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New Obama security strategy targets Americans radicalized by al Qaeda

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
  • The Obama administration on Thursday released its first National Security Strategy
  • The 52-page outline of focuses on both international and home-grown threats
  • Strategy focuses on "mitigating wherever possible the need for the use of force"
  • Key GOP critic: Administration "refuses to even identify" threat of "radical Islamic jihadists"

Washington (CNN) -- Vowing to continue to "underwrite global security" -- but not alone -- the Obama administration Thursday released its first National Security Strategy, a 52-page outline of the president's strategic approach and priorities.

The NSS, required by Congress of every administration to be prepared every four years, for the first time combines homeland security and national security, focusing not only on threats internationally but on the threat of home-grown radicals inspired and recruited by al Qaeda.

"We view this as an important and emerging challenge," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, told reporters. Al Qaeda, he said, is less capable of using safe havens for training abroad and is now "trying to inspire Americans to carry out attacks on the U.S."

Those Americans, he said, may have less direct contact with the terrorist organization but they carry American passports and know the strengths and weaknesses of the United States.

"Several recent incidents of violent extremists in the United States who are committed to fighting here and abroad have underscored the threat to the United States and our interests posed by individuals radicalized at home," the NSS states. "Our best defenses against this threat are well informed and equipped families, local communities and institutions."

Federal, state and local governments will use intelligence, expanded community engagement and development programs to help local communities address the radicalization of Americans before they join al Qaeda, Rhodes said. There already is an interagency process, he said, devoted to countering radicalization.

This is a "new point of emphasis," he said, because it is a new point of emphasis for America's enemies.

Laying out its strategy for more traditional areas of national security, the National Security Strategy stresses the importance of working with other nations to deal with challenges to "renew American leadership."

"It's a broader view of national security than before," Rhodes said.

Echoing themes going back to the days of Obama's campaign for president, it says the U.S. must use "engagement" with friends and foes. The United States must engage also with other "21st century centers of influence -- including China, India and Russia," the report says.

In a switch from the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive war, the Obama NSS says the United States will "draw on diplomacy, development, and international norms and institutions to resolve disagreements, prevent conflict, and maintain peace, mitigating wherever possible the need for the use of force."

"While the use of force is sometimes necessary," it says, "we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction."

The NSS also highlights "burden sharing," working with other countries to deal with international threats. "The U.S. needs to foster burden-sharing so it's not on our shoulders alone," Rhodes told reporters.

The administration's focus on domestic terrorism is drawing some criticism from opponents who claim it "ignores reality' by avoiding terms like "radical Islam."

The ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Republican U.S. Rep. Peter T. King, while saying he was "heartened" the strategy addresses the issue of home-grown terrorism, charged that "the Obama Administration refuses to even identify head-on the threat our nation faces. Even though we have been at war against radical Islamic jihadists since they killed almost 3,000 Americans on 9/11, the Obama administration fails to even mention such terms."