Tuesday, April 26, 2011


From two field grade officers who are, as I understand it, associated with the Joint Chiefs, comes a very thoughtful (which means it'll be ignored) treatise on a strategy for America. It comes with the disclaimer that it represents their own opinions and not that of any branch of the military; yet I'd think they'd not have published it without at least the tacit approval of those of bigger wigs. Essentially, singing my song, they say we've over-reacted to the threat of terrorism, spending way too much on and putting way too much faith in the Department of Defense to secure us. Our future, they argue, is with not abandoning (as Rs would have us do) our real strengths: education, innovation, moral leadership, democratic ideals. Guns might win a battle here or there (my words, but consistent with their message) but the future will be determined by our commitment to our young people.

The preface, written by (uh-oh) a professor of politics and international affairs, includes:

Porter and Mykleby give us a non-partisan blueprint for understanding and reacting to the changes of the 21st century world. In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement...

...The move from control to credible influence as a fundamental strategic goal requires a shift from containment to sustainment (sustainability). Instead of trying to contain others (the Soviet Union, terrorists, China, etc), we need to focus on sustaining ourselves in ways that build our strengths and underpin credible influence. That shift in turn means that the starting point for our strategy should be internal rather than external. The 2010 National Security Strategy did indeed focus on national renewal and global leadership, but this account makes an even stronger case for why we have to focus first and foremost on investing our resources domestically in those national resources that can be sustained, such as our youth and our natural resources (ranging from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry). We can and must still engage internationally, of course, but only after a careful weighing of costs and benefits and with as many partners as possible.

Credible influence also requires that we model the behavior we recommend for others, and that we pay close attention to the gap between our words and our deeds...

...A national strategic narrative must be a story that all Americans can understand and identify with in their own lives. America’s national story has always see-sawed between exceptionalism and universalism. We think that we are an exceptional nation, but a core part of that exceptionalism is a commitment to universal values – to the equality of all human beings not just within the borders of the United States, but around the world. We should thus embrace the rise of other nations when that rise is powered by expanded prosperity, opportunity, and dignity for their peoples. In such a world we do not need to see ourselves as the automatic leader of any bloc of nations. We should be prepared instead to earn our influence through our ability to compete with other nations, the evident prosperity and wellbeing of our people, and our ability to engage not just with states but with societies in all their richness and complexity. We do not want to be the sole superpower that billions of people around the world have learned to hate from fear of our military might. We seek instead to be the nation other nations listen to, rely on and emulate out of respect and admiration.

The article is the first step down that new path. It is written by two military men who have put their lives on the line in the defense of their country and who are non-partisan by profession and conviction. Their insights and ideas should spark a national conversation. All it takes is for politicians, pundits, journalists, businesspeople, civic leaders, and engaged citizens across the country to read and respond.

Sounds a little too liberal (ie, thoughtful and open-minded), eh? And yet, in a perfect world, conversations about such things would be at the heart of public policy. It's why, as I mentioned in a previous post, the idea of "American exceptionalism" is so dangerous: it's lazy, it's an excuse for living in the past, for not addressing our problems and needs honestly and directly.

The problem with getting such a treatise into the conversation is that it's not simple; and, in (as I see it) questioning the right-wing mantra of cutting taxes at the expense of paying for our existential needs, it'll be seen as some sort of lefty screed. But, as Stephen has taught us, facts have a well-known liberal bias. When something is true, you'd think it would not be politicized. It'd be engaged.

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