America’s grand strategy, now in shambles

Second of a series of notes about America’s grand strategy, and its future.

The Bush Doctrine set the framework for the administration’s first term is now in shambles. The doctrine was described in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, stating that, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, America would …

  1. launch preventive wars to defend itself against rogue states and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction;
  2. that it would do this alone, if necessary; and
  3. that it would work to democratize the greater Middle East as a long-term solution to the terrorist problem.

This strategy is flawed on many levels.

I.  Preventive or preemptive wars

Successful preemption depends on the ability to predict the future accurately and on good intelligence, which was not forthcoming, while America’s perceived unilateralism has isolated it as never before.

We are grappling with the War on Terror because we can’t have a policy of containment with an invisible enemy.  President Bush has declared a war against “terror”, which seems to be a war against Islam, or powerful factions within Islam.  How do we contain Islam?  That is the taboo topic that few wish to discuss.

A war against a religion alien to most of us will be difficult to conduct rationally.  Too much hated contaminated our grand strategy of containing communism.  Combined with our ignorance of foreign cultures, we were blind to the vital distinction between communism and anti-colonialist revolts — which led to our greatest errors.  Will we repeat these mistakes?

II.  The hazards of acting alone

How odd that American abandoned its post-WWII policy of collective defense just as it became essential.

(1) America’s flawed financial policies begin to implode — excessive foreign borrowing, insufficient savings by households, reckless promises by governments at all levels — make it far less powerful in absolute terms than during the post-WWII period.

(2) New regional powers have risen, which could be woven into alliances with the western nations.  China, Russia (little relation to the USSR), and potentially Iran.  Or we could fear them, and so ensure that they become enemies.

John Gray states it nicely in “The Mirage of Empire“, The New York Review of Books (12 January 2006), his review of Michael Mandelbaum’s The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the 21st Century — Excerpt:

 The Case for Goliath is an eloquent statement of the vital role of America in twenty-first-century global security.  Yet the picture it presents of America’s unchallenged hegemony passes over some awkward facts . Unlike Britain in the nineteenth century, which was the world’s largest exporter of capital, the United States is the world’s largest debtor. 

In effect America’s military adventures are paid for with borrowed money – notably that lent by China, whose purchases of American government debt have become crucial in underpinning the US economy.  This dependency on China cannot easily be squared with the idea that the US is acting as the world’s unpaid global enforcer.  It is America’s foreign creditors who fund this role,…

 III.  The perils of popular regimes

History suggests that we must be wary of the popular-based regimes that follow.  Consider Athens, America, France, Germany, Russia, China.  All had revolutions of some form that resulted in regimes with greater popular allegiance and participation — if not necessarily popular control.

  • Athens, America, France, and Germany used that liberated energy to conduct aggressive wars against their neighbors.
  • Germany, Russia and China turned that energy inward, conducting wars against their own people.

These are data points suggesting that regime change that liberates the energy of a society — moves toward democracy are a subset of this — can have unpleasant effects on them and their neighbors.  Popular regimes are not necessarily peaceful, rational, or moral regimes.

As the old regimes fade in the Middle East and elsewhere, their replacements might prove more assertive or even warlike.  The rising strength of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the elections of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran and the Hamas party in Palestine … perhaps the election of someone like Bin Laden in Saudi Arabia.  Nobody knows how these new regimes will evolve.

It’s important because these peoples are the future of humanity.  Mark Stein goes to the heart of the issue, looking at the children born in 2005.

Of that 137 million in the Class of ’05, the developed world produced 13 million babies, China produced 16 million babies, and the developing world produced 108 million babies.

 Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts about grand strategy

Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.  Here are some posts on this subject.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy   (31 January 2006)
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy   (1 March 2006)
  3. Why We Lose at 4GW   (4 January 2007)
  4. America takes another step towards the “Long War”   (24 July 2007)
  5. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy?   (28 October 2007)
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I  (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
  7. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II  (14 June 2008)
  8. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past  (30 June 2008)
  9. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris  (1 July 2008)
  10. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work  (7 July 2008)

 Click here to see a list of all posts about strategy and military theory.

5 thoughts on “America’s grand strategy, now in shambles”

  1. The PNAC doctrine seems to be an act of desparation, acknowledging the very factors you list as reasons why a different grand strategy was called for. It might be compared with price-cutting as a tactic for keeping market share — a kind of homeopathic suicide.

    Be careful not to confuse Islam as a vehicle of resistance and Islam as a cause of it. The cause of resistance is unequal wealth and the anti-democratic regimes which maintain the West’s privileged trade policies.

  2. And now ask yourself, which presidential candidate is going to continue this failed strategy, and which one is actually likely to come up with a new one, recognizing the failures of the Bush administration’s “grand strategy”?
    Fabius Maximus replies: That is IMO a very powerful question!

  3. Most governments are not rational period. Though I would much rather live in a Democracy rather than a totalitarian state such as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Tyrants tend to be hard on their people.

    The thing is about Democracies they aren’t really populist driven to begin with. You still have a monied elite or business class that calls the shots behind the scenes and drives certain policy decisions like who to go to war with and what over. Like Dole Banana and United Oil in Central America at the turn of the last century.

    Or more recently, Desert Storm. The American people had to be beaten on the head with a massive PR effort(like babies bayoneted in their incubators by Iraqi soldiers concoted by Hill&Knowlton) in order for them to support going to war.

    Of course on the little things the boss class let us have a say just to keep us from storming their gated enclaves and watering holes.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. To Rodger:

    There aren’t any utopias in this world.I used to live in a VERY DRACONIAN,but efficiently run society in South East Asia for several years,but at present I’m livin’ in a VERY INCOMPETENT & CORRUPT yet democratic state.

    It’s just the human condition,I guess.

    Efficient hyper/ultra-capitalist totalitarian system or pathetic/near ruinous “representative” democratic state.Well,guess that’s the Asia for ya.

  5. to “J”: neither candidate will come up with a new strategy. Both parties (in effect, the entire political class) are committed to a long-term military presence in Iraq, in order to control oil. Both parties are similarly committed to (the rhetoric at least of) an on-going war on terror, the umbrella which allows us to intervene anywhere in the world we want to. What is worse, both parties seem to be unconcerned about the erosion of political and civil liberties at home — unlawful detention, warrantless wiretapping, etc.

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