America needs a grand strategy
America’s basic strategic position has not changed since it inherited the British mantle of world leadership during World War II. Preserving national sovereignty and independence while ensuring that countries can navigate freely in the world’s oceans and airspace continues to be essential to the security and prosperity of the United States.
But threats are mounting from all corners of the world. Today more than ever, America needs a strong foreign policy shaped by a grand strategy. Indeed, the free world needs America to have it.
The rise of China, revengeful Russia, and militant Islam have convinced some that the world is far too complicated for mainstream strategic thinking and that by continuing its senseless global involvement, the United States is just chatting. no more problems. They argue that we should accept a restricted role in world affairs.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
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The collapse of the Soviet Union had a seismic impact on strategic thinking; the “end of the story” seemed near. In 1993, Anthony Lake, then national security adviser, declared that the challenge for American policymakers was to win the new “Kennan lottery”. He was referring to the 1946 “Long Telegram” written by George Kennan, a young American diplomat in the Soviet Union who warned the State Department of the deadly threat Moscow posed to the post-war world order. . Kennan’s lucid assessment of the brutal Soviet regime became the foundation for America’s containment strategy, which held Moscow in check for 45 years until the Soviet Empire collapsed. Lake argued that we need a replacement strategy for the new post-Soviet era.
We certainly don’t. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have traveled from George HW Bush’s New World Order to Trump’s America First. For the current administration, the only operational directive seems to be the continuation of the Obama administration’s policy of “Do not do anything stupid.”
As we speak, tomes are leaking from pro-Biden think tanks and the Oxbridge and Ivy League shows claiming Lake was wrong. According to the enlightened intelligentsia, America doesn’t need a grand strategy since it only works in a predictable political environment such as the bipolar world of the United States and the Soviet Union. Such thinking is separate from historical and practical reality. Name a period since Waterloo that was peacefully predictable.
The 1970s are a good example. The world assumed that the United States was in inevitable decline, torn by problems at home and indecision abroad. Moscow made the mistake of underestimating American resilience. Yet Ronald Reagan came forward with a cold and honest assessment of Soviet weakness and an economic and military outlook that ultimately brought Moscow to its knees.
The axiom that a battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy does not negate the need to have that plan in the first place. It ensures that the commander’s organization understands his intention and provides the rationale for the resources that must be mobilized to ensure that the objectives are met. Planning for battle conditions the mind.
Any plan, any strategy, must begin with a clear sense of place, purpose and purpose. When it comes to grand American strategy, there must be an acceptance of America’s unique position as an indispensable nation. To lead well, you must believe in the country you serve.
It is not known if this is the case with this administration. In April, Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Laura Thomas-Greenfield, embarrassed the United States by denouncing her own nation before the United Nations Human Rights Council, declaring that “the original sin of ‘slavery made white supremacy part of our founding documents and principles.’
A month earlier, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had retreated in the face of a virulent attack by the Chinese Foreign Minister at a conference in Alaska. The minister condemned the alleged suppression of human rights by the United States within its own borders, but Blinken could only respond with the piety of the professors on America’s “imperfections”. His inability to be anything but defensive about his own country set the tone for what to expect over the next four years.
How can America cope with a rampant China or Iran’s theocratic fanatics when its own leaders do not believe the country deserves to be defended, even rhetorically? If they do not stand up for a nation founded on the universal principles of human dignity and individual freedom and a record as the only nation in history to lend a hand to all the peoples of the world, including our enemies, where will they be?
China poses a more worrying threat than the Soviet Union. If we are to adapt to this reality, we have to pivot now. Strengthening nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines with millennial memories of Chinese aggression and imperialism would weaken Beijing while strengthening America’s hand.
Sadly, the Biden administration doesn’t seem to understand this, as it didn’t take long for them to point out US weakness in the Pacific. Yes, he sent the Defense Secretary to Asia to reassure our allies – who have memories of the indifference of the Obama era – that Joe Biden is cut from a different fabric. Yet at the same time, the administration submitted a defense budget reflecting a net loss in purchasing power. The incongruity has not been lost on nations seeking to join Washington in preventing Chinese military domination of the Pacific.
The same attitude applies in the Middle East, where the Arab states – via the Abraham Accords facilitated by Trump’s White House – have buried centuries-old animosities towards Israel to unite against the mullahs in Tehran. Throwing in years of progress, the White House Biden signaled that it would revert to the Obama-era policy of appeasing Iran and its proxies.
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Even in Europe, the message is one of hindsight. The Trump administration ended the Russian aggression in Ukraine by supplying Kiev with weapons capable of killing Putin’s tanks, helicopters and planes. The Biden-Harris administration unilaterally halted the flow of military supplies to Ukraine, in hopes that Moscow would reciprocate. Meanwhile, Putin continues to wage war on cyber commons vital to American security.
In London our most important ally was stunned by a President who could not understand that Northern Ireland was a constituent part of the United Kingdom and not a province of the Republic of Ireland. Canadians are reeling from the loss of thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry as America scrapped this energy partnership with the stroke of the presidential pen. Even French President Emmanuel Macron has warned America to keep its presidency awake on the Washington side of the Atlantic. All of this means that America is now ruled by those who believe they exist to manage national decline rather than run the world.
Grand strategy cannot guarantee the preservation of American values and the security of our vital national interests. However, developing a clear set of strategic guidelines would signal to the world that America is engaged and that national decline is not our state of mind.
International relations are always marked by uncertainty. But we do not need to devote ourselves to the fate of switching by reflex from crisis to crisis, without a common thread to guide our responses. If we are to face the immediate and long-term challenges of emboldened adversaries, we need leaders who will embrace the need to create grand strategy rooted in the firm belief that America is the indispensable leader and defender of the free world.