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Why America Needs a Grand Strategy

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (foreground) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton steam in formation during dual carrier operations with the Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups in the Philippine Sea, June 23, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist First Class John Philip Wagner, Jr./US Navy) If we want a strategic outlook that goes beyond Obama’s doctrine of ‘don’t do stupid sh**,’ we need a vision.

Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” In other words, leaders must create a conceptual framework from which their policies and actions will flow.

The concept of “grand strategy” is a reference from which a nation’s historical, cultural, economic, diplomatic, and military thought is brought to bear to create a strategic synthesis. In confronting the threat posed by China, America needs a grand strategy that preserves our essential national sovereignty while embracing our inheritance of Britain’s strategic imperative to defend the freedom of the commons.

The English military theorist Sir Basil Liddell Hart once opined that “grand strategy forces policymakers to look beyond the war to the subsequent peace.” Without such a synthesis defining the national interest, policy-making is reactive, often haphazard, and always dangerous. We are then reduced to what President Obama summed up as his strategic outlook — “don’t do stupid sh**” — while muddling from crisis to crisis.

Assuming we want the U.S. to plan like Ike rather than flounder like Barack or Joe, where should we look for guidance? Often, it’s wise to begin at the beginning.

David Morgan-Owen argues that the modern concept of grand strategy arose not in the aftermath of the two great world wars but with the struggle of Imperial Britain to control the “Empire’s anxieties over its global security challenges.” This was particularly highlighted by Britain’s dealings with the emerging German Empire.

Even at the height of their ambitions in the late 19th century, Kaiser Wilhelm I and his chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, were haunted by Great Britain. On the European chessboard, the island kingdom, wielding its significant economic and military might with strategic flexibility, had already

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