LIVE STREAM: Where Have America’s Grand Strategists Gone?

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Yesterday, the New America Foundation hosted a public forum which considered whether a coherent strategy or “Obama Doctrine” is emerging after nearly one year of President Obama’s presidency.
Today, the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program is hosting an event with Nicholas Thompson, Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of the critically acclaimed book, The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War. The event will address the question, “Where Have America’s Grand Strategists Gone?”
After the liberal hegemony of the 1990s and the neoconservative theory of military dominance and democratic peace theory of the 2000s, what is the Obama administration’s theory of America’s place in the world?
Another aspect of the grand strategy debate that I hope will be addressed is how the Cold War leadership managed to persuade the entire American political, military, and corporate establishments to adopt a consistent worldview and execute a coordinated strategy.
The event will run TODAY from 12:15pm – 1:45pm and will STREAM LIVE here at The Washington Note.
— Ben Katcher

Comments

26 comments on “LIVE STREAM: Where Have America’s Grand Strategists Gone?

  1. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The aspirations cherished by David can only be possible once the policy makers in the US morally commit to totally isolate themselves from the influence of the Darwinian philosophy of “survival of the fittest” that has been the main spring board for the US- foreign policy makers.If the US intelligentsia may realise that there is much difference_ between the species’ quest for survival; and the one that rests with the humankind_ there seems no doubt that much better options they may have to practice for the development of international community.

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  2. David says:

    Even better, JohnH, although I’d go with composite sanities that lead to sane disaggregation of this insanely powerful military construct which has come to define us and is completely out of balance with the rest of the world, and is as much as anything an open sore, the character and dedication of individual members of this enterprise notwithstanding.
    That continues to trouble me. I can have great respect for individual service people, and I do admire them for the times they do genuinely noble things, but the enterprise is not defined by their individual nobility and courage.
    I’ve asked this question before: How does one reconcile support for the men and women in uniform with the fact that they were sent to invade and occupy Iraq, and before that Viet Nam? This dilemma at times actually makes me sick at my stomach. I want our servicepeople treated fairly and cared for when they return from battle. But I really don’t want them to be sent on missions that are essentially war crimes, as was the invasion of Iraq, as no less a person than Stephen Hawking has stated.
    Our morality is rendered incoherent.

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  3. JohnH says:

    Instead of composite sanities, why not sane disaggregation of the national security state and its allied merchants of death?

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  4. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The “modest strategy”_a draft of “composite sanities” expressed by Marvey M Sapolsky,Benjamin H Friedman,Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press in the celebrated World Affairs Journal _ is a befitting policy guideline for the present and future US governments.

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  5. JamesL says:

    JohnH, after looking further and finding no corroboration, I’m abandoning the idea of a standoff at Japan idea that I had mentioned. Though I would like to know the projected US timetables for a non-nuclear capitulation of Japan, I find no indications that Russian military presence on the Japanese mainland was considered a possibility, though Stalin could have been expected to attempt consolidate Russian power in the region, as per:
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1986/RMF.htm
    Also various opinions on the dynamics at war’s end: http://www.ncesa.org/html/hiroshima.html
    But this document, or others like it which Truman should have known, might have also influenced:
    http://www.history.neu.edu/PRO2/

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  6. JamesL says:

    JohnH:”Answer: they were marginalized and demonized for the benefit of an emerging “national security state.” And people whose “grand strategies” run counter to the interests of the national security state were marginalized and demonized after the Soviet Union fell. They are still being marginalized and demonized today, even though the bogeyman hyped by the militarists is nothing more than perhaps a hundred people in Afghanistan.”
    Totally agree, as with the many diplomatic, military, and intelligence people who, at the risk of their careers, accurately predicted the current Iraq ratsnest but were bulldozed by Darth and George the Least, “gotta do daddy one better” Bush.

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  7. David Billington says:

    In World War II, the grand strategy of the Allies was to defeat and
    occupy Germany and Japan by defeating Germany first. In the
    Cold War, Kennan and Nitze defined the policy of containment
    that America sustained, more or less consistently, as holding a
    line until the other side collapsed in 1991.
    The years since 1991 have raised two questions that may be on
    the same level (in terms of long-range importance). One is how
    governments are to deal with the threat of non-state actors and
    their sanctuaries. The other is how the United States should
    respond to the rise of new great powers and the relative decline
    of older ones. Thinking strategically about these questions is
    difficult, though, because they refer to changes that are largely
    beyond the reach of national governments. Nuclear
    nonproliferation has broken down and biological weapons will
    be possible for private groups to develop in basement labs in
    two or three decades. The gap in productivity between old and
    new great powers is likely to be much less by 2030, and the gap
    in military capability will also lessen although not by as much.
    For the United States, these trends portend a world in which
    American security is likely to diminish. American imperialism is
    untenable in the long run and a balance of power strategy runs
    the risk of deepening rivalries between unstable third countries
    that American policy should first try to prevent. An alternative
    U.S. grand strategy might look to strengthen communities of
    nations. This will require a debate over whether the cost of
    more closely integrating with other nations is worth the cost of
    continuing autonomous policies (and national sovereignty itself)
    in their present form.
    A related question is whether countries with different standards
    of government could be offered sufficiently attractive
    membership benefits in a community to which we belong in
    return for making changes to their laws and administrative
    standards that we would like to see. The European Union has
    expanded in this way; less deep conditions for membership
    might be offered to a larger number of countries to join a trans-
    Atlantic, trans-Eurasian, or trans-Pacific community, or a
    reformed United Nations. There is certainly interest in South
    America, Africa, and Southeast Asia in forming closer regional
    unions that exclude the great powers. If America cannot join,
    we might work to make these unions stronger and more
    effective on the premise that a world with a greater number of
    large power centers is less likely to be dominated by any one of
    them.
    The above would depend on America planning for a future in
    which its own global power has diminished or has been
    transferred in part to some larger grouping. If America simply
    drifts into the future preoccupied with shorter-term tactical
    questions, then the level of insecurity in the world will probably
    rise unless a combination of other powers can impose a degree
    of order by themselves.
    Strategic thinking that aims to preserve American autonomy and
    influence for the next decade or two essentially unchanged, or
    that aims only to extricate the U.S. from present commitments
    without losing ground elsewhere, really shouldn’t be debated as
    grand strategy. Such strategy needs to address problems that
    are fairly long-term in nature.

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  8. JohnH says:

    James L: Actually, this discussion is very pertinent. Nitze and Kennan made their careers hyping the Soviet threat. But what happened to the “grand strategists” who argued that the Soviet Union had other, more pressing problems that would consume its energy for at least a generation? What happened to those who argued that it could have been possible to work out a mutually advantageous modus vivendi?
    Answer: they were marginalized and demonized for the benefit of an emerging “national security state.” And people whose “grand strategies” run counter to the interests of the national security state were marginalized and demonized after the Soviet Union fell. They are still being marginalized and demonized today, even though the bogeyman hyped by the militarists is nothing more than perhaps a hundred people in Afghanistan.

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  9. JamesL says:

    JohnH, I am not oblivious to your point, which is that hype about the Russian threat created a more capable enemy than actually existed. The depth and breadth of fear of Russia (or Muslims) is less precisely quantifiable than the number of tanks or airplanes, and is prone to suggestion. We will probably never know the degree of apprehension about Russia in the US leadership from 1945-50, with US uncertainty about the status of the Russian nuclear capability,and the US leadership/war manufacturing machine desire to not fully demobilize the US military after the war being only two complicating factors driving the US manufacture of consent. We each are looking at different parts of the elephant making the claim our part is more important. A continuation of this line would be interesting, but is out of place here.

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  10. JohnH says:

    JamesL: You seem oblivious to my point. Yes, through great suffering the Soviets complied with Roosevelt’s requests at Yalta from them to attack the Japanese in Manchuria. But the Soviets showed no signs of going beyond what was agreed to. Nor were they in a position to.
    My point is that they were a decimated nation that probably needed at least a generation to rebuild. A nation that just lost 14% of its population and much of its industrial base is simply not a good candidate for going out to conquer the world.
    Yet that was what was hyped. The Soviet Union was sold as an existential threat to the US, which had its population and industrial base in tact. And that threat was used to justify the first standing army in US history, a massive national security complex that turned into a parasite that seems intent on eating its host alive.

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  11. Mike Milton says:

    If all you want is to make it to tomorrow (perhaps even tomorrow
    evening is over the horizon to you) then you don’t need (and don’t
    wnat to listen to) a strategy.
    Put differently… to need a strategy, you need to commit to goals

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  12. jonst says:

    Cordesmans? Mentioned in the same universe as Kennan? One more strike against Mr Darwin’s theory.

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  13. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The list of the leading US strategists as pointed out by John Warning extremely misses the name of Anthony H Cordesman, who by any reasonable standard of judgment, should positively be included in the category of the leading US strategists.

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  14. JamesL says:

    JohnH, I didn’t say Russia didn’t suffer great losses in people, industry, agriculture. What you wrote is true, but it is also true that through great effort and much privation and suffering Russia relocated and maintained its war manufacturing capability, and its army came back from the low point you note and overcame the Wehrmacht. That’s coming from behind and winning. Your comment missed my point that by war’s end the Russian war machine was very strong, despite mass civilian and military death, and it was moving armor and men, as Roosevelt had requested, to attack Japan. There is a quote somewhere I can’t recall that Truman didn’t want the US military to end up confronting the Russian army, a possibiilty had use of the atom bomb not hastened Japanese capitulation. If the bombs had not been used, and American progress had not been rapid enough, Russian and American troops might have ended up fighting (the Japanese) on the Japanese mainland, and the world might have seen a divided Japan, and a Russian/American standoff on Japanese soil for decades, as per Germany. I stand ready to be corrected on this possibility, but the real answer with respect to Truman’s decision to use the bomb is not current opinion, but rather an accurate timetable of the actual Russian redeployment relative to the anticipated non-nuclear battle progress of American forces. If you have a source for such a corroborated timetable comparison I’d like the link.

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  15. JohnH says:

    JamesL: The Soviet Union was decimated by WWII. Its economy was a basket case. By contrast, the US economy and manufacturing capability were in tact. As Dan Kervick points out, the war’s legacy was a huge military establishment looking to preserve its organization, perks and privileges. What better justification than an exaggerated Soviet threat?
    “While the homeland of the United States was untouched by the war, quite the opposite was true in the Soviet Union. At the height of the Axis advance in 1941, the Wehrmacht got within 20 kilometers (12.5 mi) of Moscow. Although the Nazis were pushed back from Moscow by Soviet winter counter thrusts in early 1942, the Wehrmacht’s Operation Blue in summer 1942 pushed Russian forces northeast of the Black Sea to Stalingrad and southeast of the Black Sea to the approaches to Grozny at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. Therefore the Germans controlled all of Soviet territory west of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus. During the initial German invasion, Operation Barbarossa, the use of scorched earth tactics by both sides left the western portion of the Soviet Union almost totally destroyed. Agricultural land was burned, livestock exterminated, infrastructure dismantled or destroyed and entire towns flattened. All of this land was part of more battles as the Red Army swept west in 1943-1944. Although the Soviets were able to salvage some heavy industry and ship it to safer areas around the Ural Mountains, much of the USSR’s pre-war industry fell into the hands of the Germans.
    The Soviet Union also suffered unprecedented casualties. From 1941 to 1945 the Red Army lost over 10 million killed and more than 18 million wounded. Civilian losses were also immense; most estimates range from 14 to 17 million civilians killed. Most civilians in the occupied lands in the western USSR were either shot or left to starve or freeze to death by the Germans. Additionally, the majority of Holocaust victims, as well as the perpetration of the Holocaust, were from the Eastern Front. The total deaths resulting from the war amounted to roughly fourteen percent of the USSR’s and sixteen percent of Poland’s total pre-war population. By comparison, the United States lost about 0.3% of its total pre-war population.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_World_War_II

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  16. JamesL says:

    David: “Any grand strategy worth talking about would be a global green strategy, and it would also find a way to make war rather quickly become something found only in the history books.”
    Kudos, David. Any other strategy is less than grand.

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  17. David says:

    The grand strategy that purportedly worked during the Cold War is what led us to the debacle in which the world now finds itself. There is nothing particularly laudable that I can see. Rather, what meaningful and enduring positives we have enjoyed – if any of them do prove enduring – have come in spite of the grand Cold War strategy.
    Any grand strategy worth talking about would be a global green strategy, and it would also find a way to make war rather quickly become something found only in the history books. Any return to some traditional grand strategy, or one modeled on the past, is both retrograde and qualifies for ss, dd.
    I am hoping what appears to be a muddle is actually the messy process of finding a way for the world to extract itself from the mindset in which it has been mired my whole life.

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  18. JamesL says:

    Yeah Dan, terrific distillation of what was an anomolous period in America that was painted into a poster, titled Normal, and tacked up on America’s living room wall.
    JohnH, the “backward nation” you imply was in shocked disarray had an army that had destroyed the eastern German front, regrouped, and had begun perhaps the fastest, largest, longest redeployment in military history to begin an attack on Japan when Truman ordered those new fangled bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are those who believe that Fat Man and sidekick were intended not just to force Japan to surrender, but to obviate the need for Russia to invade Japan, as per Roosevelt’s past pleadings, and thus avoid a possible clash between US Pacific forces and a more powerful Russian army. Come 1945 I don’t think the Germans thought the Russians were backward, and I don’t think Truman did either.

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  19. JohnH says:

    Damn, Dan! You’re hot! Nonetheless something must be said for those scam artists who managed to convince America that its only real threat came from a backward nation still in ruins and in shock from having lost 20 million during WWII. Such a con job would have impressed even Joseph Goebbels.

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  20. DonS says:

    Obama’s rather insufficient reading the ‘riot act’ to bankers yesterday (3 of the biggest of whom deigned simply to phone in for the conference) shows exactly who is in the driver’s seat in the corporatist structure formerly referred to as the government of United States.

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  21. Dan Kervick says:

    “Another aspect of the grand strategy debate that I hope will be addressed is how the Cold War leadership managed to persuade the entire American political, military, and corporate establishments to adopt a consistent worldview and execute a coordinated strategy.”
    They didn’t have to persuade them. WWII turned the United States into a heavily militarized and authoritarian state – euphemistically referred to as the “national security state”. By the time the war was over, the habits of secrecy and illiberality, and of submission to generals, intelligence officers and a a powerful and secretive central national command, headed by a single man for 15 years, were so deeply established and consolidated that they remained in place for two solid decades.
    Millions of Americans returned to domestic life having served in the military, or in military-dominated stateside industries. Their wartime experiences, following the national shame and collapse of the Great Depression, had provided them with a deeply ingrained respect for the only system that they had seen function well in their lifetimes: a military order based on hierarchical command, the ruthless use of violence and coercion, the acceptance of propaganda and falsity as ways of life, and the unashamed will to dominate and destroy enemies and rivals. The rigidly hierarchical corporate giants that took shape in the victorious aftermath, which were either directly part of the military-industrial complex or lovers and imitators of it model of leadership and organization, were a natural continuation of the permanent wartime outlook, and love of military machinery and structure, that had take root. The spectacle of the atomic bombing of Japan also made it plain that we lived in a new dominate-or-be-incinerated world.
    The economy was built around industries created during the spectacular growth of the command wartime economy, which turned the United States from a struggling, semi-agrarian depression economy into a global industrial juggernaut, with a brand spanking new industrial infrastructure. These industries, and the financial sector that supported them, were overwhelmingly invested in the US economy, and didn’t yet have many conflicting interests abroad that would set them at odds with one another. So maintaining and extending a system built to dominate and subordinate half the world was a no-brainer. If you were an American business or military leader, doing so was almost certainly in your personal interest, and was gratifying to even your more disinterested urges for national power and superiority.
    What power, finding themselves in possession of a vast empire, with even its average citizens grown newly rich by global measures, and suddenly free to travel the world and suckle at worldly delights now thrown open to them, has ever said, “Let’s stop this, and go back to when we were weaker and poorer.”

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  22. questions says:

    Having a grand strategy that has any meaning seems to me to require more than the central decision-making that was discussed in the stream. You also need other nations to be equally centralized, rational, clear decision-makers as well. You can’t strategize an optimal outcome absent the other parties. You can, from Nash’s point of view, ignore others and come out at a not-worst position, but not at the best position.
    I know I’ve posted before about my sense that if realism requires unitary, rational decision-making, then realism is not going to be very descriptive of IR decision-making. It’s more than the multiple power center issue that came up; it includes stupidity, miscalculations, all the preference distortion that the behavioral economists have found. No grand strategy could possibly be effective given the barriers. And, indeed, we might actually not want to start a love affair with “great men” who make “great decisions” even if we think we’d feel safer. IF God is dead, and the Father is absent, why build a new one?
    Maybe “grand strategy” is the wrong vantage point, and we’re better off thinking through the range of: reactionary moments, short-term deal-making, muddling, attempting, being crazily flexible, setting up internal institutions that can deal with externally-sourced shocks in much better fashion. If it’s not overly costly to have oil spikes, if we have enough social infrastructure that unemployment and terrorist attacks and product dumping and the like cannot cost huge amounts of social well-being, then maybe we don’t have to worry as much about strategy.
    Of course, given how impossible it seems to be to get some alternatives to health premium price shocks, I kind of doubt we could set up any kind of reasonable safety net. Moral hazard, entrenched interests, lack of social vision, subtle racism, stupid politicians and the like will be a barrier to any action that might insulate the domestic world from international shocks.
    What we seem to do, though, is demand cheap resources, export labor to cheaper markets, use the war machine as a job machine, and generally support the oligarchic tendencies over the democratic tendencies. If there’s a place for something like a grand strategy, it seems to me that it should be at the level of a push towards democracy and away from the “fat cats,” but that’s not likely since the top has found ways to tie its super-well-being to the mere coping of the rest of us. We stop them, we stop coping.
    Since the domestic effects of foreign policy are so deeply felt, we aren’t going to have international flexibility until we build domestic well-being.

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  23. John Waring says:

    We have two grand strategists. They are Andrew Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson. We just don’t want to listen to them. We don’t want to abandon the American Empire.

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  24. JohnH says:

    Times were simpler during the Cold War. America identified a rival and decided to counter it, rightly or wrongly.
    Today the waters are muddier. The US’ goals and ambitions are largely unspoken or ambiguous.
    This is well illustrating in the fascinating trilogy of video clips that Steve posted immediately preceding this one. They deal with core issues that I’ve been carping about here for years. While my voice comes largely from the weeds, beyond the fence in left field, it turns out that there are respectable voices, largely silent until now, that have the same concerns–oil, strategic confusion, and Iraq (the ultimate manifestation of oil and “strategic confusion”).
    It would have been interesting to hear the guests weigh in on the question of whether the “strategic confusion” surrounding the obvious enduring US goals of hegemony and control of oil is apparent or real. Is apparent strategic confusion merely the manifestation of a conspiracy of silence that sometimes gets tripped up by the need to rationalize unspeakable behavior with the noble rhetoric of freedom, democracy, human rights, and counter terrorism? Do the protagonists end up getting confused by starting to believe what they are saying, thereby confusing the ambitions and goals?
    Gergin, in the clip about “The Prize,” deflected the question about US ambitions in oil. Chiristopher Meyer just writes it all off to confusion without considering the possibility of hidden agendas. Is he really that naive? Melkert manages to exhibit no dissonance whatsoever as he espouses the contradictory views that the US is “withdrawing” from Iraq while maintaining a “helping presence.” Is Melkert that strategically challenged or could he simply be masking the role the US will certainly play as part of its “mañana” withdrawal? (Mañana, we’ll withdraw. Tomorrow, we promise!)
    Fascinating trilogy of ways to deal publicly with the reality of US foreign policy: deflection, obliviousness, and double-speak with no apparent dissonance. They all managed to circle the elephant in the room without actually touching it. Instead of Kennan and Nitze, we’re stuck with a bunch of bumblers, people who beat around the bush instead of having the vision and integrity to address reality.

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  25. David says:

    Especially a worthy grand strategy, jonst. Well said.

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  26. jonst says:

    Well, I guess one man’s guess is as good, or bad, as another. But I would say it is difficult to have “Grand Strategists” in a society so profoundly contemptuous and deeply suspicious of intellectuals and intellectual discourse in general.

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