The following is the beginnings of a post or series of posts on Information Dissmination. I figured I'd throw it up against this wall first and see what stuck.
Thoughts on Grand Strategy
Fareed Zakaria offers a plea for a new Grand Strategy from the Obama team but isn't very concrete about what it should look like, and gets his math wrong.
He also says that 'in order to form a grand strategy you need to know what the world actually looks like' which is *sort* of true, but I argue in the wrong order.
As a first step in the exercise, you need to clearly and accurately describe your goals.
This doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to achieve them - but for the process of formulating a grand strategy to make any sense, you need to know where you're trying to go.
President GHW Bush (41), as mentioned in the Zakaria article, had to tone down the Cheney Pentagon version of a Grand Strategy based on U.S. unipolarity and freedom of action.
The problem with the Cheney and Co. grand strategy was not that it saw the world inaccurately, but that it had an unclear (or nonexistent) idea of its goals. It didn't set forth concrete goals, it set forth condition goals. It explicitly laid out a rosy vision of American power and opportunity as seen in the 1990s, and then stated that America should use this opportunity - to try to prolong the period of opportunity. Fundamentally, the Cheney crew did not see the unipolar moment as a window; they rather saw it as a dynamic equilibrium, one which could be maintained with the proper effort - and they saw that state as their 'grand goal.' They wanted freedom to act, and ability to act - but they never said what for, other than circularly to say 'to retain our freedom and ability to act as we see necessary.'
NSC-68 offered a concrete goal set. It saw a desired state - the continued survival and freedom of the United States. It saw a specific threat - the Soviet Union's rise in power militarily, economically, and politically. It saw a basic condition problem state - the Soviets' espoused ideology, which threatened the goal state. And then it proposed a desired enabling state - successful containment of the Soviet Union - and offered prescriptions on how to achieve that which encompassed concrete recommendations on military, diplomatic and economic initiatives.
I'm not interested in arguing the moral correctness of NSC-68. I want to point out that however you feel about it, NSC-68 succeeded. We can argue about whether it did so by accident, or by design; whether it was vital or irrelevant. But in the very small sample set of grand strategies proffered by the United States' policymaking community, its desired goals, both intermediate and final, were realized.
Cheney and Co, on the other hand, even if we grant them the 'survive and flourish' goal as a desired endstate, fail to connect their two conditions. Even if the United States manages to preserve its unipolar perch, how (CONCRETELY) does this lead to the survival and flourishing of the United States? There are any number of plausible scenarios where the U.S. maintains a leadership position, even a unipolar one, where it falls anyway - because as history teaches us, unipolar dominance is not a necessary condition (nor, I would argue, a sufficient one) for our survival and progress. The United States spent most of its existance not as a hegemonic power, nor even as a particularly important one at the time. It spent the years 1776 to roughly 1945 in various conditions ranging from insignificant to a global but not by any means hegemonic power. It survived, and flourished. Following 1945 and through 1990 or so, it continued to do so as a roughly hegemonic power - but certainly did not have nearly the freedom of action that it did in the 1990s. So Cheney and Co's fixation on freedom of action and power preponderance is a useless goal state. It is a TOOL, not a goal. And fixation on a particular tool rather than on the job isn't healthy.
In any case, the 'survive and flourish' goal is a priori overdetermined (sorry, my Poli Sci background rears its head). Given the fact that the United States was, at the turn of the century, a nearly unipolar hegemon, it would take a significant shock to the world system to destroy it or render it unable to act to survive and flourish. While such events are certainly not impossible, the very assumption of the then-current state of the system means that we should by default, and in absence of disruption, simply expect the United States to go on as a powerful and flexible nation. As a result, the lack of a credible problem which would threaten that situation is even more problematic.
While 'terrorism' may represent a threat to American citizens and property, I argue that it cannot represent a threat to American sovereignty without critical assistance from Americans. All that need happen to make terrorism a threat to American values and sovereignty is for Americans to say that it is, and believe it. On the contrary, it has so far - save for Cheney's endless alluded-to but never-revealed successes - done us remarkably little concrete damage. Terrorism may be used by groups or alignments that desire to do the U.S. significant harm; and those groups may fight to control nations or movements that can, in fact, do strategic harm to the U.S. However, once they are wielding nations in their quest, they're no longer 'terrorists' who, by definition, cannot be attacked as sovereign opponents.
If 'terrorist WMDs' are, in fact, the number one threat to the United States today, we are remarkably secure. If one is to accept that (for example) a nuclear detonation in an American city would destroy American sovereignty, or destroy America as a world power, then our system has grown brittle enough that we have severe internal problems which dwarf that risk - in that the condition of our system is inherently poor. I in no way suggest that we should accept such events as inevitable, and I support the use of military and state power to prevent them from occurring - but I dispute whether these goals ('prevent terrorist WMD use in the U.S. and allies' territory') are proper grand strategy goals. If so, we're looking at our toes, not the horizon.
Enough platitudes. Sorry. Let's talk about that desired end state. I personally approve of 'the survival and continued prosperity of the United States of America.' But what does that mean? How do we define survival? Let's be clear - we are talking of the survival of the United States as a sovereign nation - which means that to me, that means 'the preservation of sovereignty within the boundaries of the United States, the preservation of the lives of her citizens.' For to be a sovereign nation, we must be a people who consider ourselves a nation; and our designated bodies must be able to exercise sovereignty.
This is not the entirety of our goals, of course. But, I would argue, it is the CORE of our goals. The goal without whose achievement all other goals are meaningless. I would also argue that this goal has not changed, fundamentally, in the history of the United States.
The cost of our preponderance of power is that it has allowed us to stack other, less meaningful goals atop this one in great number - and worse yet, become accustomed to having those goals achieved. This is dangerous. We appear to have forgotten that one critical task in defining strategy is to avoid overreach. Should we define our goals to include the prevention of any loss of life to any American Citizen? No, I would argue, we should not. For example, setting this as a goal cripples our ability to deploy our military - which is composed (at its core) of our citizens. If we cannot risk their lives, we cannot act. This is a somewhat tortured logic game to expose the fallacy of that goal - but it is valid, and so are less convoluted examples. Preventing all harm to all Americans is impossible. Even if no American traveled abroad (which would finish us as a world power as surely as any other catastrophe) it would be impossible to defend our borders against incursion without risking life.
So while protecting the lives of American citizens is a goal, it is specifically subordinate to preserving sovereignty, because to do the latter, we must needs give up the former in many cases.
So. What else?
As I alluded to above, the United States is finished without traffic between our state and the remainder of the world. Therefore, we must be able to undertake commerce with the rest of the world at our own behest. While it is perfectly possible (and proper) that other states may choose not to trade with us, it is unacceptable for any state to dictate to us our ability or right to traffic with a third state. Throughout the United States' history, this ability has been vital to the survival and prosperity of our nation. Even in the earliest days of the Republic, the U.S. Government recognized that it could not allow any state to dictate our ability to communicate with other nations - and at Tripoli, the U.S. demonstrated that it understood that it could not allow any state to dictate our trade other than with itself. During the Cold War, the continuing fear was that the Soviet Union would overrun Europe - and Europe, it was recognized, was necessary for the survival and prosperity of the U.S. Although the Soviet Union certainly did dictate U.S. trade and communications access with other states, I argue that this fact alone went a long way towards its designation as an opponent requiring strategic management. While the U.S. was not unduly harmed by its inability to trade freely with, say, East Germany during the height of the Cold War, the threat to its ability to trade with nations which desired those links was an unacceptable state - and containment with an eye towards defeat of the USSR was the answer.
To be honest, that will be quite enough to be getting on with. I'm not going to offer a comprehensive goal set - I think we have quite enough on our plates just dealing with the core goals I have outlined above. If we can achieve them, we will as a result have the wherewithal and means to outline other, more specific goals and have a good chance of properly determining if they are within our reach.