trying to help anyone. For much of the world, America’s liberties are inspirational, and the United States will always stand with those who seek freedom. We will remain a beacon of liberty and opportunity around the world.” This acknowledgment is important.
But the Trump Administration’s current “America First” approach belies these ideas. Through other statements and actions, President Trump has made it clear to enemies and allies alike that he intends to restrain the country’s influence worldwide, and turn away from its obligations in promoting human rights. The Trump Administration has hollowed out the State Department, one of the country’s most important instruments for promoting human rights. In many of the most tumultuous regions of the world, the United States has no official representative. This has seriously undermined the country’s ability to restrain oppressive regimes and promote American values.
The NSS stresses the importance of the United States’ global alliances to further its policy goals, stating, “When the United States partners with other states, we develop policies that enable us to achieve our goals while our partners achieve theirs.” But President Trump and his administration’s priorities thus far have not been to preserve and grow the country’s alliances, but rather to scale back American involvement in global partnerships, including by withdrawing or stating its intention to withdraw from multiple important multilateral compacts. A course correction, as prescribed in the NSS, would be a welcome change.
The Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy contains many laudable goals. But judging from the administration’s past and current actions and stated priorities, the document appears more aspirational than substantive. The administration should use the NSS’s stated priorities of building alliances, projecting American values, and protecting the vulnerable as a roadmap for its future policies.
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