A Tale of Two National Security Visions
Rice offers praise for Obama's 'lead from behind' legacy, Flynn stresses pursuit of the national interest
Outgoing National Security Adviser Susan Rice appeared with her incoming replacement, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Institute of Peace “Passing the Baton” conference, which marks the transfer of power from one administration to the next in the context of national security.
To the casual observer, the Rice-Flynn event could be seen as little more than a photo-op of the two shaking hands sandwiched in between two speeches, but the speeches delivered couldn’t have been more different.
The National Security Council’s “primary mission is the safety of the American people and the security of our nation.”
While Flynn praised American exceptionalism and the nation’s lead role as the global guardian of freedom, Rice’s speech was a loving eulogy to the Obama administration’s domestic legacy and an appeal to protect the globalist world order.
Rice began her speech by reminding the audience of the grave state of affairs Obama inherited upon entering office. “The economy was in shambles … al-Qaida had regrouped … and Iran was on the verge of acquiring nuclear material,” Rice said.
“In a rapidly changing world, we needed to transition out efforts to advancing our interests in the long term,” said Rice, before jumping into loyal Obama henchman mode and delivering a mini-stump speech.
“That began with getting our economic house in order … our economy is [now] far stronger,” Rice claimed, citing unemployment numbers and job growth. Unfortunately for Rice’s rosy narrative, while unemployment is down since Obama took office, the number of those who have removed themselves from the workforce is at an all-time high.
“The poverty rate has fallen … [and] median household income grew at the fastest rate on record,” Rice continued, conveniently ignoring the fact that the wealth gap has grown and median household income for the middle class specifically is stagnant.
Rice’s rose-tinted review of Obama’s legacy grew only further detached from reality from there. Rice bragged about winding “down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” but was conspicuously silent on the rise of ISIS, the revival of the Taliban, or the increasing Iranian influence over Iraqi institutions.
Rice then claimed that the Iran deal “[cut] off every pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon.” This is an especially astonishing statement to make, given that only yesterday it was revealed that Iran is to receive a large shipment of uranium from Russia. If every pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon has been severed, the Iranians have apparently not been told.
Rice did however take a brief pause from lauding the Obama administration’s record to lament its failure to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “Failure to move forward on TPP is eroding American regional credibility,” Rice said.
Rice also praised Obama’s resetting relations with Cuba. “Shedding that historical baggage removed an irritant that impeded … progress in the region,” she said. The murderous Cuban Communist regime is hardly historical baggage to those who still suffer in its prisons, including journalists.
Finally, Rice hailed the Obama administration’s handling of the migrant crisis and its refugee resettlement efforts. “We’ve provided more humanitarian aid than any other country in the world … and after rigorous vetting welcomed tens of thousands of refugees.”
Of course, many national security figures have warned rigorous vetting of refugees from states wracked by civil war and with barely functioning governments is effectively impossible. Nevertheless, Rice actually claimed with a straight face that the thousands of Muslim migrants being imported into the United States are an “investment in strength and security.”
After finishing her love letter to Obama’s legacy, Rice delivered her main message. When it comes to national security, Trump’s message of America First is wrong.
“In the face of these [global] challenges, it might be tempting to turn inward,” Rice said. But “we must protect ourselves and the international order we have built.” The single-most important purpose of U.S. national security policy, Rice said, is “strengthening a global order that has prevented a war among major nations.”
Incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn clearly had a very different idea of the mission of American national security policy. The National Security Council's "primary mission is the safety of the American people and the security of our nation," said Flynn. "That mission is to be supported by an overarching policy of peace through strength."
"One of those strengths is the unapologetic defense of liberty … one of the core tenets of American exceptionalism," Flynn continued. This is a clear contrast to Obama's policy toward Middle Eastern Islamists and Central and South American socialists.
Flynn also promised the reexamine America's global commitments to ensure that they are in fact in the interests of the American people. Although "alliances are one of the great tools we have," Flynn said that a Trump administration will "possibly rebaseline our relationships abroad."
This could mean pivoting away from Asia back to the West, a true reset of U.S.-Russian relations, or even a complete overhaul of America's approach to the Middle East. Any of these would mark a significant break from the Obama-Bush-Clinton foreign policy legacy.
"Whether we like it or not, the world needs us," Flynn said. But "we must never fear who we are or shy away from the values and principles that America represents."