“Among the many questions raised by the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, perhaps the most pressing is, “Why?” Yes, General Suleimani was responsible for hundreds of American deaths, and he may have been planning another attack on United States forces. But the greater concern, raised by people from Tucker Carlson on the right to Elizabeth Warren on the left, is how this provocative act fits into America’s overall interests — in other words, our grand strategy.
Disturbingly, it’s a bit of a trick question. America doesn’t really have a grand strategy. What we do have, a patchwork of doctrines left over from the Cold War, fails to match our abilities, our national goals and the changing shape of global threats and opportunities.
America desperately needs a new grand strategy — a concise, high-level vision for our role in the world. Without one, we are just wasting lives and resources.
The lack of a useful grand strategy has been apparent for a long time. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, one of us, Ms. Field, at the time an Army officer, was dispatched to Central Command to help prepare for the invasion of Iraq, a country that wasn’t involved in the assault on our cities. She wondered what objective would lead us to target a third party a thousand miles from Afghanistan. What overarching plan, what strategy, justified such a major undertaking? Four tours of duty overseas never revealed the answer to her.”
Thank you Elizabeth Cobbs and Kimberly C. Field for your NYT op-ed; Why Did the U.S. Kill Suleimani? The attack illustrates America’s lack of a clear grand strategy — and why we need one immediately. You suggest that we should choose between City on a Hill, Fortress on a Hill, and World Policeman. You stated your three models as follows:
“City on a Hill
“This strategy would have America lead mostly by example. Over two centuries, the United Stateswent from being the sole democratic republic in the world to one among nearly 200, largely because others wanted what we have. America has accomplished more with attraction than coercion. Under this strategy, America would redirect money from overseas military commitments to improving domestic infrastructure, education, technology, health care and the environment to showcase democracy’s strengths. We would assist foreign governments with economic development and peaceful conflict resolution.
City on a Hill strikes a compromise between Washington’s Great Rule and the Truman Doctrine. We would keep alliances but renegotiate them to ensure we cannot be dragged into peripheral fights or be placed first in line to do other people’s killing. In coordination with allies, the United States would incrementally withdraw from most military installations abroad. This would undermine North Korea’s assertion that it is building warheads to deter invasion from the Americans on its border. Like other countries, we would size our forces to defend our own shores.
Fortress on a Hill
China’s transformation into a competitor that almost equals us economically but outranks us in population has created a new reality. Recognizing that both China and America have incentives to maintain good relations, but not overlooking China’s ambitions, the Fortress on a Hill strategy would retain large forces at home and abroad and revamp America’s nuclear strategies to guarantee the security of liberal states while respecting China’s reasonable demands for recognition of its preferences.
Fortress on a Hill would protect our shores while selectively reducing overseas bases, devolve more responsibility onto China for keeping trade routes open, and allow the United States to focus on the nonmilitary dimensions of international problems. It would also give military assistance, in the form of training and weapons, to like-minded countries that take primary responsibility for their defense, further reducing the burden on Washington.
The last grand strategy would be the closest to our current policy. The World Policeman approach would continue to assume that we can best assure our interests by being the world’s emergency responders. We would guarantee security for all countries that ask, maintain existing foreign bases, increase spending on soft power assistance, and in general do whatever is necessary to remain No. 1.”
The world policeman grand strategy has been in use during my life time, and is more or less discredited. It’s expensive, we can’t afford it, and we aren’t that good at it. Since there are aspects of the other two that we want to keep, my initial thought is that we should move from World Policman to Fortress on a Hill, knowing that that strategy should aim to transform into City on a Hill as soon as reasonably possible, even though it might take a century or more.
The United States has to find a balance between City and Fortress on a Hill, so that we do not pauperize ourselves, by paying for our allies defense needs. The number of troops we keep stationed abroad could be dramatically reduced, but not eliminated. The nuclear umbrella makes sense, to try and prevent an arms race worldwide in nuclear weapons. China needs to be contained by a world order, not by the US unilaterally as the new world bully. As Cobbs and Field point out, the next great wars will not require armies. We need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I would add to their list, thkat we must slow the 6th extinction of species, by stopping and human population growth, and probably reducing human population, to some sustainable number.