Dr. Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, recent Fulbright Scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books. You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.
For the past two weeks this column focused on threats and solutions to immediate national security threats that the United States faces. In both cases grand strategy has been mentioned. The very concept of an American Grand Strategy has almost vanished from any discussion of national security and foreign policy. Neither the current occupant of the White House, nor the many (though not all of) former Republican challengers were discussing, let alone promoting, a grand strategic vision for the United States. Some have come up with pieces of national security and foreign policy, but few have any sense of where the country should journey in order to protect American vital and national interests; few have presented a vision to guarantee American primacy, prosperity, and values.
There is an assumption that expressions such as national security, foreign policy, national security doctrines, grand strategy, vital, and national interests are the same concept; they are not. The most talked about issue today in national security is counterterrorism. Thus, a common mistake made by many is to assume that the specific and tactical policies of counterterrorism are, in and of themselves, national security policy or even national security strategy. In this example, counterterrorism is merely a specific policy that is subordinate to the national security policy of the immediate time. If the American people are lucky, this immediate national security policy is somewhat clear and cohesive.
Unfortunately, we often do not even receive this level of consistency. The myopic view becomes commonplace and grand strategy vanishes from discussion. This has occurred most recently concerning the debates on Afghanistan. The reverse, perverse logic goes like this: Since we killed Osama Bin Laden, we need to leave Afghanistan since we were there to capture or kill him and other terrorists. In reality, Afghanistan is part of a grand strategy to protect the United States from Islamic extremism and to stabilize a geopolitical area to promote United States interests.
This grand strategy cannot be achieved by conducting counterterrorist operations alone. The way that a future presidential candidate (and president for that matter) can differentiate himself from others is to clearly and concisely promote a grand strategy that not only addresses the issues of today, but also ensures American supremacy for the future. Naturally, a counter to this will be obsessions over the economy and jobs, but a country without a grand strategy is not only an airplane without a pilot, but an airplane that will either crash and kill all aboard, or be hijacked by a hostile power.
What would this grand strategy entail?
It would be announcing and adhering to a permanent national security doctrine. It would embrace a grand strategy that can cross party lines, time periods, and changes of administrations. Thus, ideally the United States would abandon doctrines named after presidents in favor of presidents who adhere to an American doctrine. This American doctrine would consistently adhere to nine grand strategy themes: American exceptionalism, expansion, the empire of liberty and democracy promotion, free commerce, unilateralism, internationalism, the American way of war, geopolitics, and primacy. It would need to be embraced in a bipartisan fashion, truly holding to Daniel Webster's quotation, "Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water's edge." The result of adopting an American doctrine would be the inability of any particular administration to repudiate a doctrine based on the United States's long history, storied traditions, and absolute values. There would immediately be six decisive and positive results for the United States and the world.
National security doctrines grew out of the trials and tribulations of American civilization. They evolved by being anchored in nine American themes that guided the nation through revolution, war, and turmoil. They can guarantee liberty, prosperity, and security as they guide the American nation and people into the 21st century and beyond.