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Does the United States Require a Strategy?

We are miserable at anticipation and preparation. The latter requires centralized authority, something Americans instinctively resist.
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As a nation that has largely valued laissez faire in its markets and independence for individual citizens, the United States has generally resisted strategic approaches to domestic matters or grand strategies for its role in the world. Strategy suggests planning, and planning is something centralized governments do.

The price paid for go-it-alone individualism is dependence on reaction. We are stalwart, dedicated, and resolute in reaction to adversity, especially attacks by foreign forces. We are miserable at anticipation and preparation. The latter requires centralized authority, something Americans instinctively resist.

So, we prefer to wait until something bad happens -- Pearl Harbor, economic depression, or 9/11 -- and then we unite in response. That is all well and good, except a heavy price in blood and treasure is almost always paid.

There is the alternative of preparing for the future. For example, it was possible to see a new economic wave called information technology by the early and mid-1970s. We could have trained young people and retrained industrial workers for the new jobs this wave would create. But we did not. Some smart people predicted the Wall Street collapse in 2008. Regulatory steps to prevent it were not taken. And, of course, sufficient evidence of a terrorist attack, including evidence involving airplanes and tall buildings, existed in the early 21st century. No serious steps were taken to prevent it.

We had a strategy throughout the second half of the 20th century. It was called “containment of communism.” It required massive coordination of defense, foreign, and even economic policies. And, arguably, it worked, though at a total price some think was excessive. Thereafter, we replaced that strategy with one called “war on terrorism.” As a central organizing principle for the nation, that has worked less well.

We might consider a new grand strategy for the 21st century that included the following elements: networking governments (including, for example, intelligence collection, public health services, environmental programs; research laboratories) to anticipate global crises; expansion of special military forces for the changing nature of conflict; a new age of international institution building patterned after 1946-49; and regulation of international financial systems.

Much could be added to this kind of list. The point is that anticipation and strategy are better than catastrophe and reaction, and strategy can be developed without sacrifice of individual freedom.

Posted from Senator Hart's new blog at Matters of Principle.

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