Wanted: a Grand Strategy (Updated)
This morning I found a pair of interestingly interlocking columns. In his column in the Washington Post Eugene Robinson urges the incipient Obama Administration to formulate a coherent plan for the War on Terror:
A concept that excludes nothing defines nothing. That’s why one of the most urgent tasks for President-elect Barack Obama’s “Team of Rivals” foreign policy brain trust is coming up with a coherent intellectual framework — and a winning battle plan — for the globe-spanning asymmetrical conflict that George W. Bush calls the “war on terror.”
He’s skeptical of the early steps by President-Elect Obama. In reference to Mr. Obama’s announcing his security team yesterday Mr. Robinson notes:
In his opening statement, Obama vowed to continue the fight against “those who kill innocent individuals to advance hateful extremism.” Is that his definition of terrorism? Is any one-size-fits-all definition sufficiently flexible to allow U.S. Special Forces to go after Osama bin Laden but also to keep nuclear-armed India out of nuclear-armed Pakistan?
David Brooks is a man with a plan. In his column in the New York Times today he describes the policy forged in the crucibles of Iraq and Afghanistan like this:
Gates does not talk about spreading democracy, at least in the short run. He talks about using integrated federal agencies to help locals improve the quality and responsiveness of governments in trouble spots around the world.
He has developed a way of talking about security and foreign policy that is now the lingua franca in government and think-tank circles. It owes a lot to the lessons of counterinsurgency and uses phrases like “full spectrum operations” to describe multidisciplinary security and development campaigns.
Gates has told West Point cadets that more regime change is unlikely but that they may spend parts of their careers training soldiers in allied nations. He has called for more spending on the State Department, foreign aid and a revitalized U.S. Information Agency. He’s spawned a flow of think-tank reports on how to marry hard and soft pre-emption.
The Bush administration began to implement these ideas, but in small and symbolic ways. President Bush called for a civilian corps to do nation-building. National Security Presidential Directive 44 laid out a framework so different agencies could coordinate foreign reconstruction and stabilization. The Millennium Challenge Account program created a method for measuring effective governance.
Actual progress was slow, but the ideas developed during the second Bush term have taken hold.
and urges the new administration to continue along this path:
Given the events of the past years, the U.S. is not about to begin another explicit crusade to spread democracy. But decent, effective and responsive government would be a start.
Obama and his team didn’t invent this approach. But if they can put it into action, that would be continuity we can believe in.
Note that Mr. Brooks is singing the same old song: this is Neo-conservatism 2.0.
I think the original grand strategy in the War on Terror can safely be considered to have run aground. While Iraq may not descend into chaos, neither is it considered a model for the rest of the region. Liberal democracy isn’t spreading virally throughout the Middle East.
I honestly don’t believe that the American people have the patience or, sadly, the interest in following that particular grand strategy. It’s a lot easier to run on spending money on building roads here in the United States than it is to explain why we should build roads in Afghanistan.
A new grand strategy is desperately needed. We can’t wait forever, however much we’d prefer to.
I swear I hadn’t read Fareed Zakaria’s piece in Newsweek. He uses nearly exactly the same title I used for this post to urge a new grand strategy taking the factors noted in the NIC’s report on global trends as a roadmap. If that’s the case I hope that more insight is evident in reading those trends than was present in that report. Otherwise it will not be unlike using a roadmap for the German autobahn to make your way around New Jersey.