On January 30 CAP hosted an event with Benjamin Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. Rhodes discussed the Obama administration’s current national security strategy and accomplishments, as well as the challenges the country faces moving forward.
One of the administration’s major achievements is ending the war in Iraq. In her opening remarks, CAP President Neera Tanden said that ending the Iraq War was “a singular accomplishment, but also a singular promise that has been kept”—a promise that President Barack Obama kept regardless of the political climate.
She said, “The president’s vision, which has really taken into account the changing dynamics in the world,” has enabled his long-term view of national security policy and led to the achievements in our fight against terrorism, including the hunt and killing of Osama bin Laden.
In his speech, Rhodes first discussed what the Obama administration has achieved and plans to achieve on national security. He said, “When then-Senator Obama ran for president, we had a platform that was really distilled, I think, into a simple sentiment: we wanted to end the war in Iraq, focus on al-Qaeda, and restore America’s standing in the world.
“And I think three years after he’s taken office,” Rhodes continued, “we can see a clear line of results to that pledge. He has ended the war in Iraq, we have decimated al-Qaeda’s leadership, including Osama bin Laden, and we’ve very much restored America’s position and leadership in the world.”
In the long term, Rhodes said, the Obama administration is committed to “aligning America’s resources and attention to the areas that are the greatest priority to our security interests going forward.”
He pointed to our relationship with and presence in the fast-rising Asia-Pacific region. “The biggest increase you’ll see in economic, political, and military resources is really going to be in this part of the world, given its huge importance economically and politically to the American people.”
Rhodes next turned to the many movements for freer societies taking place around the globe. “We’ve also supported the advance of democracy around the world,” he said, “through an approach that empowers movements for change rather than trying to necessarily impose U.S. outcomes on situations.” He mentioned not only the Arab Spring movement, but also U.S. support for sub-Saharan Africa, South Sudan, and Southeast Asia, as well as continuing dedication to Israel. Supporting democracy around the world will be an ongoing challenge, he added.
Lastly, Rhodes said that “we’ve aimed to lead by example. The president has always thought the best way to promote American values is to live them at home.” In terms of specific achievements, he mentioned “banning torture, without exception, reforming military commissions to bring them in line with the rule of law, and substantially reducing the population at Gitmo without adding to it,” as well as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and our commitment to aiding those struck by natural disasters.
Following his speech, Rhodes had a conversation with Tanden. When asked to address the charge that America’s relative power in the world is declining, he said that, “the notion … is just not borne out by the facts. Frankly, America is in a much stronger position than it was three years ago.” He pointed to our economic recovery, the degradation of al-Qaeda, and to the higher regard and better relationships the United States is enjoying with other countries.
More specifically, he pointed to the killing of Osama bin Laden and our invited presence in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. He said that “there is no other nation that comes close to playing the role that America plays, in underpinning international systems, enforcing international rules of the road, standing for a set of universal values.”
Rhodes stressed that while much remains to be done, the Obama administration has achieved many things on national security, and it is committed to continuing to do so in the years to come.
For more on this event see its event page.