StrategyAs 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.

7 Responses to “Does the United States Require a Strategy?”

  1. AndyPattison Says:

    Another example of our lack of strategy in stark contrast with the foresight of others is the fact that the first self-made billionaire in China is a man who started a solar panel company. Seeing what was coming the Chinese also spent the last decade or more securing the mines / mineral rights in Africa and Australia to make them the #1 importer and #1 exporter of 2/3 of the minerals that go into solar panel production.

  2. Gary Hart: Does the United States Require a Strategy? | Obama Biden White House Says:

    […] from Senator Hart’s new blog at Matters of Principle. Share this on del.icio.usDigg this!Share this on RedditStumble upon something good? Share it on […]

  3. C. Kasey Kitterman Says:

    Wow! There is a lot there, that seems contrary to my appraisal of the American condition. I’ll start with “…the price paid is dependence on reaction.” I suggest we suffer from a lack of reason. The ruling class has promulgated the concept of “American specialness” to the detriment of progress. I suggest, the Ownership Class, in an attempt to “dumb down” and control future “60’s kids”, has systematically farmed out research and development to foreign lands. The price paid has been the extortion and export of American innovation and reasoned thought.
    Of course we are cultivated, to resist a strong central government. The corporate masters abhore competition. It is much easier, to have third world production of trinkets, for Homer Simpson, type consumers. What seems to have been lost in the shuffle, is the loss of middle class jobs, social mores, economic stability and a unified republic.

  4. Michael Says:

    Coordination in and progress in one are can be subject to a setback in another. Remember when the Japanese economic coordination ministry – MITI – was going to take over the world in the 1980s? Well, I guess that got undone by the Japanese banking system. So a global approach does make the most sense. But even in a homogeneous and tightly-knit society like Japan’s, that was not possible.

    In the US, even more than our cultural history, it’s out political culture that won’t allow the kind of strategic thinking Senator Hart talking about. Just look at something as fundamental as the debate over climate change. Despite all the scientific evidence compiled by the best institutions and scientists from around the world, there are those at the highest levels of our government who still call the whole thing a hoax, or simply quote from the bible as a reason to do nothing about what is probably the greatest problem of our time. Dig a little deeper and you see that these same people are wholly-owned by the very industries that would be most affected by any change in the status quo.

    I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record on this blog, (and I’m sure at home too) but the systemic corruption that prevents the American government from solving even the most urgent problems, like health care, in a rational way would certainly be poison to the notion any national strategy in any area. And if there was coordination with foreign governments involved, whoever proposed it would be labeled a Communist, a Fascist, a Socialist, a member of some kind of Fifth Column, the anti-Christ, a bed wetter — well, you get the idea. Large changes are no longer possible in a system as corrupt as ours has become, no matter how much sense they might make.

  5. C. Kasey Kitterman Says:

    The theme of my limited posts, seems similar to yours. I think your reference to the Bible is on point. I love the Constitution, but like the Bible, one can read almost anything into it. Both provide a template for reasoned action and righting wrong. My concern is for the “…reaction” time lost while we argue semantics. The stuff is coming down so fast, I think buckets and a strong and honest Central Government, is all that can save us.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to these comments, I don’t think we will or probably ever should have “central planning.” It is too much against the American character and system. But that does not preclude the kind of strategic thinking that Michael (and I) advocate. We spend tens of billions of dollars on intelligence presumably so that we will not be surprised by events, yet almost always (as with 9.11) take the necessary steps to prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of disaster.

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