Everything you always wanted to know about American grand strategy but were afraid to find out… on YouTube
- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested "replacing the ‘Two Wars’ strategy with a ‘Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?’ strategy" on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call: suggest the YouTube clip that "best encapsulates American grand strategy."
Yeah, that should bring you up to speed.
Below you will find the
ten eleven suggested clips that resonated the most for me, with some further elaboration by your humble blogger. WARNING: some profanity. Then again, if the profane is offensive to you, it’s best that you not think too hard about American foreign policy.
A penetrating critique of the orrery of errors that have befallen American foreign policy as of late. Clearly, the United States is trying to conduct its international affairs in a sea of darkness, lacking crucial information to light the way. Despite the best efforts to get all the components of American power into alignment, it’s hard to pull off.
Steve Saideman linked to this scene from Crocodile Dundee:
The new or not so new defense strategy of having enough of a military to fight one war while deterring or spoiling an adversary’s plans requires a "bigger knife" not to use but to dissuade challengers.
Such a grand strategy also plays to the U.S.’s current strength — dominating conventional war through bigger and better weapons. In the video, Croc Dundee is confronted not by one mugger but several (and one can read race into this if one wants, since the mugger was African-American, and most threats to the U.S. are by non-white folks). His big knife spoils the plans of each of them. Sounds like a good use of resources.
I think it works as an example of soft power and American exceptionalism. Via her affirmations Jessica demonstrates that Americans think America is awesome — and therefore, why the rest of the world will/should want the same things Americans want.
FP‘s Michael Cohen proffers this climactic speech from Animal House:
Not bad, actually. Note that Bluto’s inspiring speech has no appreciable effect on the apathetic Deltas at first. Only when other elites — like Otter — indicate their support, does the rest of the country — I mean, fraternity — rally around the flag. A subtle exegesis of how elite consensus can drive the mass public into stupid, futile gestures.
An utterly brilliant exposition of the ways in which the best strategy in the world will be subverted by the cowboy who shoots first and asks questons later. Indeed, this clip works on two levels. On the one hand, you can think of it as the struggles that go on within the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy to make sure everyone is on the same page — and the ways in which hawkish actors can unilaterally set the agenda. Or, look at it as an exegesis of how the United States, through its willingness to take immediate aggressive action, can exacerbate tensions among its less powerful allies. This exuberance can breed resentment among America’s partners, but often, Washington doesn’t care, because, well, at least we ain’t chicken.
Hmmm … I’m intrigued. This appears to be a subtle indictment of the idealpolitik that occasionally governs American foreign policy. After all, Ray is trying to "think of the most harmless thing … something that could never destroy us." Naturally, this leads to the creation of an entity that causes his paranormal colleagues to be "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought." Think of this as a potential metaphor of both liberal and neoconservative enthusiasm for democracy promotion. Sure, it sounds good in your head, but then you see who winds up doing well in the post-Arab Spring political environment, it’s easy to lose the capacity for rational choice.
Ha, I bet you think you’ve been rickrolled. Think again! Rick Astley smartly presaged one of the central dilemmas of America’s post-Cold War foreign policy: how do you get nervous allies to believe that the United States will honor its overseas obligations? You have to
have attractive bleach-blonde back-up singers reassure them that "a full commitment’s what I’m thinking of" and that "you’ll never get this from any other guy." You have to pledge, repeatedly, that America is "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down." Furthermore, the United States is "never gonna run around and desert you." This kind of reassurance mechanism, done with the proper tone and in harmony with other voices, can make even the wariest of allies vault over political barriers and do backflips in celebration of their alliances with the United States.
Steven suggests that, at a minimum, this explains public discourse on grand strategy, and he has a point. On the one hand, you have an angry public that appears to be willing to fabricate evidence to justify taking aggressive action. On the other hand, you have elites that reject the absence of any logic to justify action. Instrad, they rely on their own galactically stupid set of axioms to guide their thinking.
Sure, the song is an obvious choice, but as he notes, it was no accident that he chose this version. The joyful version makes light of America’s exuberance for all things American. That’s not the point of this clip — it suggests the dark side of American exceptionalism, the burden that the United States faces as it tries to preserve global order in a world gone amok by odd, tacit alliances between terrorists and rogue states.
In less than three seconds, this clip hints at a myriad number of rich textual interpretations. Does the dog represent what happens when force is used, dragging the rest of the country along? Or, perhaps the canine symbolizes the big influence of small allies. Actors that the United States thinks it has under its thumb are actually driving foreign policy more than you would think. Without question, however, critics of the Obama administration would conclude that this clip is the definitive explication of the perils that come with "leading from behind."
Like most of these seemingly short clips, Wueger’s submission works on two levels. On the one hand, it demonstrates the ways in which hegemonic power allows some actors to be able to pursue policies that small actors simply cannot. In this comparison, this clip reminds the viewer of the many global public goods that a hegemonic actor might feel obligated to provide. Compare Bus 62 with the U.S. Navy after the 2004 tsunami, for example. On the other hand, hegemonic power can also have unanticipated negative externalities. Sure, Bus 62 simply plows through the barrier. However, it does so without helping the other people stuck in traffic, and, like a boss, nearly plows over the person in the way. A cautionary tale about the uses and possible abuses of power.
OK, readers, what are your suggestions?