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Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?

Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring? Schwartz Senior Fellow and panelist Rosa Brooks discusses the quest for an American Grand Strategy: The country's foreign policy could use a clearer mission statement. If you rummage around on the White House's web site, you'll eventually stumble across something called The National Security Strategy of the United States. In fact, you'll find more than half a dozen National Security Strategy documents, since Congress mandates that each president produce one. But though the National Security Strategy (NSS) is many things (press release, public relations statement, laundry list of laudable aspirations), Grand Strategy it ain't. The unclassified version alone clocks in at some sixty pages, which is hardly petite, but "long" isn't the same as "grand." When it comes to Grand Strategy, less is more: if it can't be expressed in a few paragraphs, it's something other than Grand Strategy. Grand Strategy is "the big idea" of foreign and national security policy. Grand strategy is the overarching concept that links ends, ways and means, the organizing principle that allows states to purposively plan and prioritize the use of diplomatic, economic and military power. A list of aspirations is a list of wishes, which is not a substitute for a strategy. And a list of "priorities" is worth nothing at all, if there are 47 priorities.Rosa Brooks Of necessity, Grand Strategy has to be pretty simple: after all, to be a guiding principle, it has to be readily understood by many actors and easily translated into action. A sixty-page document, produced by consensus amongst bureaucrats? Not so much. It's awfully hard to discern the contours of a Grand Strategy from the last three years (take the confused, inconsistent reaction to Arab Spring). President Obama makes wonderful speeches, and rhetorically, he's awfully persuasive. But judged impartially, US foreign and national security over the last three years looks ad hoc, reactive and inconsistent. It's true that Grand Strategy isn't everything. It's not a script or a playbook, for instance. But without any notion of Grand Strategy -- without any broad vision of a desired end state -- there's no basis on which to make the day-to-day decisions. Yes, most of the work of foreign policy is about small, incremental changes, not sweeping, fancy stuff. It's about whether to meet with the Saudis for half an hour or for two hours at the UN General Assembly, whether we need ten aircraft carriers or eleven, and whether to release two Yemenis or three Yemenis from Guantanamo. But without some notion of where you want to go, there's no principled or consistent basis for making even the most incremental decisions—so you end up with a foreign policy that looks almost random, and that may be internally inconsistent. As they say, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." This isn't a recipe for a sound foreign policy.
Length: 01:33:53


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