Modern American grand strategy is frequently heavily disputed and criticized by academics, scholars, and the American public in general. Many argue that the Obama administration has lacked a sufficient grand strategy in recent times but others disagree. I regard the Obama administration’s grand strategy as logical and reasonable for the status quo of the U.S. and for what can be expected in the future, however, it does contain various gaping holes that create room for problems. The Tower Center event “After al Qaeda: The Future of American Grand Strategy” featured two highly distinguished academics and their slightly differing stances on the Obama administration’s grand strategy and what can be seen as the strengths and weaknesses of President Obama’s plan.
Dr. Hal Brands of Duke University argues that President Obama has the right idea in regards to a grand strategy for the United States, however, his grand strategy does consist of many issues. Brands states that Obama’s strategy encompasses three big ideas: wanting to “preserve the order” established for the U.S. in the post-Cold War era, striving to prevent from “overstretching” in regards to the difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq, and wanting to “disentangle” the U.S. from the Middle East because of the rising concerns of East Asia as of recent times. Brands argues that these basic principles have essentially “anchored” how the president thinks and shapes his grand strategy. Brands claims that although none of these principles are necessarily wrong, there are many problems that Obama’s grand strategy encounters. First off, his grand strategy has very weak rhetoric in that he often pronounces many “inspirational goals” but no logical way of attaining them. Second, President Obama’s objectives are solid but they are “endangered” by current global trends. Third, with Europe becoming increasingly unstable, the U.S. finds itself facing more problems in regards to military presence and how to allocate resources for this. Fourth, although President Obama wants to pivot away from the Middle East in his grand strategy, he finds this increasingly difficult to do due to the decrease in U.S. security this would cause. Lastly, pulling back militarily may be just as destabilizing as overreaching poses to be. Brands addresses many prominent and relevant gaping holes within President Obama’s grand strategy that need to be filled in order to lead the United States in the right direction.
Dr. Barry Posen of MIT provides a slightly different view when it comes to the President’s grand strategy. He claims that the post-Cold War strategy has not worked very well for the U.S. and that broadening national security abroad is not necessary for national security at home. Posen argues that the U.S. is very safe due to its possession of nuclear weapons, having a strong military, and having oceans and stable nations as borders. Although these instances protect the U.S. in certain ways, the U.S. still needs strong national security abroad to ensure the protection of its national interests. Posen also discusses the problem of “cheap free riding” that the U.S. faces when it provides defenses for other nations. The U.S. essentially provides other nations with a blank check and those foreign countries take advantage of this luxury. Posen describes these countries as “reckless drivers” and how the U.S. pays the price for their reckless driving. This is a valid point and an instance the U.S. needs to be wary of when forming its grand strategy. Furthermore, Posen argues that for a strong grand strategy, the U.S. should focus on a small number of key problems instead of paying attention to what can be seen as irrelevant issues to the U.S. He states that just because “something is interesting doesn’t make it a national interest.” Posen also discusses the United States goal of spreading democracy and how this is flawed because other nations have strong nationalism and are not going to accept the United States and its democratic ways with open arms. He believes that the world resists the United States. However, this is not always true. Although there are certain parts of the world that do not accept the U.S. and its ways, other nations require the stability that democracy would provide and in these instances the U.S. should continue attempting to put democracy in place.
These two academics present contrasting opinions in regards to President Obama’s grand strategy but both bring up some valid concerns. President Obama’s grand strategy is strong in some aspects but needs tweaking in others to prevent placing the U.S. in a detrimental position.
Anika Reza is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in the Middle East, and minoring in Arabic. She is a Pre-Law Scholar and in the University Honors Program. Anika plans on attending law school after graduating from SMU and hopes to work in foreign service in the future.