Before yesterday’s release of the Trump administration’s first National Security Strategy (NSS), I wrote that the document would likely be irrelevant for two reasons: 1) almost every NSS is irrelevant and, at best, serves as a signaling device rather than strategic guidance; and 2) Trump’s NSS would be even less relevant than most because his own worldview, incoherence, and lack of discipline would lead him to inevitably contradict whatever strategy his national security staff devised. Surprisingly though, “inevitably” turned out to mean, “in the speech announcing the strategy’s release.”

To be fair, suggesting President Trump was too undisciplined to stick to the message the NSS was meant to convey is hardly a novel analysis. Others have made similar observations. But the disconnect between the speech and the NSS itself was perhaps most evident in how Trump discussed great power competition. Eliana Johnson of Politico quotes Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution to highlight the incongruity:

“The National Security Strategy and the president’s speech to launch it were worlds apart,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “The strategy described the Russian and Chinese challenge in great detail, but Trump barely mentioned them. Instead he made an impassioned plea for partnership with Putin, demanded allies directly reimburse the United States for protection provided, and blamed the country’s ills on immigrants and trade deals.”

Even when the speech did dovetail with the NSS, it still managed to diverge from reality. Here are a few highlights:

  • Trump echoed the NSS when saying his administration will advance American influence in the world, but he earlier bragged about America’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord;
  • The president insisted that America’s NATO allies need to reimburse the United States for defending them—providing further evidence that Trump thinks America’s alliances are akin to a country club whose members have failed to pay their dues; and
  • Trump claimed that his strategy is the first to recognize that economic security is the basis for national security and American influence abroad, when in reality, nearly every strategy document says something similar. The third sentence of the Obama administration’s 2015 NSS states, “America’s growing economic strength is the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad.”

I will write more as I dig deeper into the strategy today. In the meantime, a transcript of Trump’s speech is available here, while the entire National Security Strategy can be read here.