Strategy is the art of winning wars, and grand strategy is the philosophy of maintaining an acceptable peace. America is good at the former and often confused on the latter. Making the world safe for democracy (Wilson 1917) or fighting freedom’s fight ordained by history (Bush 2002) may be dismissed as tasteless yet harmless rhetoric as long as there is a viable realist design in the background. No such design exists, however: Exceptionalist hubris has been internalized at both ends of the duopoly.
The new team in the White House is unlikely to grasp that a problem exists, let alone to act to rectify it. Fools learn by experience, while wise men profit from others’ experience. Nonetheless, what America needs is a new grand strategy. Limited in objectives and indirect in approach, it should seek security and freedom for the United States without threatening the security and freedom of others.
The United States should withdraw her troops from Europe and the Far East within three to five years. Upward of 150,000 American soldiers who are still based in Germany, South Korea, and Japan are not needed, and their continued presence is a hindrance to greater stability in both regions. The threat to Europe’s security does not come from Russia or from a fresh bout of instability in the Balkans. The real threat to Europe’s security and to her survival comes from Islam, from the deluge of Third World immigrants, and from collapsing birthrates. All three are caused entirely by the moral decrepitude and cultural degeneracy of “Old Europe,” not by any shortage of soldiers and weaponry. The continued presence of a U.S. contingent of any size can do nothing to alleviate these problems, because they are largely spiritual.
If a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe facilitates the emergence of an effective European defense force (long advocated by France), and if it causes the weakening and eventual demise of NATO, both Europe and America will be better off. Instead of declaring victory and disbanding the alliance in the early 1990’s, the Clinton administration successfully redesigned it as a mechanism for open-ended out-of-area interventions at a time when every rationale for its existence had disappeared. Following the air war against Serbia almost a decade ago, NATO’s area of operations became unlimited, and its “mandate” entirely self-generated.
In terms of a realist grand strategy, NATO is positively detrimental to U.S. security because it forces the United States to assume at least nominal responsibility for open-ended maintenance of a host of disputed frontiers that were drawn often arbitrarily by communists, Versailles diplomats, and assorted local tyrants—and which bear little relation to ethnicity, geography, or history. America should not underwrite the freezing in time of a post-Soviet outcome in the Crimea or Abkhazia that is neither stable nor necessarily “just” or “democratic.” With an ever-expanding NATO, eventual adjustments will be more potentially violent for the countries concerned and more risky for the United States, which does not and should not have a vested interest in preserving an indefinite status quo in the region.
In the Middle East, a realist strategy would give up on trying to make the region “as it should be” rather than dealing with it as it is. Iraq, in particular, forces us to accept the anarchic nature of the world. She is not ripe for any democratic transition, she can be managed as long as her realities are accepted, and she needs to be left to her own devices. Her Islamic cultural and spiritual heritage precludes her adoption of a political system based on the notion of popular sovereignty.
A realist global strategy demands safeguarding our primary interests in the Middle East, which means preserving our continued access to oil resources, preventing regional actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and countering the terrorist threat that emanates from the region. Ameliorating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a secondary interest. As for opening the region to trade, encouraging more pluralist forms of governance, promoting the rule of law, etc.—these may be worthy objectives, but they are none of our concern.
The development of a coherent anti-jihadist strategy in Washington should go hand in hand with demystifying the relationship between the United States and Israel, which should be redefined in terms of mutual interests. Our interest demands the destruction of global jihad in all its forms and the continued existence of the state of Israel, but both of these imperatives are based on geopolitical rather than emotional, moral, or scriptural grounds.
In the Far East, the threat to South Korea’s and Japan’s security is potentially more real, but it can and should be handled by those two very capable and affluent nations. A continued U.S. defense shield over them is unjustified. The dangers of our continued military presence vastly exceed any possible benefits. Japan and South Korea should finally become mature, self-reliant powers. For decades, they chose to focus on economic development at the expense of military strength, secure in the protection provided by the United States. Only by removing her tripwire can America finally force them to upgrade their militaries and to assume the full economic and political burden of their own defense. A policy of disengagement may include a green light to both to develop limited nuclear capabilities as a deterrent to North Korea’s and China’s arsenals.
The challenge that the rise of China presents to the United States is more pressing than any other global issue except for the ever-present threat of jihad. Beijing is rapidly becoming a regional power of the first order, the Asian superpower that will need to be contained or appeased. Presently, the bone of contention is the status of Taiwan. Many Taiwanese would prefer to sever all links with the mainland so that Taiwan can become an independent state. Beijing says that it will not allow that to happen. To condone Taiwan’s separation would be tantamount to accepting the status of a second-class power, with serious implications for the future status of Tibet and for the restive Muslim-populated Sinkiang-Uighur province in the far west of the country.
China is an ancient power, coldly hostile to outsiders, steeped in Realpolitik, and indifferent to the notion that diplomacy is or should be guided by any motive other than self-interest. Her neighbors will be hard pressed to negotiate the terms and conditions of an acceptable relationship with Beijing that fall short of China’s outright hegemony. To keep her ambitions in check, it is necessary to halt further American investment in the Chinese economy, to reverse the outsourcing that has thus far obtained, and to erect trade barriers against the continuing deluge of Chinese-made products in American stores. It is also necessary to provide Taiwan—in addition to Japan and South Korea—with top-notch defensive arsenals, including nuclear weapons.
The alternative is to accept, with the best possible grace, the rise of China as a first-order power. A reigning power is naturally disinclined to look on benignly as another rises, but the fact remains that a conflict between America and China is not inevitable. The relationship will need to be managed skillfully—with more reciprocity in the field of trade and exchange rates—but its essential ingredient will be our acceptance of Taiwan as part of China. Taiwan will eventually be reintegrated (preferably with all kinds of safeguards and special-status provisions), and it is in the American interest to facilitate peaceful reunification.
The geopolitical equation of containing and confronting China in northeastern Asia and jihad everywhere else would also demand better relations with India and Russia. India is China’s sole natural rival in Asia and a neglected ally in the “War on Terror,” but no strategic relationship can be effected so long as Pakistan continues to be perceived in Washington—mistakenly—as an essential regional ally. Islamabad is guilty of nuclear proliferation, its military establishment is hedging its bets between Washington and Muslim extremists, and its entire ethos remains steeped in the ideology of jihad.
Improving our relations with Russia, by accepting the legitimacy of her strategic interests in the former Soviet Union, is more pressing. It is critically important for us to prevent the emergence of an alliance between other powers that would be directed against our interests. The ongoing improvement in Russo-Chinese relations does not have the character of a formal alliance as yet, but it may lay the groundwork for one, so long as the Bush Doctrine remains in force.
Most of our disputes with Russia over the past two decades, including the crisis in Georgia last August, tensions over the missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and over pipelines bypassing Russia, constant demands for NATO expansion, designs in Central Asia, and support for Kosovo’s independence have resulted from our refusal to accept the validity of any Russian claims and the legitimacy of any Russian interests. The Clinton and Bush administrations have treated Russia as a third-rate power with limited sovereignty even within her post-Soviet borders. But in seeking to reduce Russia to a land-locked Muscovy and to subvert her internally, Washington is acting to its own detriment. This is the only crusade that the Muslims can support with glee.
The rest of the world, in a new grand strategy, should be left to its own devices. In Latin America benign neglect invariably produces better results than “engagement.” As for Africa, the entire continent is irrelevant to our geostrategic, economic, or any other rationally definable interest. Both regions are neither assets nor threats, provided that the tens of millions of would-be migrants to the Western world are held in check.
African political instability is endemic, and even supposed success stories such as Kenya are constantly in danger of descending into anarchy. The continent contributes next to nothing to global science and technology. Its resources are theoretically considerable but often impossible to develop under the prevailing social, political, and legal conditions. Its story is melancholy, but there is little Washington can do, or should do, beyond wishing Africans luck. They will need a lot of it in the decades to come.
A new grand strategy demands disengagement abroad and closing the migratory floodgates at home. For this to happen, it is necessary to break the power of the neoliberal-neoconservative regime in Washington. We cannot predict when or how this will happen, but happen it will. A polity based on an evil lie may last years (the Third Reich), or decades (the Soviet Union), or even centuries (the Ottoman Empire), but it can never smother the seeds of its own destruction.
The notion of America as a real, completed nation, a state with definable national interests that ought to be the foundation of its diplomacy, is as valid today as it was at the time of George Washington’s famous warning. Exceptionalist claims and millenarian utopias are as contrary to this country’s traditions and true interests today as they were in 1861, 1917, or 1941. It is unfortunate that this truth will be rediscovered only after a lot more blood and treasure is wasted in pursuit of unlimited, unattainable objectives.