Grass-roots view of Trump’s security strategy

In coming days, the White House will issue a strategy on dealing with foreign threats. But most Americans are already on the front lines of such work. They need thoughtful help from presidents.

AP Photo
Some of the Facebook ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues are photographed in Washington Nov. 1. The ad were released as representatives of leading social media companies faced criticism on Capitol Hill about why they hadn't done more to combat Russian interference on their sites and prevent foreign agents from meddling in last year's election.

Are you now alert to Russian-backed fake news? Better able to defend your computer from hackers in distant lands? More conscious of foreign gangs in your neighborhood or possible foreign terrorists in public spaces? Are you coping with addicts who use heroin smuggled into the United States?

Do you shop for imported goods not made with slave labor? Or rely on energy sources that won’t contribute to stronger hurricanes?

Like it or not, as the world gets smaller, more Americans are now on the front lines of their nation’s toughest security issues. And like any diplomat, spy, or general, they are becoming more conscious of each new threat and setting priorities to deal with them. Most of all, they are forced to be clear about which values drive their responses.

Welcome to the process of writing the National Security Strategy. In coming days, the Trump White House is expected to release its first version of this formal document. Since 1986, Congress has required every president to define an explicit and grand plan for national security. Over recent months, Trump officials have consulted a range of people from lawmakers to foreign-policy experts to find some consensus and then lay out priorities.

The periodic document is aimed at helping citizens hold their government to account and assuring them that Washington considers their safety paramount. It also provides transparent signals to both allies and adversaries about US goals, thus reducing uncertainty and preventing new threats.

Mr. Trump has the final word on this year’s document and, according to his national security adviser, the catchphrase for the White House approach is “principled realism.” It is expected to call for a stronger focus on homeland security and better moves to raise the economic competitiveness of American businesses. And, of course, it will present ways to deal with North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, and terrorist groups.

Yet despite this latest policy setting by government, an increasing share of the task of coping with foreign issues – or solving them – lies with the American public. They are the ones coming to terms with immigrants in the country illegally, such as offering them sanctuary or refusing to deal with them. They are adjusting to industries closed down because a foreign competitor stole the technology for a patented product. They are debating the role of Islam and its followers in American society. Their local election officials are trying to protect vote-counting machines from foreign meddling.

These up-close issues require as much of a moral reckoning for individuals and local communities as does the collective process of producing the National Security Strategy. The global has not only become local but it also requires an awakening to the values at work in dealing with each threat.

Perhaps in the future, presidents will recognize just how deeply issues of national security have become everyday realities. Voting for new leaders, paying taxes, or joining the military is no longer the sum total of public engagement with foreign issues. Security from outside threats now lies closer to everyone’s thinking, demanding even more thoughtful responses.

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