Does America possess a grand strategy or is President Obama’s challenge to manage US power without decreasing its size and without imposing undue costs on it?
Though it appears that there may well be a lack of strategic thinking, Stratfor Global Intelligence’s George Friedman warns that inaction should not be confused with a lack of strategy.
His document titled “Obama and the US Strategy of Buying Time” claims that despite pending decisions that Obama has to make on Iran, Afghanistan and Russia, work is in progress.
Explaining that strategy is less a matter of choice than a matter of reality imposing itself on US presidents, Friedman cites the example of George W Bush rarely having a chance to make strategy. Instead he was caught in a whirlwind after only nine months in office and spending the rest of his two-terms responding to events, making choices from a menu of very bad options.
Likewise, Obama came into office with a preset menu of limited choices and though he may not like what’s on the menu, Friedman argues that it is important to understand the overwhelming forces that shape his choices. This and the degree to which whatever he chooses is embedded in US grand strategy, a strategy imposed by geopolitical reality.
So what is this American grand strategy?
According to Friedman it is essentially that of the British Empire.
The British sought to protect their national security by encouraging Continental powers to engage in land-based conflict, thereby reducing resources available for building a navy. This guaranteed that Britain’s core interest, the security of the homeland and sea-lane control, remained intact.
At the same time that it pursued this European policy, London was building a global empire, opines Friedman.
Divide and rule or what Friedman describes as employing a balance-of-power strategy. In looking at the history of India or Africa during the 19th century, there is a consistent pattern of the United Kingdom forming alliances with factions, whether religious or ethnic groups, to create opportunities for domination.
The America that Obama heads today is no different to the British Empire of yesterday. And the hostility generated by its behaviour as some of Obama’s supporters have warned is also enhanced by its presence –” its very size –” that intrudes on the world.
The US economy is roughly 25 percent of the global economy. The American military controls the seas and it also controls outer space. Thus its impossible for the United States not to intrude on the affairs of most countries in the world simply by virtue of its daily operations, says Friedman.
Having arrived where it has, Friedman’s theory of this grand strategy is broken into three layers.
- Maintaining a balance of power in various regions by weakening and undermining emergent powers so they don’t ultimately rise to challenge America;
- Where such is unattainable, the US will seek to use coalitions either to intimidate the emerging power via economic power, or via military power;
- If a coalition to coerce emerging powers is not possible, the US must decide to either live with it, forge an alliance with it or attack it unilaterally.
Citing the example of Iran, Friedman’s view is that Obama’s choice lies between entente and war. It is aware too that while Israel can only barely reach into the region, its air force might suffice to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. The question however is whether Israel could deal with Tehran’s response.
Friedman’s view is that Israel could not –” especially Iranian response of mining the Strait of Hormuz and/or destabilizing Iraq. Thus the US will have to absorb these blows.
In the case of Afghanistan, Washington is looking for an indigenous coalition to neutralize it. The issue of committing more troops and going deeper in may feature as pressure mounts on Obama with deadlines looming; yet it’s known that Obama’s team is negotiating with the Taliban.
Friedman’s analysis makes an interesting observation: it is not how deeply embedded Obama is in US grand strategy, but how deeply drawn he is into the unintended imperial enterprise that has dominated American foreign policy since the 1930s.
Palestinians, justifiably bitter over Obama’s caving into Netanyahu’s defiance will certainly agree with his critics that his foreign policy is neither original nor any different from his predecessor’s.
The most visible casualty of Obama’s British-type divide and rule policy failure in Palestine has been the archetypal “Brown sahib” ever willing to do his master’s bidding – Mahmoud Abbas.