Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy, and the Press

The United States faces a complex array of national security challenges in the 21st century. Evolving threats from state and non-state actors, rapid technological change, and domestic political polarization all pose risks to American security, prosperity, and values. An effective national security strategy requires aligning policies, priorities, and resources to manage key challenges and opportunities. The press plays a vital role in shaping public discourse and guiding policymakers, though its impact depends on journalistic integrity and wisdom. This article analyzes central issues confronting U.S. national security and the complex triangle between security policy, strategic communications, and the press.

Defining National Security

At its most basic level, national security aims to ensure the survival and vital interests of a nation-state against threats. Butdefinitions have evolved with changing contexts. Early U.S. concepts focused on protecting the homeland and maintaining non-entanglement abroad. The 1947 National Security Act defined national security in military-focused terms on safeguarding the nation from external threats. By the 1960s, definitions expanded to include non-military dimensions like the economy, environment, and social cohesion. Post-Cold War concepts of human and international security further expanded frameworks. In 2010, President Obama’s National Security Strategy defined national security broadly as “the security of the United States, its citizens, allies and partners.”[1]

Contemporary U.S. national security balances traditional priorities like defense, intelligence, deterrence, and diplomacy with new challenges like climate change, cybersecurity, space policy, and pandemics. At home, it means fostering conditions where Americans can prosper in freedom, health, and dignity. Abroad, it means advancing U.S. interests through partnerships where possible and acting unilaterally when necessary. As the National Intelligence Council noted in 2017: “At no time since the end of World War II have we seen such far-reaching societal, technological, and geopolitical shifts all happening simultaneously. Our policies and institutions will be challenged to adapt.”[2] Adaptation requires understanding the key issues confronting American national security in a complex and hyperconnected world.

Great Power Competition

Strategic competition between major powers represents a central challenge as authoritarian rivals like China and revanchist powers like Russia contest American leadership and the international order. Great power rivalry receded after the Cold War, but reemerged once China’s power expanded globally. Russia also turned towards confrontation and zero-sum thinking after its policy failures in the 1990s. The 2017 National Security Strategy declared great power competition the primary priority, a bipartisan consensus reaffirmed in subsequent strategies.[3]

The China challenge involves a technological and economic peer with growing military power. U.S.-China relations feature cooperation but also risks in the Indo-Pacific, economically, and in the information domain.[4] China aims to revise regional orders and dominate emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, using state-backed entities to its advantage.[5] Hard and soft authoritarian power supports its ambitions. Russia remains a disruptive, declining force leveraging energy and hybrid warfare including cyberattacks and disinformation. It seeks to divide Western institutions and dominate its Eurasian periphery. Rivalry also exists with “middle” powers like Iran that challenge regional orders using proxies and asymmetric capabilities like missiles, drones, and cyber.

Managing great power competition requires neither confrontation nor appeasement. Priorities include strengthening U.S. competitiveness, limiting adversaries’ spheres of influence, controlling escalation risks, maintaining military and technological advantages to deter aggression, imposing costs for destabilizing behavior, defending human rights and democratic values, and engaging rivals at lower levels. But competition also creates risks of conflict due to miscalculation, overreaction, or accidental crises. And competing across all domains simultaneously while avoiding open conflict creates policy dilemmas. As the 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guidance notes, this “significant challenge requires us to resist the temptation of overreach” and focus our finite resources.[6]

Transnational Threats

Alongside state rivals, transnational networks and non-state actors challenge security. Terrorism remains a priority after 2001. Al-Qaeda and ISIS represent ongoing, evolving dangers, though decreasing in capacity. Domestic terrorism has increased with hate crimes and anti-government extremism. [7] Transnational organized crime enables trafficking, corruption, epidemics, and instability. The drug trade, for example, intersects with U.S. interests in Latin America, Africa, Afghanistan, and domestically. Illegal migration and human smuggling require policy responses balancing security, economic factors, and humanitarianism.

Technology empowers non-state threats. Cyberattacks from criminals and state-backed hackers endanger governments, companies, infrastructure, elections, and ordinary people. Social media enables disinformation campaigns, extremist radicalization, foreign influence, and public health risks. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence require ethical guidelines and control of dual-use applications that could endanger stability.[8] Environmental degradation and climate change enable ecological threats. Pandemics and public health challenges became urgent with COVID-19. Transnational issues test state capacities and require multilateral cooperation and empowering local partners.

Regional Security Challenges

U.S. interests across the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere face intertwined regional security dynamics. Challenges include geopolitical competitions, fragile or failing states, non-state armed groups, democratic backsliding among partners, and trans-boundary threats.

In the Middle East, security partnerships confront terrorism and instability while balancing cooperation with rivals and human rights concerns. Enduring challenges include Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Iran’s ambitions linked to terrorism and missiles, Iraq’s fragility and Kurdish aspirations, Syria’s civil war spillover, and humanitarian disasters in Yemen, Libya, and the Sahel. Geopolitical competitions with Russia, China, and regional powers for influence also continue, even as the U.S. shifts focus to Asia.

Asia contains vital U.S. allies and growing challenges. Strategic competition with China occurs in the East and South China Seas, Taiwan, Hong Kong, technology, trade, and regional institutions. North Korea’s nuclear program threatens nonproliferation. Terrorism affects Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and beyond. Managing Sino-Indian tensions, supporting ASEAN cohesion, and advancing U.S.-Indian ties represent further U.S. interests.

In Europe, the top priorities include supporting NATO deterrence of Russian aggression, strengthening alliance cohesion despite divides like Turkey’s disruptive role, advancing strategic autonomy among EU partners, upholding democracy and human rights, managing instability in the Balkans, and reducing economic and energy dependence on Russia. Countering Russian influence operations in Eastern Europe and managing refugee flows require persistent engagement.

Africa’s youth boom, state weaknesses, governance gaps, and climate impacts enable turmoil. Counterterrorism focuses on threats from al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda affiliates, and ISIS branches. Great power competition for access and influence affects countries like Ethiopia and spreads via bilateral security initiatives. Regional crises from the Sahel and Libya to the Horn of Africa require prevention and stabilization efforts to contain spillover. Maritime security in the Indian Ocean matters along East and West African coasts. Supporting transitions and development represents a long-term challenge.

In the Western Hemisphere, priorities include managing instability and migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries, contending Russian and Chinese influence including in Venezuela, combating trafficking networks, and responding to humanitarian crises like Haiti’s. Continental defense remains vital with Canada and protecting the Arctic, while balancing a cooperative and competitive approach to China and Russia requires nuance. Strengthening health systems and pandemic preparedness are urgent in light of COVID-19’s effects across Latin America. More broadly, supporting democracy and human rights persists as a regional goal.

Advancing U.S. Security at Home

Domestic foundations of national power remain critical, requiring reinvestment at home alongside global engagement. The U.S. needs resiliency against pandemics, cyber, climate shocks, and infrastructure threats. Social cohesion enabled constructive change during the civil rights movement but faces contemporary pressures like political polarization. Investing in education, technology leadership, economic dynamism, and inclusive growth preserves U.S. advantages. Defending democratic values requires addressing internal challenges like disinformation, racial inequities, and tensions between liberties and security. Immigration policy balances economic needs, family unification, and border security. Providing affordable healthcare, modernizing infrastructure, and transitioning towards clean energy represent additional needs. Fundamentally, advancing equal opportunity, repairing the social safety net, and enabling human dignity matter alongside material capabilities.

As the 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guidance affirms, domestic renewal enables strategic priorities abroad so the U.S. can lead by example.[9] But resource limitations require strategic choices between “guns and butter.” Leaders confront tough tradeoffs balancing urgent domestic investments, fiscal constraints, defense needs, and preventing foreign policy failures that endanger the homeland. And divisions over the proper role of government—including on issues like healthcare, education, infrastructure, regulation, and taxation—run deep in American politics. Strategic statecraft requires aligning resources and policies behind sustainable approaches outlasting any one administration.

Emerging Domains of Competition

New strategic landscapes create challenges and opportunities. Space represents a contested domain where Russia and China develop weapons threatening U.S. assets vital for communications, surveillance, and defense. The cyber domain likewise faces continuous attacks on government and private networks that compromise information and endanger critical infrastructure. Artificial intelligence and data will shape future economic and military power, requiring U.S. investments. Biotechnology has potential benefits for health but also risks of weaponization. Climate change acts as a threat multiplier affecting fragile states and generating refugee flows, extreme weather, and reduced habitability in regions like the Middle East.[10] Environmental stewardship and adaptation measures take on strategic importance. And Arctic competition centers on accessibility, resources, and sea lanes as melting icecaps enable greater activity.

Shaping these emerging competitive domains requires balancing U.S. interests, international partnerships, private sector leadership, and ethics. For example, norms and confidence-building measures can promote space sustainability. Multilateral genome editing guidelines can ensure biotechnology’s responsible use. Climate change requires global collaboration even as rivals like China also expand renewable investments for their own interests. Cyber governance remains complicated but concepts like deterrence, resilience, and responsible state behavior apply from other domains. And international law and multilateralism will remain relevant even as rapid change challenges institutions. Prioritizing sustained leadership, technological capacities, resilient systems, and human capital development can advance U.S. interests across emerging strategic domains.

Integrated Approaches

Effectively competing requires systematically integrating all elements of national power—the combined capabilities of government, the private sector, and civil society. National security sitting atop foreign policy and statecraft historically focused on the military, diplomacy, intelligence, technology, and economic tools. Today, information, cyber, health, climate, and domestic resilience also constitute key capabilities requiring integration. Wielding a balance of carrots and sticks in policy implementation remains important. And navigating choices between strategic commitments and available resources persists as an enduring challenge.

Layered cooperation across the whole-of-government, with the private sector, academia, and international partners multiplies influence. Regional bureaus, thematic experts, military commands, and technical specialists all contribute specialized capabilities. Unity of effort ensures policies are resourced, coordinated, and consistent internally while also aligning words and deeds in external messaging. Fostering expertise and continuity amid regular personnel rotations creates institutional memory. And strategic communications and public engagement explain policies at home and abroad to maximize buy-in.

Bipartisan legislative support facilitates sustained strategies transcending partisan divides and electoral cycles. Independent oversight improves accountability. And fostering societal resilience against polarization, conspiracies, and cultural degradation represents a contemporary imperative. Capturing opportunities from the nation’s diversity of identities and ideas requires inclusiveness along with civil liberties. Ultimately, aligning American society behind a constructive and fact-based pursuit of the national interest remains indispensable for security.

Economic Statecraft

Economics constitutes a vital arena of competition and an instrument of statecraft. Market access enables American companies to benefit from globalization while sustainable investment, trade deals, and development aid help growing economies, foster stability via middle classes, and expand demand for U.S. goods. Coordinated policies ensure economic tools align with geopolitics. Selective decoupling from adversaries decreases vulnerabilities in supply chains, technology transfers, finance, and knowledge exchange. Smart sanctions impose costs for aggression. Halting rivals’ unfair trade practices prevents erosion of U.S. competitiveness. Maintaining the dollar’s global primacy provides leverage while managing fiscal conditions sustains financial credibility. And leading in technologies like AI steers innovation towards democratic values.

Geo-economics remains complicated by interdependence and the limits of national control over transnational flows, multinational companies, and international markets. Heavy-handed state interventions risk inefficiency and unintended blowback while openness creates opportunities for adversaries. But public-private partnerships can enhance expertise and coordination for economic statecraft. And demonstrating principled leadership—instead of just transactional deals—advances U.S. interests over the long-term. Ultimately, the U.S. needs an updated economic grand strategy aligning trade, technology, investment, development, sanctions, financial regulation, and competitiveness with geopolitics. This requires balancing hard-nosed policies towards rivals with openness sustaining American prosperity.[11]

Values in Foreign Policy

Advancing universal values like democracy, human rights, and rule of law represents a longstanding priority alongside narrower national interests. Despite policy inconsistencies and controversies like the Iraq War, values-based discourses suffuse American foreign policy during the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. And values provide sources of long-term “soft power” influence that aid U.S. interests.[12] But debates persist around whether interests vs. values should be the lodestar for policy and if values-promotion often masks ulterior motives.

Realist critiques argue moralism leads to quixotic crusades draining resources from core interests. They claim security dilemmas and authoritarian regimes limit the viability of democratization efforts. But idealists contend values represent universal goods in their own right that also indirectly support U.S. interests over the long-run. Biden’s Interim National Security Strategy Guidance acknowledges values-based engagement leads to “dilemmas” requiring context-specific tradeoffs, but affirms support for democracy and human rights as both a principled guide and strategic necessity for U.S. foreign policy.[13]

Going forward, balancing cooperation and competition with authoritarian powers requires pragmatism about interests. But underlying values contrasts remain stark and consequential. Signaling resolve against the most egregious repression like genocide remains morally urgent and strategically beneficial. Consistent leadership providing economic, technical, and diplomatic support to reformers worldwide can aid incremental openings. Calls for freedom in places like Venezuela, Myanmar, and Hong Kong deserve rhetorical backing and calibrated material support even in challenging contexts. Frank conversations about rights with partners like Egypt and Saudi Arabia provide honest feedback enabling adaptation. Ultimately, leading by example at home while engaging societies abroad can continue advancing freedom’s possibilities without overwhelming realism.

Diplomacy, Deterrence, and War

Statecraft requires aligning diplomacy, deterrence, and force to defend interests. Diplomacy expands cooperation, resolves disputes, and generates leverage via conditional agreements or sanctions. Communicating resolve and maintaining military balances nurtures deterrence, preventing aggression below levels provoking war. Deterrence works alongside diplomacy but requires hard power credibility from modernized, forward postured forces—especially nuclear/conventional forces vis-a-vis Russia and China.[14] Deterrence sometimes deters by deliberate ambiguity, though clear redlines are preferable when possible. Extended deterrence protects allies, though guaranteeing partners requires managing moral hazard. And different regional challenges—like Iran’s proxies or North Korea’s nuclear program—require tailored strategies weaving diplomacy with deterrence and pressure.

If deterrence fails, war remains possible as an instrument of statecraft. War’s purposes include defending the homeland, protecting allies and interests abroad, maintaining credibility against threats, or preventing instability from spiraling catastrophically. Decisions for war require just cause, last resort options, and proportionality along with reasonable probability of success. Modern “forever wars” against amorphous terrorist groups and insurgencies demonstrate the challenge of turning tactical wins into strategic success. Expeditionary quagmires wasting blood and treasure undermine national power. And preventing escalation towards nuclear war remains imperative. The bar for direct U.S. military action should be high given difficulties translating battlefield results into political settlements while avoiding high costs.

Preserving flexibly superior military power enables deterrence and swift, decisive victory if required. Technological strength, force posture abroad, and warfighting doctrines require updating for contemporary challenges like China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities threatening U.S. Pacific operations.[15] But non-kinetic and hybrid responses utilizing cyber, sanctions, information, proxies, and strategic patience sometimes prove more efficacious than conventional applications of firepower. For example, the 2018 National Defense Strategy argues nuclear forces “backstop” conventional power given Great Power dynamics, since “credible nuclear deterrence strategies and capabilities are necessary to deter nuclear attacks…[and] non-nuclear strategic attacks.”[16] If conflict does occur, cohesive alliances magnify strategic impact. Overall, aligning diverse foreign policy tools requires strategists to assess contextual risks, think systemically, and prepare for uncertainty.

Grand Strategy

Grand strategy represents a long-term vision guiding a state’s foreign policy comprising ends, ways, and means. It aligns policies, resources, and communications into a systemic approach advancing national interests amid constraints.[17] Contemporary U.S. grand strategy balances commitments and power given multipolarity and globalization’s complex interdependence. Its uneven implementation fuels debates.

America’s grand strategic trilemma involves reconciling global leadership, burdensome commitments exceeding capacity, and domestic priorities including rebuilding at home. The bipartisan consensus favors sustained engagement and military strength enabling global reach. But contemporary approaches debate how best to pragmatically right-size ambitions, focus on core challenges like China, and compel allies to contribute more to shared burdens.[18]

Under Trump, “America First” nationalism called for reduced foreign burdens and transactional alliances, but implemented unilateralism risked U.S. influence and relationships. Biden seeks to reinvigorate inclusive foreign policy centered on alliances, democracy, and values. His vision argues sophisticated statecraft navigates dilemmas while leveraging interdependence, instead of just retreating behind borders.[19] This approach modernizes internationalism for complex challenges.

Critics argue for more radical disengagement from hopeless conflicts, overstretched commitments, and imperial overreach. But abrupt retrenchment risks emboldening adversaries and betraying partners, given complex interdependencies. Curtailed ambitions could enable balancingagainst U.S. interests by Russia and China’s alternative regional orders.

Successful grand strategy manages tradeoffs between international activism and domestic priorities. It combines major investments at home in productivity and social cohesion with pragmatic, focused leadership abroad. This requires disciplined choices about secondary interests versus primary challenges. Priorities include renewing U.S. competitive capacities, balancing China and Russia in key regions, counterterrorism, trade and technology leadership, deterring WMD proliferation, protecting allies, and avoiding market-crashing or trust-destroying economic conflicts.[20] Global trends make sustained engagement essential, even as “forever wars” argue against prolonged military occupations.

Rethinking alliance burdens and regional force postures can refocus resources on primary challenges like the Indo-Pacific and Europe. Not every crisis requires or deserves U.S. intervention. Restraint and offshore balancing become appealing options in spaces like the Middle East. But outright retrenchment risks a power vacuum others will fill. Sustaining a rules-based international order conducive to U.S. interests requires consistent leadership and two-way accountability with partners. By investing in strengths and strategic priorities at home and abroad, principled realism offers the best prospects for sustaining American security and influence.

The Perilous Triangle: Media, Policy, and Public Opinion

A free press serves as a fundamental check in American democracy, informing policy debates and enabling accountability. But the interplay between media institutions, policymaking processes, and public opinion also creates tensions. These relationships form a “perilous triangle” balancing constructive transparency against risks of bias, sensationalism, polarization, and institutional dysfunction.[21] Responsible statecraft requires navigating this triangle to forge broad-based, reality-anchored foreign policies enjoying democratically conferred legitimacy.

A neutral, professional press in principle objectively informs citizens to enrich democratic discourse, speaking truth to power. Investigative journalism provides oversight against abuses. Opinion pages represent a marketplace of policy debates. Editors curate content balancing newsworthiness, factualness, and diverse ideological perspectives. Media provides timely, comprehensive context shaping public knowledge and attitudes. However, market dynamics prize profits over public service. Competition for audience share and advertising incentivizes sensationalism over substance—prioritizing celebrity gossip and partisan conflict over serious policy assessment. Professional norms of detachment cede ground to partisan advocacy and clickbait. And distrust of media exceeds trust in polls, fraying social cohesion.[22]

Government secrecy enables policies to develop candidly outside public scrutiny. But excessive insulation from feedback risks biased groupthink. Formal oversight mechanisms aim to ensure Congress and the public get timely, accurate information for debate and consent. Yet officials can mislead about motives or distort pretexts for preferred policies if accountability becomes lax, enabling disastrous choices as occurred during Vietnam and Iraq. Legitimacy requires transparency, though protocols balance disclosure with security. Tensions persist between state secrecy, which enables effective strategy, and the deliberative norms vital for democratic accountability.

Public opinion ultimately influences policy as the demos confers sovereign authority. But superficial or uninformed perspectives undermine deliberative discourse, empowering populism and demagogues. Opinion easily manipulates for mass compliance, as Walter Lippmann critiqued.[23] Elites argue the public suffers from irrationality and inattention, demanding simplifications rather than wrestling earnestly with complex policy dilemmas. Yet democratic leaders must retain popular legitimacy. Mass opinion can change radically on short notice, frustrating consistent policies. And new technologies from radio to social media transform communications frameworks shaping debates and influence. Democratic statecraft requires grounding policies in reasoned public debate, an perennially difficult balancing act.

Overall, dysfunctional dynamics plague the perilous triangle: hyperpartisan media biases discourse, insulated officials justify preconceived policies, and fickle or misinformed publics empower polarization. Restoring equilibrium to align prudent policies with oversight and transparency against sensationalism poses an uphill struggle. But for national security policy to enjoy democratic legitimacy, anchoring debates in facts and analysis matters tremendously, however difficult amid contemporary tensions.

The Press, Policy, and the Public Sphere

Domestic journalism exists within a wider mediated public sphere connecting society, politics, and culture. Media institutions translate complex foreign affairs into simplified narratives comprehensible for mass consumption. This framing power shapes public discourse and the bounds of acceptable policy views. But the networked information ecosystem has grown radically more complex in a digital age.

Whereas broadcast and print media previously dominated a largely one-way transmission of information to passive audiences, today’s multiplicity of digital platforms empowers participatory mass communications and niche fragmentation. Established journalistic gatekeepers now compete with bloggers, livestreamers, citizen reporters, foreign state media, subcultural podcasters, and social media influencers across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, messaging apps, Reddit, and emerging platforms. Memes, conspiracy theories, and disinformation spread virally through decentralized networks. Foreign influence operations manipulate trends algorithmically. Complexity confounds control.

Many decry these shifts as fueling democratic dysfunction. Yet increased access to information also enables more diverse views and democratizing creativity at grassroots levels. The scale can overwhelm human cognition, but machine learning and network analysis provide tools to parse signal from noise. Promoting digital literacy, transparency around algorithms, investments in public interest media, and multilateral truth-telling represent reform options. Critical public discourse remains vital, however chaotic.

For national security policy, the new information landscape poses challenges but also opportunities. Foreign affairs gain renewed public salience with online video and social networks connecting global events to personal experiences. Niche communities of interest empower policy feedback. Direct government-public communication can bypass intermediating media biases. But risks persist of hyped threat inflation, conspiracy virality, and emotional manipulation. The ideal public sphere fosters substantive, inclusive policy debates grounded in facts, compassion and the greater good. But filter bubbles, confirmation bias, and selective exposure impede ideals. Navigating this tension remains critical for functional policy.[24]

Reconciling Security and Transparency

Democratic oversight relies on government transparency regarding policies, plans, and actions. Yet national security involves necessary secrecy, from classified threat assessments to clandestine operations. Alignment between disclosure and confidentiality requires careful stewardship. But perennial tradeoffs persist between democratic legitimacy conferred by inclusive debate against imperatives of operational security in policy implementation.

Executive agencies require discretion to assess options fully, prevent leaks that could endanger missions or reveal sources and methods, and engage in tactical deception against adversaries. Congress creates closed committees respecting necessary secrecy for oversight like cryptographic budgets or covert action findings. Independent watchdogs audit programs, though selectively. Operational details, raw intelligence, and internal deliberations typically remain classified. Whistleblowing dissent provides important transparency when formal oversight falters, yet entails risks.

The proper boundary between openness and secrecy remains contested. Democratic consent relies on facts, but insiders control the evidence. Major reviews follow fiascos like the 9/11 attacks or Iraq WMD scandal, but limited reforms result. Security-driven opacity hinders fully informed consent while excessive transparency risks compromising capabilities, sources, relationships or tactical deception. These dilemmas have no fully satisfying resolution, only contextual tradeoffs navigating democratic legitimacy against functioning policy.

Ongoing debates turn on matters like legislative reform, media freedom, classification authority, leaks policies, transparency for tech platforms, contractor oversight, treaties compliance, surveillance regulation, FOIA appeals, whistleblower protections, and information operations. The complex balancing act to enable functional policy with meaningful consent persists in inherent tension across every domain of national security.[25] No equilibrium perfectly reconciles the imperatives. But good faith efforts towards credibility, procedural regularity, ethics, accountability, and substantive justification remain indispensable to navigate the liminal space between principle and prudence.

The Iraq War Case Study

The 2003 Iraq War provides a salient case study in how biased information dynamics between media, policy, and public opinion can enable disastrous policies contravening the national interest. The war remains highly controversial in its preemptive doctrine, threat conflation, occupation failure, and immense costs squandering U.S. power. Pathologies within the perilous triangle provide key explanatory factors.

Within government, groupthink and confirmation bias distorted threat assessments as the Bush administration fixated on regime change.[26] Politicized intelligence cherry-picked dubious evidence about Iraq’s nonexistent WMD and inflated ties to Al-Qaeda, justifying the pre-decided policypreference for invasion and occupation.[27] Officials manipulated threat specters, misused intelligence, discounted expertise, and silenced dissent to sell the war, deceiving Congress and the UN.[28] Poor planning compounded deception with fantasies of easy victory and magical thinking about occupation, setting the conditions for strategic catastrophe.

The press generally failed to vet official narratives or retain critical detachment, instead amplifying hyperbolic threat inflation in sensationalist 24-hour alarmism.[29] Questionable sources like Ahmed Chalabi propagated false claims through the media ecosystem, crowding out skeptics. Pro-war pundits framed dissent as appeasement. Few reporters independently investigated dubious WMD evidence underlying the case for preventive war. And voices raising doubts before the invasion were marginalized. [30]

Public opinion largely followed elite cues in the patriotic rallying after 9/11. The traumatic attacks created demand for bold action without careful cost-benefit scrutiny. The administration harnessed this militancy but discouraged informed debate over competing options. Congress surrendered its war powers in deference to the executive’s cherry-picked assertions. Pro-war opinion marginalized skeptics as radical. Critical foreign voices went ignored. The combined failure of the policy, media, and public opinion realms enabled a strategic disaster through systematic blind spots. Only in retrospect did the curtain of deception lift to reveal the war’s mistakes and false pretenses. [31]

The Iraq War highlights dysfunction when the perilous triangle lacks integrity. Policy groupthink distorted by motivations and confirmation bias can manufacture threats. Subservient media can abdicate critical inquiry, enabling official deception. Uninformed or conformist public opinion empowers reckless policies contravening interests. And inadequate oversight fails to catch errors and lies before the costs accrue. Relearning Iraq’s lessons remains imperative for wiser national security stewardship.


American policymakers confront difficult dilemmas balancing U.S. priorities, resource limitations, and global responsibilities across an array of complex regional threats, great power competitions, transnational challenges, and emerging frontiers. Strategy requires aligning ambitious goals, finite means, and multiple instruments of power between force, diplomacy, economics, values, technology, and information. Domestic renewal and social cohesion enable effective leadership abroad, but global engagement also protects the homeland. Hard strategic choices require prudence and tradeoffs.

A well-informed public discourse enables constructive criticism and oversight, strengthening strategies with democratic legitimacy. To maintain constitutional anchors and transparency against threats and errors, the media, officials and public must uphold standards of integrity, facts, and complementary roles. Policymaking should draw diverse expertise, avoid insular groupthink, and retain moral courage against indifference. Media should pursue factual reporting over sensationalistic profits and impartial analysis instead of partisan activism. An engaged, realities-anchored public can demand accountability.

Fundamentally, American values like human rights and democracy require consistent rhetorical and material support even amid difficult policy dilemmas. U.S. grand strategy must guide focused, resource-constrained engagement enabling collective problem solving with allies and partners. Wise statecraft requires understanding complexity and interconnectedness, not just material strength. Investments in education, technology leadership, inclusive economic dynamism, and infrastructure preserve U.S. advantages. With principled realism guiding US leadership and public service, American ideals, interests and influence can positively shape the 21st century.


[1] Barack Obama, National Security Strategy (Washington DC: The White House, May 2010), 17.

[2] National Intelligence Council, Global Trends: Paradox of Progress (Washington DC: ODNI, January 2017), 4.

[3] Donald Trump, National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington DC: The White House, December 2017), 2; Joseph Biden, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (Washington DC: The White House, March 2021), 10.

[4] Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, “Competition Without Catastrophe,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2019.

[5] Rush Doshi, The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).

[6] Biden, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, 10.

[7] Seth Jones et al, The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism (Washington DC: CSIS, February 2021).

[8] National Security, Technology, and Law (Aspen Institute, January 2020).

[9] Biden, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, 7.

[10] Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress (ODNI, January 2017), 12.

[11] Jennifer Harris, “The Biden Administration Needs An Economic Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, January 27, 2021.

[12] Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

[13] Biden, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, 10.

[14] Elbridge Colby and Jonathan Solomon, “Conventional Deterrence is the Key to Defense Reform,” Texas National Security Review, January 2021.

[15] Thomas Mahnken et al, Tightening the Chain: Implementing a Strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Western Pacific (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2019).

[16] James Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 11.

[17] Hal Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018), 1.

[18] Michael Green et al, Biden’s Grand Strategy: Reviving the Power and Purpose of American Democracy (Washington DC: The German Marshall Fund, 2020).

[19] Biden, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.

[20] Eric Edelman and Gary Schmitt, “America’s National Security Requires More Foreign Policy Consistency,” RealClearWorld, August 19, 2020.

[21] Richard Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 19.

[22] Jacob Loken, “Rethinking the Perilous Triangle,” Texas National Security Review, August 2020.

[23] Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Free Press, 1922).

[24] Andrew Chadwick, The Hybrid Media System (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[25] Amy Zegart, Eyes on Spies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011).

[26] Robert Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 4.

[27] Paul Pillar, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 238.

[28] John Prados, Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (New York: The New Press, 2004).

[29] W. Lance Bennett et al, When the Press Fails (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[30] Alex Jones, Losing the News (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 48.

[31] Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths,” European Journal of Population 21, no 2–3 (2005): 145–166.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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