Ideally, everyone in government would be graded as in Olympic diving — that is, a degree of difficulty should be factored into their score. That’s what I wished for when when I was on the National Security Council staff working on coalition management for the Iraq War. And it’s what I wish for my friend and admired colleague Nadia Schadlow now. She is the deputy assistant to the president for national security strategy, the principal author of U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy. Schadlow had the unenviable task of taking this president’s strong views on national security and aligning them with those of his Cabinet appointees, America’s enduring interests, the exigencies of events, and the policies the Trump administration has brought into being in the past 11 months.
Schadlow has done a brilliant job. But that’s only if you grade her as in Olympic diving. Because absent that context, this is a problematic national security strategy, made even more so by Trump’s speech unveiling it. The president’s speech was heavy on campaign themes — indeed, the event felt more like a campaign rally than the solemn affairs of state. It was long on dark themes about how our country had been taken advantage of and allowed to atrophy into a weak and feckless shell of our former greatness. It was long on outlandish claims that no previous administration had understood the centrality of economics to American power or the essentiality of protecting our homeland. It was a chiaroscuro portrait of American national security — a world in which there are only winners or losers.