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American Leadership And The "Grand Strategy"

In an article published today by The Diplomat, Professor William C. Martel argues that America needs a coherent foreign strategy to cope with a range of foreign issues that allegedly jeopardize world order.

It takes no great leap of imagination,” writes Professor Martel, “to realize the obvious: the world shows clear signs of increasing disorder. [F]rom the end of World War II to the 1990s, the United States was guided by a coherent grand strategy. American strategy, as George Kennan outlined, was designed to contain the Soviet Union in ideological, political, military, and economic terms. It was an immensely successful strategy, as societies realized when the Soviet Union collapsed unexpected.

These assumptions appear to me to be both great “leaps of imagination”. It is assumed that the world is in a state of exceptional disorder and that the United States are called to bring back order, like they used to do in the Cold War. This is an utterly flawed interpretation of the present and a dangerous vision for the future. 
1) The world as a whole doesn’t show greater signs of disorder than in the past. It is only from the perspective of the US, which were accustomed to be the first and undisputed ‘good’ world power, that today’s world is more chaotic. If you ask Chinese, Koreans, Singaporeans, Russians, Argentinians and so on, they might tell you a different story of the period from WWII to the end of the 1990’s. Let’s take East Europe, for example, where the ‘shock therapy’ propagated by Western economists made their industry and society collapse. Or look at Rwanda, look at Vietnam, look at the military dictatorship in S. Korea or the Nationalist white terror in Taiwan. There are so many examples. 
2) The axiom that whenever there is disorder the US should step in and guarantee a paternalistically benevolent guidance to all nations is deeply offensive, and it has been one of the biggest mistakes of the American elite not to realize they are treating a majority of the world population like incapable children. Americans are oblivious to the fact that by doing so, they will lose the leadership that is already endangered. Leadership means that people want to follow you because they see you as an example, because they want to be like you. You cannot convince them to follow you by bombing or disparaging them. In this respect, the US is losing its ability to lead.
3) The US does not understand that the first thing to fix is not the American leadership in the world, but the American economy, and that in order to do this, a re-thinking of the dominant neoliberal, laisse-faire narrative of the last forty decades is necessary. An indebted, industrially non-competitive nation is not going to be the kind of example people want to follow. The US should begin a debate about economic policy that goes beyond ideological positions and find a new way to prosperity. Otherwise you’d better put up with your international decline, as long as you don’t want to defend it aggressively, which might seem a solution to some desperate, cynical and hysterical people, but it can’t be considered as a viable “grand strategy” by any sound American.  

Among the threats mentioned by Mr Martel are China, Russia and Iran. Particularly interesting appears to me the author’s view on the Middle Kingdom:

Foremost among these changes is the threat of rising states that challenge American power. The rise of China undoubtedly is the most prominent example. Beijing’s growing economy, the second largest in the world, increased spending on defense, and growing global footprint in development and energy signal that China is a power to be reckoned with.


But that isn’t all. According to Mr Martel, we are witnessing the genesis of a new axis of powers that may lead to a new Cold War:

Then we turn to the case of a resurgent Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin’s tutelage, Russia’s increasingly strident rhetoric toward the United States, predatory energy policies toward Europe, and reckless language about nuclear weapons cause deep concern in Eurasia. Working closely with China, the emerging Sino-Russian axis uses the United Nations to stymie U.S.-led initiatives to deal with Syria and Iran. Some leaders in Asia and Europe fear that Russia’s power is rising, the United States is weak and distracted, and we could be seeing the dawn of a second Cold War.


While everybody condemns the belligerent language of the Chinese leadership, where are the indignant outcries of people when Western professors, experts and politicians talk about “Cold War”, “resurgent Russia”, about powers that “can harm U.S. interests”? It seems that the term U.S. interests must be understood in very broad terms: China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, to mention only of few. 

It is not surprising if more and more people mistrust the U.S. and the double standards they set. And I cannot condemn either the Chinese or the Russians any more, when they say they feel the U.S. is encircling and containing them. 
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