Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grand enemies and grand strategy - Part II

Over a month ago I wrote a post asking the question: is a grand enemy necessary for a grand strategy? I had intended to get back to this since about a day after I posted and clarify and change some things, but alas here we are much later than that. In the meantime, Adam Elkus wrote a post on this topic which was followed by Zenpundit. They're both interesting reads, so check them out. I am especially interested by Adam's discussion of aggregating information and Mark's discussions on the impact of "systems" and that grand strategy is driven not by policy, but that it drives the development of policy. I will be drawing on these points later.

I will start this by saying that I worded the original post to ask a more fundamental question than I intended. I did not mean to pose the question so explicitly, but instead was trying (inelegantly) to ask the question: do those that develop grand strategy need to have a grand enemy, or the probability of a grand enemy forming, in order to focus their minds towards strategy development?

As Adam points out, the world is a highly complicated place with infinite data points and nearly as many networks. Without an enemy or adversary, how does a powerful nation mold its international activities to achieve its global ambitions? I don't know, because I'm not sure we've seen it done effectively. Yet. I get, and buy into, offshore balancing, but it is hardly something that permits the creation of coherent grand strategy. One need look no further than U.S. activities in South Asia as an example of incoherence that this type of strategy can lead to. The United States cannot, still, state whether it supports Pakistan or India in their conflict (that seems oh, so important to Afghanistan), whether or not Iran is being helpful or not with regard to Afghanistan (seems to be a bit of columns A and B), or if we prefer the company of the Central Asian states or cooperation of Russia. While the Afghan conflict is the biggest one we have at the moment, it has been a prime candidate for offshore balancing and a dismal failure in execution. The United States has no idea what regional powers to enable to assist itself without pissing off the other powers it may care about on other issues. (Let's face it, Afghanistan isn't the biggest strategic issue the U.S. faces at the moment, even if it is the biggest hot war going). This is one strategic problem that we have been thinking about for 10 years about one country and still haven't a clue on where to begin.

Mark is right that great powers seek to force their will upon rivals and others within a "system" defined by international norms and mores. What to do about Afghanistan is another example on how without a great rival, great powers don't know how to do this. In fact, offshore balancing is working the system - but we still don't know how to because we can't predict or understand 2d, 3d, Nth order effects of a system consisting of the aforementioned infinite data points and networks. We simply can't figure this out; a vestige our now-realized failed attempts at using the mujahideen to our own ends, ignorant of future threats of doing the same. I can't readily say I'm on the Boyd bandwagon (can't say I'm off either, I'm still trying to figure out the "so what" of it all), but if one were, with so many data points OODA loops for offshore balancing would be so numerous and of such short flash-to-bang intervals that the strategist would be overwhelmed by sensory overload.

I'm also with Mark on this business of grand strategy driving policy. But policy drives strategy (sans "grand"). Afghanistan is a strategic fight in my view, not grand. It is a war waged against an enemy that presents no existential threat to the U.S. or even significant threats to the national "interests" put forth in the National Security Strategy (talk about misnomers). It is, however, a case study in the failure of grand strategy development by powers with no real threats to itself. We can't tell up from down or whether we're coming or going. That's not the fault of the strategists - it is the realistic chaos of the world which I feel may be less than enough to focus the activities and expenditure of valuable resources of a powerful state with nebulous ambitions other than its own prosperity.

At this point I will cede that I have not yet made the case that a grand enemy can provide that focus that cuts through the information overload, but that there is a good case that the absence of one does not provide the focus necessary. So let's call this post one of at least a few on this topic, sequels to follow as time and brain waves allow.


  1. Excellent post, glad to see this will be a continuing series here.

    I think the problem with an absence of a grand enemy is that the United States tries to create one, and this is where grand strategy can really go off-track.

    In the absence of an actual, material threat to its interests, the United States generally tends to identify threats to its values - and Islamist terrorism, to use today's example, is far more a threat to our values than our material interests, yet we constantly seek to frame it in terms of WWII or the Cold War.

    Part of the problem is, as you mention, America's present security. From an offshore balancing standpoint, the US's interests are not so different from the ones Churchill describes. The US does not want a Eurasian hegemon which would have the industrial power or continental security to build a fleet that could threaten US access to the world's oceans and markets, or penetrate the Western hemisphere. In theory, this strategy does not require an enemy - it just means that during times of relative peace, the US should conserve its resources and avoid entanglements that might compromise its ability to fight the next hegemonic war.

    Of course, this is not what we actually do during times of peace, because it smacks too much of isolationism, and domestic factors militate against a less active foreign policy even if the international system seems favorable to it. We transfer our grand strategy to one of protecting, then promoting, US values and less concretely defined interests. Once we have become entangled, the US then shifts to a focus on strategy and operations, as you pointed out.

  2. Jason -- I too am glad that you've come back to this subject, and I think it can be a useful launching point for a lot of the other things I want to get into in the next couple of weeks in re grand strategy, global rebalancing, force structure, and so on.

    To speak briefly to the question that kicked this whole thing off: No, I don't think that a defined adversary is necessary for the formulation of grand strategy. There's a pretty simple reason for this, too, in my mind: grand strategy is bigger than just security, and isn't so much a matter of threats or competitors but rather a state's self-conception -- that is, how it sees its "natural" place in the world and what it seeks for its citizens.

    A simple example of this is the U.S. grand strategy for most of the 19th century, which was predicated on manifest destiny and westward expansion. One could argue that variously Mexico and the various native American groups that opposed the government were the defined "enemy" (or threat, or adversary, or whatever you want to call it), but this strikes me as a bit of post hoc reasoning. Manifest destiny wasn't about Mexico or the Indians -- they were merely the obstacles to realization of that strategy's desired endstates. The grand strategic concept was developed out of a mix of exploratory ambition, crusading zeal, the drive for what would later be called lebensraum to accommodate a growing population, and a decision to disregard the range of other possible entanglements that could have stood in the way of the effort to expand and consolidate the contiguous "homeland." Grand strategy informs foreign and security policy, but also insinuates itself into decisions across the entire socio-political spectrum; even domestic politics are suffused with purpose, as we again saw during the Cold War.

    Other stuff worth getting to in this post but I'll cut this one off here for now.

  3. Now to take a completely different angle...

    do those that develop grand strategy need to have a grand enemy, or the probability of a grand enemy forming, in order to focus their minds towards strategy development?

    Still not sure if this is what you're getting at, but I'm going to take this to mean the following: is the only way we can actually motivate and inspire the bureaucracy to develop strategic plans by scaring people with a future threat?

    This is a tougher question. We've been over the subject of the USG's dysfunctional and variegated long-term planning processes (to the extent that we can even be said to have them), so I'm not going to rehash all that. But yeah, I do think there's something to this. After all, what we're really trying to do is develop plans (and forces) that allow us to quickly adapt to the reality of the threat environment; that is, we want to be the LEAST WRONG we possibly can be, because we know that it's verging on impossible to be right.

    So how do you do it? This is going to sound like a crazy tangent, but I remember reading Michael Crichton's Sphere when I was a teenager. It's a novel that centers around the discovery and investigation of a giant object at the bottom of the ocean. SPOILER ALERT: turns out it's an alien spacecraft or something. And I vaguely remember this little theoretical digression about how humans always conceive of aliens as being humanoid, probably breathing in some conventional way, moving around on legs, etc. But when we consider the entire range of existence in the universe (multiverse?), isn't it just as likely that aliens are like four-dimensional or something?

    What the hell was that all about?, you're wondering. Well, this: we're always going to tend to conceptualize an unknown future in ways that we're comfortable with, ideas we can get hold of, something we can plan around. If you'dve told McGeorge Bundy in 1962 that a significant threat to national security in 2012 was some kind of widespread cyber attack, some network denial of service thing or something (bear with me here -- I don't know dick about this tech stuff), he would've said "what the fuck is a network?" So yeah, it's useful to have something to work off of, even if we're wrong, if only because we simply can't even imagine the NATURE of future threats, never mind their precise makeup.

  4. Where am I going with this? Here: grand strategy is something that comes before all this conception of potential threats, all the strategies and operational approaches. "Offshore balancing" isn't a grand strategy any more than "global counterinsurgency" is. It's merely a way to summarize a series of operational moments -- it's not even really a strategy. I thought about this tonight while reading John Mearsheimer's latest from The National Interest, entitled "Imperial by Design." (I'll save you the trouble of reading it: it pretty much sucks, and this is coming from a sympathetic reader, someone who drew heavily on The Tragedy of Great Power Politics in writing a graduate thesis that had "realist perspectives on the future of U.S. security policy in eastern Europe" as a subtitle. Reading this was like watching your grandpa forget how to tie his shoes. But I digress.) Mearsheimer tries to present a "grand strategy" (or national security strategy, really) based on offshore balancing, but it just comes off as half-baked and incomplete because it draws on unexplained assumptions about the future threat environment, assumptions that are built into the determinative theoretical framework of his offensive realism: we ought to be getting ready to fight China, pretty much just because.

    Well, that ain't grand strategy. And you wouldn't expect grand strategy out of an IR theorist, really, because they're working from a highly descriptivist perspective, trying to come up with explanatory theories. They'll tell you there are also prescriptive elements, suggestions on how states should behave, but this is really where the whole deal starts to break down. But I digress again.

    The point is this: before you can think about offshore balancing, or global dominance, or global preeminence, or regional hegemony, or whatever, you have to answer the what for? part. That's what real grand strategy is. The rest is just ways and means.

  5. The 'what for' is to get rid of every unelected, unfree, unfun, uncool regime. That is the grand enemy - despotries.

    Seriously - consider: Every threat to internat’l order after the Cold War involved a government that fell short of Western and economic standards. Every security problem that the American government felt called upon to address would be alleviated, if not solved altogether, if the regimes responsible for them could be remade to American specs:

    Tolerant, egalitarian societies with a penchant for periodic, transparent elections, a free, uncensored press, a nat’l treasury under public scrutiny, a military under civie control, an independent judiciary under elected Gov oversight

  6. GSGF - I would argue the most serious threat to international order since the Cold War has not been Saddam's Iraq, or Khamenei's Iran, or the Kim Dynasty's North Korea, but the failure of the US to take advantage of the Cold War to put its house in order enough to confront the next active challenge to the current international order.

    Also, note that the most serious threats to international order since the ascent of liberal Anglo-American power have evolved from failed programs of liberalization from absolutist/autocratic regimes:

    - From Republican France to Napoleon
    - From liberalizing Germany to Wilhelm II's (still relatively democratic!) Germany
    - From the Weimar Republic and Taisho Japan to Nazi Germany and Showa Japan
    - From the failed liberal Kerensky regime to the Bolsheviks and the USSR

    Democracy and liberalization are well and good, but given how long it takes to get it right (and how bad we are at figuring out how to do it without enormous investments, massive havoc, multi-decade long occupations) before they're resilient enough to produce stable government, let alone ones which behave to "American specs," is this really a sound 'what for' in grand strategy?

    There is a very big difference, in my mind, between a grand strategy that makes democratization possible and a grand strategy that gets rid of despotisms...

    As much as I want to sally onward and write more, I ought to leave that for my own post. But very interesting debate here.

  7. GSGF -- Appreciate you chiming in here, though I think your post, if I'm being frank, is the purest nonsense. I always forget that neocons still exist! Typically I find it difficult to respond to you with anything close to full rhetorical force because I think you're really funny, and I'm never totally sure whether you're doing a bit or not, whether this whole thing is serious. But you caught me on a bad day.

    The 'what for' is to get rid of every unelected, unfree, unfun, uncool regime. That is the grand enemy - despotries.

    Can we talk about why this should be so? Your contribution is really helpful here because it highlights the way that many people's conception of "grand strategy" is really just something like an assertion of preferences about the world and an argument that U.S. power be employed to achieve and sustain those preferences. Here you've highlighted global liberty, or democracy promotion, or the end of authoritarianism, or something like all of that. But why? What does the end of despotism do for America? There's no despotism here, so why should it concern us?

    Well, I reckon it would concern us if despotism WAS really the wellspring of all the bad things in the world, of terrorism, extremism, violent aggression, and so on. But there's just really not anything close to compelling evidence to substantiate that view.

    Seriously - consider: Every threat to internat’l order after the Cold War involved a government that fell short of Western and economic standards. Every security problem that the American government felt called upon to address would be alleviated, if not solved altogether, if the regimes responsible for them could be remade to American specs

    Come on, you're smart enough to recognize that this is just a tautology. How do you threaten international order? By threatening the international order! How do you get the U.S.! to like you? By getting the U.S. to like you! Yeah, if the U.S. could just magic every other country into what it wanted them to be, then that would solve a lot of our problems. But here's something that's sort of uncomfortable to think about: if we could magic them all into something else, it probably wouldn't always be into our image. Take Mexico, for example: more than 100M people, natural resources, essential transit lane for goods and people from North to South America and back -- would we want a strong, independent, assertive country right there on our border, standing up for itself and its own interests, perhaps working with other states to block our international ambitions, maybe freezing us out of markets, etc? What we'd really want is a whole bunch of states that were strong enough to keep from being a source of trouble for us, while also being weak enough to not be capable of being a source of trouble for us.

  8. A world remade as a whole bunch of tolerant, egalitarian societies sounds great! Where do I sign up? But seriously, a foreign and security policy that's based on this desired endstate is totally unrealistic, and it doesn't respect the culture, tradition and history of everywhere else in the world. And I don't say "respect" like let's all have a multiculturalist party and sing Kumbaya. I mean "respect" like "take into consideration," and appreciate the ways that those factors are going to make this kind of transformation more difficult for us to achieve. Or, you know, impossible.

    The real end-point for this aspiration of yours is yet another thing we probably don't want to think about too closely: a world filled with democratic, egalitarian, reasonably prosperous, peaceful, non-aggressive states bound together in some sort of compact (social or formal) that preserves all those good things. Now you're talking about global governance... a world state, maybe? One where American prerogatives are now subject to the whims of others, where American power is checked, where unilateral action is difficult or impossible. Which, I guess, ok, fine, if that's what you're into. But it seems like an awful lot of trust to place in the goodness of others. It's a bit like telling your Congressman you don't want any pork for your district: sounds nice and principled and excellent, and if you could get everyone else to go for it, then, uh, AWESOME, but then they don't, and you start getting pissed off because other people are getting more for their tax dollars than you are. But I digress.

    This all really hinges on one thing: whether you think that violence and badness in the international system is structural and inevitable, or whether you think it's caused by bad actors that can be reformed or even eliminated. The latter viewpoint, to be viable, must also involve faith that the replacement actor won't be bad, and that you won't have to continually replace governments until you find a good one. The problem here is that this is basically out of sync with the history of mankind, and with the structural anarchy inherent in the international system. Bad actors can be more aggressive, can change timelines and cause problems. But some states (or groups, or individuals) are still going to fight others because the two perceive their interests as being in conflict. Not because one or the other hosts a malignant political ideology or retrograde culture, but just because they both want the same damn hill.

    Enough rambling for now. And forget whatever I said about "rhetorical force."

  9. That doesn't sound like an objection to the grand strategy of taking out the despotries. It sounds like an objection to the premise - that below that grand strategic goal there are strategic, operational, and tactical ways to achieve it.

    That's why you don't find your neocons anywhere - because all of their ideas below grand strategy crumpled during the last decade of war. But does that mean their grand strategy itself is totally unreasonable?

  10. AU -- I'd actually had one more very brief comment in which I tried to tie the whole thing up and get back to the question of grand strategy, but apparently it failed to post and I didn't notice.

    So: you do raise a reasonable point. But I'd argue yet again that "get rid of despotism" still doesn't answer the "what for?" If it's "so that we can live in a world without despots," then ok, that's something. But I'm not sure that's terribly useful if we don't understand what the actual takeaway is from that endstate. Security and stability? Ok, but the connection there is tenuous, as I tried to demonstrate.

    Grand strategy doesn't really mean "image of how the world ought to be," at least not for me. It's more like "image of what we want our polity to be in the world, where we want to fit, and how we define our own identity." If you take Courtney's line to its logical extreme, one could, I suppose, pursue a grand strategy of pursuit of global governance, elimination of war and promotion of peaceful relations among states, and remaking of other societies so as to make sustainment of that system possible, etc. Eliminate despotry toward the end of global interstate peace and equality, or somesuch. I don't know, maybe there's a hole in this. I just don't see the elimination of despotism as a grand strategic end, unless it's intended to assuage the American people's great psychic insecurity at global injustice.


  11. I was flip: her argument seemed much more for supporting the international order by enforcing and/or cultivating certain standards of governance.

    But I think this is one of the big problems with trying to develop (or talk about) grand strategy right now: it's hard to get people to agree on what the tools we have can do, and what kind of polity we think we can get away with fitting into the world without our identity or sovereignty falling apart. It seems like most grand strategy discussions circle back pretty quickly to operational concerns, which makes them somewhat circular unless you choose one side of the cycle to start defining.

    The part you said about Mexico - that struck more at the grand strategy itself, and that's what I'm still thinking about.

  12. AU -- I think you've hit at the heart of this when you talk about identity and sovereignty. Skeptical as I often am of claims that problems of the modern era are qualitatively different than past challenges, this is one place where I think that's true: free movement of people, information, labor, goods, capital, and so on are all generally good trends, but the diversity and competing (or even overlapping) interests and loyalties those trends generate make it very difficult for a state to know exactly what constitutes "acting in the name of/for the good of its people." This may steer a bit close to politics, but I occasionally fear that we'll come to define this as "looking out for American commerce," and then beyond that "looking out for American business," and then beyond that "looking out for American corporations," and at that point we're all pretty well fucked.

    But I'm rambling.

  13. Maybe you should have said "come back to." Isn't that what we did, on a much smaller scale, until we lost the trick of it sometime in the 20th century?

    That'd be a nice sidebar to this series - taking a longer look at our old attempts at Grand Strategy, and what happened to them.

  14. Good point Au - vielen danke! Context is key no doubt.

    Thanks Gulliver, no offense taken, appreciate the camradery and not trying to be one or start one, yet - please - your response is the very def of nonsense.

    The original statement summed it up pretty well

    The examples dptrombly gave with Persia and NoKo actually prove the point.The real quiz is what all happens when the Revo Guard become the new clear praetorians after l'supreme leader au courant makes the magical haj to the hereafter.

    Certainly one 'what for' is the idea that any despotic concept of plausible deniability would be the same as any one else (see Professor M'Sheimer's pitiful attempt to sell 'Offshore Balancing' in an arti called "Imperial by design") is not only risible but decidedly dangerous. Ditto NoKo.

    Despotries enable and actualize terrorism, instability and all the probs any quest for Grand Strat will be confronted with. Unfree regimes that torment their own ppl and their neighbors drive dissent underground (and THAT is where extremism thrives) are hardly harbingers of adhering to deals cut in good faith or sterling examples of stability.

    Any containment regimen devised to try a semi isolationist/realpolitik meme would make cold war NATO prices look like a bargain and most likely would be about effective as hoping for the best. Not to mention betraying curious disengagement memes.

    OTOH, a steady gig of despotry marginalization on every level imaginable would be far easier, more fun and less deadly than pretending it's 1911.

    Plus in the age of wmd why even tolerate them? They are expansionist by design and their intentions are hurtfully unhelpful in any field of human endeavor

    Dictatorships create inordinate amounts of collateral damage above their weight class that threatens everyone, from genocide, civil wars and mass migrations to disease, gendercide and famine.

    And the jab at Offshoring is not a cut - there is actually quite a bit to sell it - alas, Dr M's piece wasn't it.

    Ambassador Palmer's essential amazingly undated "Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025" makes a far better case for desires, designs and delights in any future diplopolititary concerns.


  15. Here's the problem with your argument - saying despotism is the root cause of all the ills in the world (and that's a debate, interesting as it is, that really needs its own post, it can't simply be asserted the way you put it) does not mean democratization is our only interest.

    Grand strategies need prioritization. Interests are different from threats. Sure, invasions, WMD proliferation, genocide, those are all threats - but they all affect our interests differently.

    Democratization is not a cure-all, even if it is the remedy for all geopolitical aches and pains, it takes a long, long time to work, unless you're willing to sacrifice lives and money.

    Take democratization and counter-proliferation. In Libya, we only got the Colonel-of-three-dozen-names to give up his WMD program quietly because the US an UK extended him a new diplomatic and economic lease on life. Letting Libya cash in on oil money and letting Meghari go were probably the costs of keeping nukes away from the regime. So we've probably extended his reign.

    Iran is another example where wavering between focusing on their nukes and the nascent democrats works at cross purposes. Iran's government will not make a deal to give up the best anti-US deterrent possible if they know we're seeking their overthrow and trying to shorten the regime's lifespan. Supporting the Greens makes negotiations difficult, and increases the appeal of nukes to the regime (keep US out, bolster nationalistic pride - Khatami, before he lost the election in 2005, went around campaigning on the record of Iran's nuclear program at times).

    We could go on and on. The harder we push for democratization, the more unintended consequences and trade-offs we face.

    Any grand strategy that cannot prioritize our interests (US spec regimes, open markets, US prosperity and security, stability in certain regions, etc) is muddling at best and disaster-prone at worst. If you really think democratization is our A #1 interest and everything else comes second, then we may have to accept that there will probably be a lot more instability, scrambling for WMDs, death-rattle wars and internal disarray in other countries. Oh, and probably we'll lose some allies, and our relations with the PRC and Russia will go into the toilet, etc etc.

    Sure, (maybe) we can have it all in the wonderful teleological end state where democracy reigns and peace breaks out. But grand strategies are not about the teleological end state, they're about the day-to-day realities and interests of statecraft. Those interests, to the extent we can protect them, are not always served by regime change (peaceful or otherwise), and any grand strategy that assumes that despotism can never be tolerated has to be willing to sacrifice those interests for what could be a very long "short term" and an elusive "long term" endstate.

  16. dptrombly thanks for the distinction about intervening military or other wise - totally important.

    The bit about "...More instability, scrambling for WMDs, death-rattle wars and internal disarray in other countries..."

    And? Seriously - any grand plans will have those components. Offshore Balancing for example - will have to include periodic pre emptions, (look for this neoconic idea to stay around for a long time)bush wars, interventions and something prob called COIN World etc.

    Muddling and disaster prone is exactly what ignoring them will bring to future world. The Beatles Nowhere Man makes a great soundtrack for that - making all those nowhere plans for nobody - where a literal basket case like Syria exerts influ far beyond what she should.

    Marginalizing and desiring to toss all despotries on the same pile as Waffen Ss and kamikazes does not automatically mean we would lose allies - to the contrary - we would gain them. Nonfree 'allies' 'frenemies' and hostile posses would have to do some serious thinking about R2P, fiddling about with WMD,hanging with terrorists and modern statecraft

    This is a subtle point often overlooked - but the idea of 'getting the worst first' over time could actually reinforce desired behavior with collectivist China and autocratic Russia as they begin to loosen up in the near future. Truly a new clear Persia on Vladland's south 40 is hardly reassuring to the Kremlin.

    Also - It's our greatest strength - democracies threaten all non democracies just by existing.

    Might as well revel in it

  17. A current or imminent enemy may not be necessary for the development of grand strategy, but when one has been the driving force behind strategic development for decades, it is a difficult mindset to transition away from. Particularly if deemed successful. It becomes the familiar, old faithful, a very powerful historical lesson that is easy to maintain, and very tough to challenge.

    "...a state's self-conception -- that is, how it sees its "natural" place in the world and what it seeks for its citizens."

    For forty years in the Cold War, the US defined itself in opposition to a great enemy. The US was the Free World, contrasted with an Iron Curtain. Its "natural" place was the bulwark against communism (or however the enemy was labeled). Whatever tricks with which they sought to gain advantage, America would counter. Wherever it threatened, America was there. No expense was spared, no priority was higher. Then America won.

    This post-Cold War need to define ourselves against some enemy can almost be considered strategic laziness. It might just come down to an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" scenario; America was the seawall against which the wave of communism broke, so can't we tame the rest of those pesky waves? Why do we need to be the ones to change, when we are clearly superior?

    I rambled a bit, but bottom line: I'd agree with Gulliver that an enemy is not essential impetus for the development of strategy, but I'd contend that, especially in a situation where it had proven successful in the past, simply finding a new enemy to replace the old is a much easier exercise than the potentially painful task of reevaluating your self-conception in light of changed circumstance. And I'm thinking that, to a large extent, the US has fallen into this.

  18. This post-Cold War need to define ourselves against some enemy can almost be considered strategic laziness. It might just come down to an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" scenario; America was the seawall against which the wave of communism broke, so can't we tame the rest of those pesky waves? Why do we need to be the ones to change, when we are clearly superior?

    I agree with this. I was a teenager during the 80s and the Cold War hung over everything. Some of us kids really did think it would all end in a big boom. And we were teens/young adults growing up around progressive skeptics of containment who generally pooh-poohed the danger of the Soviet Union.

    It was just a different time.

    We need to think what we want to be, ourselves, in the future. Strategy will flow naturally from that. In terms of promoting liberal regimes, I think the past decade has shown that while the idea is a good one in theory, the application is difficult, fraught with unintended consequences, and needs to be calibrated carefully againt individual problems.

    Iraq is not Afghanistan is not Saudi Arabia is not Yemen and so forth. A one sized solution does not fit all problems of illiberal regimes.

    By the way, now that we need Saudi and Pakistan, again, against Iran and in Afghanistan what do you bet the old bad habits will be (and are) back in terms of supporting illiberal regimes? The Washington Post reports that VP Biden will travel to Pakistan bearing military and intelligence and economic goodies - and will mete out stern warnings. History has shown that works out well for us.

    We haven't learned a thing. Rich Lowry even tweeted, according to Abu M, that "Saudis are now neocons" or some such because they are wary of Iran.

    The world is complicated and our own governments lack the long-term interest or competence to get the whole Masters of the Universe stuff right.

    So, back to strategy. Figure out who we want to be. I'd say: dynamic, mobile, prosperous and free. Won't come cheap and won't happen without fundamental internal changes to our political class and DC. We need a lot of old 20th century bad habits to go away.