Obama’s Strategy: A Roundup

Just briefly:

Here it is.

Here’s some good critical responses: One At Ink Spots, one at FP,  and one at Abu M.

There are many lines of discussion and comment. But the burden of the responses is that a National Security Strategy ought to be a National Security Strategy, not a vague statement of good intentions for public and global consumption, with all of the most fundamental principles presumed rather than explained.

Strategies set out a theory of how to align and balance commitments and resources, power and interests, in order to create security. They ask fundamental questions. What kind of country does the US want to be, and have the power to be? Why is ‘leadership’ a good thing, and better than alternatives such as a Concert of Powers? If America’s power is depleting, what things matter most to rank and prioritise, and what are only second-order concerns?

If it is to be an inspiring speech on the benevolence of American leadership and the need to tackle every problem under the sun, then it should be given a different title.

I stress again that this isn’t just Obama’s problem. It is an underlying intellectual and philosophical vacuum in strategic thinking, really, in the West. Many things have contributed to this, including the departure of one giant obvious enemy to organise against (Moscow really used to focus the mind), the post-Cold War assumption of great, almost godlike power, the military fixation on operations and tactical-operational solutions, politicians’ fixation on ideological principles and high-minded rhetoric (leadership, democratic peace, working with partners etc), the many domestic forces that make it politically unwise to challenge the notion that unbounded American leadership is good for America, and the supplanting of geopolitics by globalism, which recognises few limitations as a concept.

Calling something a strategy, legislating to require an annual restatement of it, and issuing it as a smart looking document, does not make it strategic. In fact, the more the word is used, the more suspect and empty it sounds.

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