Daniel W. Drezner

Does the Obama administration have a grand strategy?

I have an essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, "Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?"   I daresay the title is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s subscriber only temporarily accessible to non-subscribers —  but here’s the gist:  Despite what its critics say, the Obama administration has actually had not just one grand strategy so far but two. The ...

I have an essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, "Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?"  

I daresay the title is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s subscriber only temporarily accessible to non-subscribers —  but here’s the gist: 

Despite what its critics say, the Obama administration has actually had not just one grand strategy so far but two. The first strategy, multilateral retrenchment, was designed to curtail the United States’ overseas commitments, restore its standing in the world, and shift burdens onto global partners. This strategy was clearly articulated, but it delivered underwhelming policy results.

The second, emergent grand strategy is focused on counterpunching. More recently, the Obama administration has been willing to assert its influence and ideals across the globe when challenged by other countries, reassuring allies and signaling resolve to rivals. This strategy has performed better but has been poorly articulated. It is this vacuum of interpretation that the administration’s critics have rushed to fill. Unless and until the president and his advisers define explicitly the strategy that has been implicit for the past year, the president’s foreign policy critics will be eager to define it–badly–for him.

That’s the thesis, but to be honest, my favorite passage also happens to be the snarkiest: 

If grand strategies are so overrated, why the furious debate? For two reasons, one petty and one substantive. The petty reason is that everyone in the U.S. foreign policy community secretly hopes to be the next Kennan. When a commentator bewails the failings of the United States’ grand strategy, it is usually because he has scribbled down his own set of musings on the topic. Indeed, complaints about grand strategy have plagued every U.S. administration since the end of World War II for precisely this reason. Grand strategies are easy to devise-they are forward-looking, operate in generalities, and make for great book tours. Whenever a foreign policy commentator articulates a new grand strategy, an angel gets its wings.

It’s funny because it’s true. 

[What’s the substantive reason?  Tell me!!  TELL ME!!–ed.  You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out.]

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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