I have, more than once, expressed my, personal view that American strategic leadership has, since the end of the Eisenhower administration, been somewhere between weak and ineffective to downright counter-productive.
I’m not alone. A serving US Army staff officer, who, for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous, has written a brief but very good blog post entitled: And Then? What Happens After Victory Over Daesh. He concludes with a point that has also been made by Professor Michael Mandelbaum, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, who says, in a new book called Mission Failure, that America is good, maybe too good, at breaking things but no good at all at putting them back together and, worse, it should be doing much, much less of both.
American had a robust, engaged and bipartisan foreign policy from 1945 until 1960. Then, beginning circa 1960 it went off on a tangent: looking to explore the uses of power beyond just promoting and protecting America’s vital interests. The results were less than thrilling …
… and yet the US is the only real leader the West has, unfocused though it may be.
My, personal concerns extend beyond the White House, the Congress, Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. I believe that the American people have lost their former, common sense focus on their own national, vital interests and are now buying into either or bits of both of the “let’s fix everything for everyone” and “let’s bomb ’em back into the stone age” narratives. Democracy is not a box of soap that can be packaged up, translated into some strange,m foreign language and exported, holus-bolus, around the world, and, to be frank, the evil things that some people do to one another are, really, no one’s business but their own. Meanwhile vital interests like free(er) trade and containing China are swept under the rug or kicked down the road or whatever the appropriate analogy might be.
But, I repeat: the West has no other leader … maybe it should.
Edited to add:
As if to underscore my thoughts, Peter Martin, writing in Foreign Affairs, about the “breakup” of the UK/US “special relationship”says, “From London’s vantage point, meanwhile, Washington has become a less inspiring act to follow. The Obama administration’s doctrine of calculated retrenchment — avoiding “stupid shit” — may be prudent, but it is also uninspiring. And for a country such as the United Kingdom, which is accustomed to following the United States’ lead, the lack of a compelling vision around which the West can rally has made it difficult to set a direction. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the historic high points of the special relationship have centered on shared struggles against major common enemies: Nazi Germany under Roosevelt and Churchill, the Soviet Union under Reagan and Thatcher, and international terrorism under Bush and Blair. Today’s challenges, in contrast, are more complex and amorphous; and, increasingly, they center on the other side of the world. It is these shifts, more than the personalities or policies of Obama and Cameron, that are the real drivers of the special relationship’s waning importance.” I take issue with that analysis on one point: The “Asian pivot” has nothing to do with President Obama, it was started, in 1907, by President Theodore Roosevelt when he despatched the Great White Fleet to circumnavigate the globe and signal America’s presence in Asia. It was confirmed, unintentionally, by the Japanese in 1941 and confirmed, again, by President Truman. I don’t see anything new, in even the slightest, in President Obama’s policy … except, perhaps, for it timidity. Roosevelt and Truman (and most presidents in between) understood America’s leading role in the world. So did Eisenhower and, perhaps, one or two others, but most, beginning with John F Kennedy and including Barack Obama seem to have forgotten that leadership is not about slavish obedience but, rather, is about cooperation and understanding, even with competitors. But, in the later 20th and early 21st centuries, America seems to have confused vital interests with selfish desires and American should not be surprised when even its closest allies want to be less “obedient” to its wishes.