The US government is moving away from “war on terror” rhetoric as Defense Secretary Mattis says “great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security.”
By Ben Norton / The Real News
BEN NORTON: Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has justified numerous wars and interventions throughout the world under the pretext of a so-called “war on terror.”
That appears to be is changing. In December, President Donald Trump released a new national security strategy, which reveals that the top priority for U.S. national security is not countering terrorism, but rather countering the influence of competing foreign states, namely China and Russia.
Defense Secretary James Mattis made this incredibly significant announcement in a speech at John Hopkins University on January 19.
JAMES MATTIS: The world, to quote George Shultz, is awash in change, defined by increasing global volatility and uncertainty with great power competition between nations becoming a reality once again. Though we will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.
BEN NORTON: This marks a huge shift in U.S. government rhetoric on national security, which for nearly two decades has largely been synonymous with counterterrorism.
The United States has used terrorism and the threat of extremist groups like al-Qaeda as an excuse to military intervene throughout the Middle East and North Africa, from Iraq to Libya, to Syria, to Yemen.
Trump’s new national security strategy, however, singles out China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran as the primary targets of U.S. foreign policy.
JAMES MATTIS: We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other… Rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran persist in taking outlaw actions that threaten regional and even global stability.
BEN NORTON: Defense Secretary Mattis said this is the first U.S. national defense strategy in 10 years.
A key part of the Trump administration’s rhetoric in the document is the myth that the U.S. military is somehow underfunded.
JAMES MATTIS: The negative impact on military readiness is resulting from the longest continuous stretch of combat in our nation’s history and defense spending caps, because we have been operating also for nine of the last 10 years under continuing resolutions that have created an overstretched and under-resourced military.
BEN NORTON: In reality, with a $611 billion budget in 2016, the United States already spent more on its military than the next eight largest countries combined — and six of those eight are U.S. allies.
And in 2017, Congress voted to increase the already enormous U.S. military budget to a staggering $700 billion per year.
Trump’s national security strategy also states that sustaining U.S. nuclear weapons and modernizing U.S. nuclear infrastructure is a key priority.
These announcements from the Trump administration are yet another sign that the post-Cold War, U.S.-led hegemonic order is breaking down, and we are seeing the rise of a new multipolar world. Military rhetoric is changing from a war on terror to a more traditional, World War I-style great power rivalry.
However, there has long been skepticism of the notion that the “war on terror” was ever even about stopping terror in the first place. The George W. Bush administration, which launched the endless war, falsely tried to link Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda to justify an invasion that the United Nations said was illegal.
Moreover, while the United States has waged a drone war in Yemen since 2001, ostensibly to beat back al-Qaeda extremists, in recent years, there has simultaneously been a well-documented alliance between al-Qaeda and U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have fought side-by-side against Yemen’s Houthi movement, Ansarallah.
A similar alliance with al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists could be seen in the U.S.-backed opposition in Syria.
The United States is not necessarily abandoning the war on terror, but the Trump administration’s new national security strategy stands out as one of the most frank admissions yet that U.S. foreign policy is principally about undermining foreign states that challenge U.S. economic and political interests, not about stopping extremist groups that threaten civilians.
This announcement did not come out of nowhere. The shift began under former president Barack Obama, whose administration declared a “pivot to Asia” as a key part of its foreign policy.
But this declaration is another indication of the Trump administration’s embrace of a more conventional, hawkish, bipartisan foreign policy. And it’s a sign of President Trump’s abandonment of any pretense of non-interventionism.