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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fixing Strategic ‘Blind Spots’

Andrew J. Bacevich ‘s article “Obama’s strategic blind spot” in The L.A. Times takes a sobering look at President Obama’s grand strategy regarding Iraq and fighting terror and calls for an approach based on adherence to key principles. Bacevich, a professor of History and International Relations at Boston University, likens Obama’s strategic myopia to that of Prime Minister Winston Churchill being “fixated with tactical and operational concerns” and unable to wage peace:

The Long War launched by George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 has not gone well. Everyone understands that. Yet in the face of disappointment, what passes for advanced thinking recalls the Churchill who devised Gallipoli and godfathered the tank: In Washington and in the field, a preoccupation with tactics and operations have induced strategic blindness.
As President Obama shifts the main U.S. military effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, and as his commanders embrace counterinsurgency as the new American way of war, the big questions go not only unanswered but unasked. Does perpetuating the Long War make political or strategic sense? As we prepare to enter that war’s ninth year, are there no alternatives?

Bacevich urges the President to embrace a less tactical and more strategic approach to exiting Iraq and fighting terrorism:

…Pragmatism devoid of principle will perpetuate the strategic void that Obama inherited. The urgent need is for the administration to articulate a concrete set of organizing precepts — not simply cliches — to frame basic U.S. policy going forward.

He advocates the adoption of five principles of grand strategy:

First…The regime-change approach — invade and occupy to transform — hasn’t worked; simply trying harder in some other venue (Somalia? Sudan?) won’t produce different results. In short, no more Iraqs.
Second, forget the Bush Doctrine of preventive war: no more wars of choice; henceforth only wars of necessity. The United States will use force only as a last resort and even then only when genuinely vital interests are at stake.
Third, no more crusades unless the American people buy in; expecting a relative handful of soldiers to carry the load while the rest of the country binges on consumption is unconscionable. At a minimum, the generation that opts for war should pay for it through higher taxes rather than foisting a burden of debt onto their grandchildren.
Fourth, the key to keeping America safe is to defend it, not to project American muscle to obscure places around the world. It may or may not be true that a “mighty fortress is our God”; had the United States been a mighty fortress on 9/11, however, the 19 hijackers would have gotten nowhere.
Fifth, by all means let the United States promote the spread of freedom and democracy. Yet we’re more likely to enjoy success by modeling freedom rather than trying to impose it. To provide a suitable model, we’ve considerable work to do here at home. Meanwhile, let’s not deny others the prerogative of defining for themselves exactly what it means to be free.

Bacevich concludes by urging President Obama to appoint a “czar for strategy,” calling it a “most crucial portfolio.” (Nixon had Kissinger. Carter had Brzezinski. Bush had, well…Wolfowitz). Bacevich concedes that his list of strategic principles may be short or otherwise inadequate. But his challenge to President Obama to avoid “strategic drift” and think more strategically merits consideration.

One comment on “Fixing Strategic ‘Blind Spots’

  1. James Vega on

    Bacevich is, in general, a perceptive analyst, but there’s less here then meets the eye. There is no real indication that Obama and his team actually disagree with any of these principles. Spelling them out explicitly would give his opponents a convenient rhetorical target to shoot at without adding much to his actual foreign policy.


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