How to Understand Our ‘Great Power Competition’ With China

Thank you for signing up for Vital Interests, my new newsletter for The Dispatch. In this first issue, I’d like to explain the intent behind it and set the stage for future newsletters. As you might have guessed from the name, this publication will focus on threats to America’s national security and interests around the globe. 

If you don’t know me, I’m s senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington-based think tank, though I live and work in New York. (I’ve fought the move to the swamp for more than a decade!) I’m also the senior editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, a widely cited counterterrorism publication. I’ve been writing about security and counterterrorism for more than 15 years and have testified before Congress on 20 occasions concerning related matters. Once upon a time, I was also the senior counterterrorism adviser for Mayor Giuliani’s ill-fated 2008 presidential campaign. But please don’t hold that against me. 

The concept of “vital interests” is an old one, but what it means in the 21st century is up for debate. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we should be deeply skeptical of anyone claiming to have it all figured out. But I’ll share some of my initial thoughts below. Namely, I’ll address two related questions: How does the U.S. government currently understand the “vital interests” of the citizenry? And why am I worried that the government is unable to walk and chew gum at the same time? Let’s discuss. 

When announcing his administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) in December 2017, President Trump defined America’s “four vital national interests” as: “Protect[ing] the homeland, the American people, and American way of life,” “Promot[ing] American prosperity,” “Preserv[ing] peace through strength,” and “Advanc[ing] American influence.” 

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