Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote a Monday op-ed in Foreign Affairs in which he urges President-elect Joe Biden to ditch President Donald Trump‘s “America First” policy when it comes to his national security plan, saying that “the world is not getting safer, for the United States or for U.S. interests.”
Mattis, who resigned from the Trump administration in December 2018 over policy disagreements with the president about Syria, wrote the op-ed alongside Jim Ellis, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Joe Felter, a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
This op-ed comes as Biden recently began appointing national security and foreign policy officials for his administration. Some of these include his longtime advisor Antony Blinken for secretary of state, lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security secretary, diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the State Department’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.
“In January, when President Joe Biden and his national security team begin to reevaluate U.S. foreign policy, we hope they will quickly revise the national security strategy to eliminate ‘America first’ from its contents, restoring in its place the commitment to cooperative security that has served the United States so well for decades,” the group wrote. “The best strategy for ensuring safety and prosperity is to buttress American military strength with enhanced civilian tools and a restored network of solid alliances – both necessary to achieving defense in depth.”
The four also heavily emphasized that they think that the United States is presently “undermining the foundations of an international order manifestly advantageous to U.S. interests, reflecting a basic ignorance of the extent to which both robust alliances and international institutions provide vital strategic depth.”
“In practice, ‘America first’ has meant ‘America alone,’” they added. “That has damaged the country’s ability to address problems before they reach U.S. territory and has thus compounded the danger emergent threats pose.”
They then slammed advocates of Trump’s foreign policy, writing that these people “seem to believe that other countries will have no choice but to accede to the United States’ wishes and cooperate on its terms,” then saying that this outlook “is delusion.”
“Sovereign countries always have choices: to compromise with aggressors, take actions opposed to U.S. interests, opt out of assistance when the United States needs it, or cooperate with one another on activities from which the United States is excluded,” they continued. “Assuming otherwise has the result of emboldening adversaries and encouraging tests of the strength of U.S. commitments.”
“Not even the United States is strong enough to protect itself on its own,” they added. “Cooperating with like-minded nations to sustain an international order of mutual security and prosperity is a cost-effective way of securing that help.”
The op-ed then touched on the prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places, deriding both Trump’s and Biden’s view that these conflicts ought to come to an end.
“To dismiss U.S. involvement today in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere as ‘endless’ or ‘forever’ wars—as both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden do—rather than as support to friendly governments struggling to exert control over their own territory misses the point,” they said. “It is in the United States’ interests to build the capacity of such governments to deal with the threats that concern Americans; that work isn’t quick or linear, but it is an investment in both greater security and stronger relationships and preferable to the United States’ indefinitely having to take care of threats on its own.”
Their attention then turned to China, whom they view as the United States’ biggest threat externally.
“The principal external threat the United States faces today is an aggressive and revisionist China—the only challenger that could potentially undermine the American way of life,” the four wrote.
“The United States’ goal, however, should not only be to deter great-power war but to seek great-power peace and cooperation in advancing shared interests,” they continued. “For that, the United States’ alliances and partnerships are especially crucial.”
On top of that, “not even the United States is strong enough to protect itself on its own,” they warned.
“Crucially, the United States should not press countries to choose outright between the two powers,” they added. “A ‘with us or against us’ approach plays to China’s advantage because the economic prosperity of U.S. allies and partners hinges on strong trade and investment relationships with Beijing.”
Concluding their op-ed, the four wrote that they hope President-elect Biden and his national security team will set a new, “cooperative” course for U.S. foreign policy when he takes office, saying, “we hope they will quickly revise the national security strategy to eliminate ‘America first’ from its contents, restoring in its place the commitment to cooperative security that has served the United States so well for decades.”
They then added that “the best strategy for ensuring safety and prosperity is to buttress American military strength with enhanced civilian tools and a restored network of solid alliances—both necessary to achieving defense in depth. The pandemic should serve as a reminder of what grief ensues when we wait for problems to come to us.”
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.