February 21, 2008

Grand (and not so grand) Strategy

We don't talk much about strategy, much less grand strategy, around here. But earlier this week, Charlie had the privilege of participating in a day long workshop on just that topic. And while her (nearly completed) PhD is in political science, she's actually trained in comparative politics, not International Relations. Realism, idealism, neo-liberal blah blah just make her cranky. That said, there were a handful of recurring themes that might be of interest to our dear readers.

Iraq and Afghanistan. As one of Charlie's favorite military analysts noted, there really is no point to formulating a grand strategy that doesn't address our obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If for example, one is primarily concerned about restoring US legitimacy (a worthwhile pursuit), one should carefully reflect as to how a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and associated bloodletting would further affect that legitimacy. We are not in an "all else being equal" situation. We're in a real hole here, and have to at least stop digging before we can find our way out. No administration can wish these wars away.

NATO. Ordinarily, NATO is stultifying. Total insomnia cure. But, as we've commented here before, the unraveling mission in Afghanistan has made things, um, interesting. The question is why: why is the US having such trouble pursuing its interests through NATO? Is it because NATO bureaucracy is so bloated and byzantine that even leaders in agreement can't manage to coordinate action? Or is it because US and European interests have genuinely diverged? If it's the latter, NATO reform isn't the answer and we'll need to look for novel ways to re-imagine the trans-Atlantic relationship.

AQ and Iran. Can someone explain to Charlie why the US should confront both al Qaeda and Iran--mutually perceived apostates--at the same time? Now it's true that neither has really targeted the other with much alacrity (though AQI targeting of Iraqi shia does come to mind). But is it unreasonable to think that a grand strategy should, I dunno, consider circumstances that might induce such behavior? Seriously, these people f*cking hate each other. It's literally insane to develop a strategy that requires us fighting them both at the same time, when they'd be more than happy to do it for us. At minimum, pick the crocodile closest to the canoe and contain the other for the time being.

Declining American Power. Political scientists love to argue about "polarity": the number hegemons are there in the international system at a given time. But most in attendance seemed to agree that while the "unipolar moment" would continue, it won't last indefinitely. Meaning at some point the US will not be the world's sole superpower. But Charlie isn't convinced that means we'll be facing a "multi-polar" world; color her sanguine on the rise of China, etc. She thinks the US will maintain most of its power advantage in material terms, but the efficacy of that power will decline. We'll still have the biggest military and strongest economy, but it will be substantially more difficult to translate that "power" into actual global influence. Partially because of other sophisticated actors (state and non-state), partially because of epic challenges like climate change, it will just be that much harder to get what we want. And that's a reality any grand strategy will have to face.

Good times! (And we didn't even get to the question of nukes!) Pencil Charlie in for some version of the indirect approach applied globally (exploiting and creating schisms amongst our enemies and the populations they draw upon) and a strong eye toward re-establishing our international legitimacy. But beyond that, it's anyone's guess.