Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Grandest Strategy

America rose from colonial backwater to unprecedented superpower by pursuing the grandest of grand strategies: attainment. Conceived in high ideals and conscious of its own potential for greatness, the United States was born allergic to the cold embrace of pure power politics. Americans demanded their leaders implement a grand strategy based on the notion that the United States remained fundamentally a different, better system of government.

Having grown to strength and defeated all serious challengers to primacy, this is the American moment. It is our time to lead the world, and America has floundered a bit from the awesome responsibility of rare historical potential. The giddiness has passed; it is time for a serious settlement of the issue of what this nation wants to accomplish in the world.

I believe U.S. grand strategy only functions well when it adheres to American traditions and values. This means our goal ought to be to create the conditions in which the American system can furnish security and prosperity for its citizens and free them to do great things. It must also shine as an example of the notion that great power and high ideals are not mutually exclusive.

American grand strategy rests on a precondition of a stable American international primacy. No other nation can do or will do what the United States must do in the next century to advance human civilization. Therefore our grand strategy must rest on the notion that America must remain the world’s preeminent power. Here is how to accomplish that:

1. Restore America’s image. The new administration has made great strides here. Keep going. Take the lead on matters of international interest. End the perception of inevitable American decline and alleviate the international fear that we will go down swinging. The world will resist U.S. primacy and leadership with full force if it does not accept the fundamental benevolence of American power.

2. Keep growing the population. The preferred way is for Americans to have more babies. Failing that, the United States must encourage strategic immigration. In the next century the price of labor will soar while the world flattens (somewhat). Our available labor pool will play a dramatic role in our economic performance. The United States has a tremendous advantage here in its ability to assimilate immigrants. Growing the domestic workforce is tremendously expensive, but provides a solid foundation for labor sustainability. Which leads directly to…

3. Drastically reduce the costs of raising children and caring for the elderly. When our ratio of labor to non-labor shrinks, America’s ability to do great things evaporates. Productivity gains cannot close the gap. The United States cannot long remain a great power if every child costs more to raise than he or she will someday produce. Nor can it do so if its workforce strains under an obligation to pay for its seniors to play twenty years of golf while requiring enormously expensive medical care. Education, retirement, and health policies must serve dual goals of national interest and individual dignity. Currently they serve the latter at the expense of the former.

4. Choose our conflicts more wisely. If an adversary could point to areas on the map in which it would most like to see American power engaged, it would look very much like the map of American military involvement in the last several decades. Primary among these are Vietnam (graveyard of great powers), Afghanistan (graveyard of empires), and Iraq (cradle of civilization, but now a persistent gadfly with no resources that cannot also be found in friendlier terrain). Although we must rise to meet challenges to our security, the United States must find a way to avoid ill-defining threats and spending power for limited gains.

5. Devote significant resources to developing renewable energy. Whoever becomes the Saudi Arabia of cheap, renewable energy will have a significant economic, political, and military advantage for many, many years. Alleviating dependence on petroleum imports will open new vistas for diplomacy and investment in areas where the United States chooses, rather than where it must. The United States is uniquely positioned to push forward in multiple areas, including biomass, solar, wind, lunar collectors, and geothermal. We should use this opportunity to develop several different sources of renewable energy and create sustainable dominance in multiple new energy markets.

Many of these policies are elements of domestic strategy, rather than classical grand strategy. I contend that good grand strategy presumes good domestic strategy, for the foundations of power are largely domestic. Beyond this list of top priorities are other, also important tasks required for long-term American primacy and security. Taken together, they form a guideline for a successful U.S. grand strategy.

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