A New Foreign Policy Strategy?
In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote a piece titled “America’s Strategy Deficit”. Hmmm. What does she mean?
Reading her opinion column doesn’t help a whole lot. Ms Noonan recounts the opinions of several present or former Generals as well as several former Secretaries of State. All of whom find fault with the present Administration’s grasp of a coherent strategy. Ms Noonan offers no suggestion about what that may be but drives home the point that the Obama Administration does not understand the world correctly. Hmmm.
A little history might help to begin.
President Obama inherited a foreign policy that was like a ship had been bouncing along a rocky coast. In 2008, the US foreign policy had come to rest stuck in on Middle East/Islamic beach unable to move.
We can see in 2015, that the assumption supporting the Bush foreign policy were patently wrong and the tools used to implement it were clearly inadequate. So to understand President Obama’s foreign policy one must start here.
Briefly, President Obama decided to “stop digging” in order to get out of Bush’s hole. This policy also fit the President’s personality which is risk adverse. Obama sees the world as overly complicated and compensates for the global unknowns by waiting to see “how things played out”. There have been no information or events during President Obama’s term that supports the view that Bush had it right and Obama has it wrong. So if Obama is wrong about the world, who should we consult to find the correct views? Why has the world become so difficult to understand?
Following WWII, there was but one country wealthy enough to provide global leadership and also grow its own economy at home. The US saw the world as divided in two camps, the communist world and the “free world”. Foreign policy was called “containment” and its goal was to keep the communist ideology from spreading beyond its current boards (largely the Soviet Union and China). This type of foreign policy was succinct and actionable. What few paid attention to was the simultaneous reality that the world also was divided along the lines of manufacturing capability too. The “West” grew more and more capable of producing “goods” while the “communist world” fell further behind.
This all changed suddenly. Along came the Japanese decade where Japan, propelled by its electronics and automotive industries conquered western markets. The Japanese seemed unstoppable but their secret to success was finally discovered.
The Japanese had mastered quality manufacturing.
Of course as it turns out, any country who follows quality principles (such as put forward by Deming, Juran, and others) can make high quality, lower cost goods. China and most of Southeast Asia have become the world’s manufacturing hub without firing one bullet.
So what’s the point?
The worlds trading partnerships have been reordered. Russia has opted to be a natural resource exported (oil and gas). China has chosen to be the 10,000 pound gorilla in the low cost, high quality manufacturing world. And thanks in part to Bush Administrations Middle East policies, the oil exporting countries from Morocco to Iran have been turned upside down with their indigenous “have nots” now seeking “more of the pie” in countries like Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. So tell me what’s the obvious US foreign policy so far overlooked by US strategic thinkers?
The world has changed but conventional US thinking has not. The US still pursues destruction of communism, keeping oil available and at predictable prices, and above all maintain the openness of world shipping routes.
Witness, expanding NATO’s boarders (and threatening Russia in the process), attempting to keep China from expanding its territorial ambitions into the South China Sea (and posing economic and security damage to countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan), and increasing US Southeast Asia alliances with nations we have previously disdained due to their internal policies (which has created all sorts of contradictory situations where human rights might be concerned). It is not hard to draw the conclusion that US foreign policy is on the wrong path.
Ms Noonan’s view of a US “strategy deficit” is only half the proposition. The more important half is “what should the US foreign policy be”.
If foreign policy is left to the Generals, it would be “boots on the ground”. If left to the politicians, it would be something for everyone (and results for no one). If left to the State Department professionals, it would be more of the same.
If left to our presumed allies, it would be more American money and lives while quietly diverting more and more wealth to their countries. What should we do?
You won’t find the answer here. Rather I would propose we consider that following:
- America is wealthy enough and militarily strong enough to outlast our next strongest competitors unless we spend our way into bankruptcy. The combination of an open society and free enterprise makes the US economic model more durable and more competitive in the long run than other systems on the globe today. So there is no need to panic.
- No religion anywhere in the world is our enemy. All religions are so internally flawed that the US secular society can prevail and be seen with envy from all other societies. We, of course, must not misinterpret this as a justification that any religion practiced in the US is superior to any other in the world. Basically keep religions out of the equations.
- From time to time, the US will be forced to use military forces with any foreign policy, to either defend itself or to achieve its foreign policy. As a safety precaution, the US must augment its volunteer Army with “drafted” civilians whenever US forces are committed for more that 90 days. Equally important, all employment of military force, must be funded with new designated proportional taxes on the US population. We should avoid any further conflicts where the expense is borrowed and the wars are fought with a narrow cut of Americans. This will force our leaders to think before committing the military.
In my opinion, these three simple principles will lead whatever party is in power to adopt and follow foreign policies that make sense. Every day that goes by is witnessing the rise of stronger military and economic threats to US national interests. Ms Noonan is correct is suggesting it is time to think what the US strategies should be.