Transcript: The Case for a U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint
Below is a transcript of a lecture by Eugene Gholz, Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. This lecture, entitled “The Case for a U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint,” was delivered at IWP on July 9, 2015, and was sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation. A video of this lecture can be found here.
Thank you for the kind introduction and for hosting me here. I look forward to discussing the strategy of restraint and I hope I can make you think and maybe even convince some of you that this is a good idea. It is indeed something I’ve been thinking about for a long time leading up to that 1997 article. Basically because I think that the United States should’ve had a somewhat dramatic change in its strategy (so foreign policy is one, to me at least, is one implementation or one part of the strategy for the country or one way that we execute the strategy,) but we should have had a fairly dramatic change in our strategy when the strategic situation that the United States faced changed quite dramatically with the end of the Cold War.
That led to my starting to think about this topic in a very serious way and I guess I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t had that major adaptation to the change in world events. I think that in a significant way we’ve continued kind of with the same impulses and reflexes, and institutions and momentum more or less now for the last twenty-five years and continuing. We would be better served by adapting, particularly in the direction of what we call the grand strategy of restraint. Now I think grand strategy as a topic has become a little bit controversial partly because many people think that strategy is an academic exercise. In the real world it’s very hard to follow a strategy given the pushing and hauling and tugging of American politics and particularly in a country like the United States where we have such prominent political pressures that make it hard to maintain a consistent view.
Now that may all be true but it’s remarkably true that we’ve also been quite consistent in our approach to the world, even given the pushing and hauling of politics and interest groups and bureaucratic organizations for the last twenty-five years and indeed before that through the Cold War and our internationalist approach. We had a strategy of containment, the most famous grand strategy that we consistently applied to the Soviet Union during the Cold War for many, many years. We actually have a track record of having strategies and we have a track of being able to hold constant to a vision. Just, the vision we’ve held constant to for the last twenty-five years is not well rooted in strategic thinking and prioritization and making choices about foreign policy.
So I think we can have a strategy, we can have a grand strategy that in the United States helps to organize our thinking and the way that we apply the different tools of policy that we have at our disposal. We have military tools and economic tools and diplomatic engagement and cultural engagement around the world. There are many different ways that we engage the world. The grand strategy of restraint that I’m going to talk to you about today particularly marks an adjustment to the military way that we engage with the rest of the world. Downplaying somewhat the military compared to other means of engagement. I’m going to focus most of my talk on the military side of things but there are points where we are also going to talk about other tools of statecraft and it’s certainly fair game to talk about all of these other tools of statecraft throughout our discussion and through the Q&A after my presentation.
So I take grand strategy to mean an organizing principle for the way that we think about how we engage the world or try to think about achieving our goals in the world. In fact I think a useful summary is that it’s a means to ends chain to which a country, in this case the United States, tries to achieve its goals in the world. Now some people define it more narrowly as the means ends chain through which a country tries to cause security for itself. Security is probably the preeminent or one of the most important goals for sure that we are going to talk about, but I’m quite comfortable with the idea that when we talk about strategy we might have other goals that we might want to engage in that conversation. But strategy is the organizing framework for how we think about linking means and ends in our approach to the world.
So to think about strategy and what our strategy should be, I think that the best way to review it is to start with where are we in the world. What is our position? What are our goals? What do we hope to achieve? What are the threats and opportunities that would impinge on those goals that we have and then we would make a choice of here’s the strategy that would be the means ends chain for achieving those goals in the light of the threats and opportunities, given the resources that we have and the position we are in. So that is the kind of methodical thought process to analytically talk through a strategy. The first thing that you have to start with and understand what would be the appropriate strategic choice would be “well where do we sit in the world today?” And this of course is the thing that got me started on this that I talked about to begin with. There was a dramatic change in the world in the early 1990s and our strategy did not seem to change in light of that. So to review, where are we today? We are in a wonderful position, now the world is an imperfect place it has many problems, it has ups and downs. There is friction, there’s killing, there is unfulfilled expectations and hopes and we always want the world to be better than it is. We hope, even though we’re in a wonderful position, we could imagine the world being even better than it is today. That is surely true. We know that in some ways the world is worse today than it was just a few years ago. That may have to do with the rise of potential adversaries, changing technologies, terrorist threats, a whole set of things. The world is imperfect, but if you take a step back a little bit and you take a look at the overall position, the position is very good, for the United States at least.
The United States dwarfs other powers around the world in terms of traditional threats. Now what foreign policy and engagement with the world was designed for in classical views, if you think about the political theory of why it is that we have a state. Why do people join a social contract? to provide security for themselves that they couldn’t provide individually. Well the United States does not face significant threats to that raison d’etre, that core reason for the U.S. government. Militarily we dwarf all the other countries in the world, we have a much more capable military as a result of many inherent American greatnesses in fighting, maybe, I don’t know. That could be part of it, but also we spend a truckload on this stuff, and have spent a truckload on this every year for at this point, seventy years. And that adds up, there is a cumulative effect of the lead that we’ve built up in terms of capabilities: technological capabilities, training capabilities, fixed capital investment in equipment that we have in terms of of high quality, high class military that’s bigger and tougher, it’s not bigger in terms of number of soldiers but in terms of combat power it’s way bigger than everybody else. In fact it is so big that we could cut our military in half and our nearest adversary could double their spending and we would still be bigger, right? So we are talking about a vast gap in investment and capability that fundamentally leaves us very secure. And of course, we’re rich. It is good to be rich, as a country. We feel worried on an individual basis, we always want more and as a country we talk in loose jargon and loose conversation about how the country is going bankrupt, we have a huge budget deficit and a huge debt to other countries. There is a, in a certain day to day financial sense, the financial situation is not fantastic for the United States. But in terms of GDP, resources, the ability to produce, the ability to generate economic and military power, the United States is vast. It is a question of choosing to spend those resources. So at seventeen trillion dollars a year in GDP we’ve got a lot of change to play with. If we wanted to double our defense spending we could afford it, we would just have to suck in our belt on something else. Really we are in the game of making decisions about how much we should spend to achieve certain aims. We are not being compelled one way or the other to cut our defense or spend beyond our means or something like that. It is a matter of choice and that is actually a wonderful situation to be in. Most countries are not in the situation where they have so many resources that they can make choices about the level of spending on their strategy. That is a wonderful situation.
Also, geographically the United States is tremendously privileged. Geography actually matters in world affairs, in military affairs in particular. But also economically, (we talk about globalization, there’s cyberspace, there are these things that are changing geography but particularly with the respect to security and defense) geography has a huge effect. So other traditional nation states, potential opponents to the United States, the people who, if we were really in extremis, the people who would be coming over here and beating us up, enslaving us, taking all of our stuff, breaking our lives, they live really far from us. Geographically between us and them are giant oceans. Oceans are actually quite hard to cross with military force. We are not the situation of France with Germany on the border, or Poland between Germany and Russia. We are the United States surrounded by two weak neighbors, Canada and Mexico, and a lot of fish. The fish are not coming to get us. That is a great geography for the United States.
Geography matters in another way too though. A lot people talk and think about non-state threats emerging, or the new security environment especially over the last twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War as I was talking about before. It’s true, there are all kinds of nefarious groups operating in the world whether they be organized crime, drug traffickers, human traffickers, those sorts of bad actors. And then the kind we are really most concerned about since 9/11 especially: terrorist groups. People who travel here with the intent to scare us, do us ill, force us to change our political system. But notice I said “travel here,” that was a key step because it’s not easy to travel here and conduct threatening surreptitious activity that will lead you to do harm to Americans. It takes time to prepare a plot. These are not instant capers. We’ve seen it happen a number of times, when people spend time trying to understand the plot they want to bring off. They train for it because these are complicated activities, but the more time that people with substantially different values from us who mean to do us ill, spend in the unfamiliar environment of being over here, living amongst us trying to plot their caper, the more likely it is that they will make enough mistakes that we will notice “hey there is something funny going on here.” And we will track them down and investigate and break up the caper. It is much easier to conduct surreptitious activities and do ill to people, to prepare to “safely” do terrorism or harm in a familiar cultural environment than in an unfamiliar cultural environment. So the distance, the geography that most of the people that want to conduct terrorism against the United States grew up somewhere else, live far from us, and speak different languages and have different habits and different plans and ideas and don’t understand our culture very well. When they come over here to plot, they stick out like a sore thumb. Just as, conversely of course, when we go over there and try to interfere in their societies we stick out and blunder and make mistakes and get into trouble. So the distance creates the opportunity to force people to take more difficult steps to live their lives and execute their plots. The distance, the geography actually creates not just a barrier to conquest, not just a barrier to Russia coming over here and conquering the United States in a Red Dawn scenario from the old movie, but also creates a barrier for terrorists. It’s not a perfect barrier, there are lone wolf locals, there are people who come across the oceans and manage to live in our society, it’s not perfect, but it raises the costs. It makes it harder for them. And that is a very helpful thing for us. We should take advantage of that and note that in our situation with respect to threats. Given that situation, we might want to make some choices about our goals and how we would implement those. That would help couch our strategy of restraint as far as what are we going to do with our advantageous situation in the world.
The first point on the slide about principles of restraint, about the goals is (I think, a very important point) that restraint as a strategy for the United States, a grand strategy, has really the same goals as every other grand strategy for the United States. The opponents of the grand strategy of restraint or activists in the world very often paint the picture of this, or critique the grand strategy of restraint as “sure, if you don’t want to achieve very much you could do less in the world,” but I have different goals. I want to achieve all of these things, I want to achieve security for Americans, prosperity for Americans, maybe even security and prosperity for the whole world some people would say, and I want to promote American values. I want American values to be vibrant here in the United States. And, I think these are good values, we are patriotic Americans, we think we’ve learned some things. I think it would be great had the opportunity to enjoy some of the rights and democracy, the benefits of the political system that we have in their countries as well. And they say that’s fine if your only goal for restraint is security of the American homeland, if you want to build fortress America you could do that, but I choose more. They would argue that we are comparing apples and oranges. But I don’t believe that that is the case.
As an advocate of restraint I think I have the same goals as the people who prefer a strategy of primacy or liberal hegemony or empire, people call it different things, activism, there are a number of different alternatives. I am in favor, of first American security, but if other people are more secure around the world, I would be happier too. In general security is the same goal. But in addition to that, I think prosperity is an important value, and I think American values, I think liberty, I think democracy, these are important values, the rights of women, many other possible human rights, again, there can be debate about the details of prioritization or the details of what different values mean. But I’m going to sign on to the same set of values that I think most other people in the strategy debate are signing on for. I think the question is how do we use our advantageous position to promote those values.
Now for the second principle of restraint. Just to be clear about what restraint is, restraint is not a retreat from the world in any way. Restraint is not about “oh we are going to build fortress America, we’re not going to go anywhere else, nobody gets to come here, we are going to put our head in the sand like an ostrich and not look for any threats because if we can’t see them they can’t hurt us.” That is not what restraint is about. Restraint engages the world, restraint engages the world a little less militarily than some other strategic perspectives, but you still trade with the world, you still have cultural exchange, you still learn from each other, free exchange of ideas.
In fact, even militarily you don’t just build a giant wall on all four sides of the country, sometimes a sea wall, sometimes a land wall. That is not fundamental restraint. So no one in the American strategy debate suggests that the United States doesn’t have a role in the world, particularly in the global commons. So think of this as the high seas or airspace for international travel or into space.
The United States as a major country of the world, as the biggest most powerful country in the world, benefits disproportionately from the trade and commerce around the world, we have a role to play in the commons that preserves those. On the high seas, so the classic comment is “so someone has to prevent piracy from running rampant.” Well, in the modern world there is some piracy, it is important, the piracy is mostly close to the coast in certain places, but sure there is an underpinning, and infrastructure of global affairs. The good news is it’s quite cheap. The difference in cost and effort and risk between staying in the commons, keeping U.S. forces in the blue water ocean, in the deep ocean, and going next to other countries’ coasts, going into their local territorial space where they can deploy from land instead of all the way across the sea, the difference between the commons, the blue water, the deep ocean, and the brown water, the littoral, the contested zone near other people’s countries is dramatic. So under restraint the key principle is sure we contribute to the global commons, what we don’t do is engage in other people’s territorial space, in other people’s near border, in the littoral, in the contested zone. Where other people on their home turf, near their home base where it is cheap and easy to engage militarily for them, expensive for us, that is what we stay out of under restraint. The principle of restraint is to draw a clear line between the commons and the contested zones. Restraint engages the world and stays in the commons but doesn’t push the more expensive bad cost benefit tradeoff of engaging in other people’s contested zone.
Where does it leave us? It leaves us with the idea of a strategy providing guiding principles that give us a focused lens for deciding about U.S. actions in the world. So I wanted to highlight three of them fairly quickly as principles of restraint. So one of them is to say around the world as we look at the problems from our vantage point of being very fortunate to be Americans in the United States, is to say that most problems in the world are not U.S. problems. Most problems in the world, many challenges and opportunities around the world confront other people first. Now they may or may not be able to solve them, because we are nice people, we are helpful, when we can help, we can think about helping other people altruistically. We should not confuse it with our own security or our own prosperity or our own ability to live the good life in America and execute our own values, but when it’s appropriate, when we can. We don’t wish ill to other people, we wish them the best. If others are struggling to confront challenges and opportunities that are in keeping with our views, and they have tried first, and we can make a difference, without a huge cost to ourselves, without making it outweigh the cost of what we would do altruistically, then we can think about that. But the problems and challenges of the world, the places where there are really many bad things happening, where there is a struggle over the fundamental character over what life is going to be like. Those struggles are happening elsewhere primarily dictated by what happens to other local people who have to choose their own future. We can’t choose for them. So the first principle is into the contested zone in other countries there are people there who are contesting and they have the right, the responsibility, the opportunity to contest. They can influence and control their own future.
The second focused lens is to think about alliances. How do we engage and how do we adapt with people in the contested zones and in the rest of the world. Now if you read national security documents of the United States right now, if you read the U.S. national security strategy it will say that one of our fundamental goals in the world is to maintain our alliances. This strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of what alliances are and why we have them. Alliances themselves are a means not an end. An alliance is a way that we can work with someone else in a partnership, that we can seek help, we can help them and they can help us to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. So when you are confronting an extremely powerful adversary, sometimes you want to get help to fight them off. So you coordinate and fight together and work together to fight them off as an alliance. Through confronting the Soviet Union we created the Western alliance, NATO, allied with Japan as well. We developed a whole alliance structure because it helped us share the burden and made us more effective at confronting a very serious and powerful adversary in the world under a different situation than we confront today. We have gotten so used to having those alliances that we have decided that alliances are the end not the means. Under restraint we would remember that alliances are the means, we would think about how does this alliance help us achieve our goals in the world, and that would be the fundamental lens for deciding whether we want to continue or participate in an alliance. What is the mutual benefit, and in particular what is the benefit that we get?
The third focused lens for thinking about this, is as I said, there is a whole range of different tools of statecraft. The United States should avail itself of all of these tools of statecraft. We should think very carefully though, about how different tools of statecraft match up with different challenges and opportunities. Is this tool the appropriate tool for addressing the question that is before us? Is it likely to work? Is it going to work at a reasonable cost? Those are the kinds of decisions that are inherent in strategic thinking. Military force is very expensive and is very blunt, but it is very powerful. We have a tremendous capability to ruin other people’s not only day, but week and year with our military. We can force them not to do certain things. But that is a very blunt instrument, it doesn’t allow us very well to shape what they do instead. It doesn’t allow us very well to precisely target certain bad actors rather than people in a general area. It doesn’t allow us to control the responses and backlash that people have. We just have to remember that the military is a useful tool, and important tool, and is vital to thinking about our security, but it’s a blunt and awkward tool. It should not be our first tool, our first idea to respond to most situations and most crises around the world. And that is a fundamental principle of restraint, to maintain that skepticism. In particular when I was talking about the military was good at breaking things, but not so good at shaping them in response. Part of that is the role of nationalism in the modern world. So we have to remember and be conscious and recognize the power of that nationalism. So if we go tell someone to live their life a certain way, it often gets their back up. If they chose to live their life that way, by their own choice they might support it wholeheartedly and invest lots of resources in it. But pushing people to do things leads to push back, it’s part of the friction in the system internationally. So there is a limit to the efficacy, not just to the bluntness of American force, but the efficacy of American force because it runs up against that modern idea of nationalism and self-determination.
If we were going to implement this idea, we’re going to go from the conversation about ends and principles into more detailed means: get to the high level, and I’m perfectly happy to talk in details in Q&A if people have interests in particular parts of the U.S. engagement with the world, of the legacy/alliance structure or the commitments the United States has, whatever it may be. But, in broad sketch, under strategy of restraint, we would gracefully end the Cold War alliances. Now, in a way we’ve been gracefully ending, but we’ve been gracefully not ending, just continuing these on auto-pilot, and even expanding them for the last 25 years, if you think about NATO expansion, for example.
But, just because these alliances have outlived their usefulness – the Cold War is over, the alliances were great during the Cold War – we are now safe from the Soviet threat so the Soviet Union doesn’t exist and other threats have changed, we wouldn’t want to turn them off in an instant. We have to be responsible about not creating gaps and vacuums in power and basically being mean to our friends and partners that we’ve had for many years by leaving them hanging because they expected us to take care of everything. We can’t do it on a dime, we have to transition, to offer to sell them things to help their defense: weapons, perhaps. We have to let them build their militaries the way they want; make their own choices of alliances and commitments. There has to be a transition period. And we should be clear, that just because we’re not going to be allied with these countries, promising to militarily defend each other and an attack on one is an attack on all, doesn’t mean we’re going to be enemies or adversaries, or even indifferent to them. We’re going to be friends, not allies. We can trade with each other, we can help each other sometimes, we can offer diplomatic support, we can enjoy each other’s cultural activities and do many things to be friends with these countries. What we don’t need though, is a blank check alliance commitment, or to pretend the security of some of our alliance partners is indelibly linked to the security of the United States. In the Cold War, if all of Europe had been conquered by the Soviet Union, that would have been very bad for American security because of the agglomeration of power that would have been created. That threat no longer exists. So, there is nothing that we need to defend against, in terms of preventing the agglomeration of such power.
Second thing is, ourselves, we could change and cut defense spending significantly under a strategy of restraint. For one thing, because we’re not going to enter into the contested zone of other countries, we could disproportionately cut ground forces. I love the army, I think it’s done wonderful things for the United States for many years. It’s much more capable than other armies in the world, it’s much more precise, it goes to tremendous effort to follow laws of war and act responsibly in a way that other militaries don’t. This is a wonderful army. We should be proud of our army. But our army doesn’t have anything to do today with respect to American security. So we can afford to cut it, if we’re not going to occupy other countries, try to tell them how to live their lives. In terms of an army to defend against cross-border threats, we don’t need very much today and so we should shrink it. We could re-deploy those resources in many other ways that are more productive for the United States. We could invest those in our side, we could pay our debt if we wanted, we could give it back to the people to spend on making their lives better – wonderful electronics for everyone – whatever it is that we decide we want, we could have that consideration. But right now, we’re not having a discussion of that, because we’re giving it to the military, to the army, to prepare for occupying other countries that we don’t need to occupy.
But, again, this is not ‘don’t pay attention to the world.’ We would continue robust intelligence and R&D, we would prepare for the future in case the situation changed. We’d have to monitor. So if we’re concerned about the potential rise of China as an adversary, we should watch it. If there are particular weapons technologies that we think China may be developing that would give us trouble, we can do some R&D on counter-measures. This is much cheaper than equipping the entire force and building a huge inventory. But it is something that would allow us to stay up and prepare for our own defense. So this is a very important continued preparation as part of the strategy of restraint, we have less resource commitment and different resource commitment. And indeed, we might also change in other ways. If we recognize that there are not serious security threats to the United States, somebody preparing to launch a major attack on the United States, we could watch other things that could allow us to get more effective at those altruistic activities, when we chose to engage in those altruistic activities that we want to.
So we have an abhorrence, understandably, for genocide. I am highly opposed to genocide, I’m sure you’re all shocked to know, I am sure that you also are as well. And you might notice that in the 1990s, there was a terrible genocide committed in Rwanda, which we didn’t react to, and in part it’s because it happened quite fast. Over the space of six weeks, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in Rwanda. So if we wanted to make a difference (now the genocide continued after the six weeks but the first six weeks were very bloody and very brutal), if we wanted to make a difference in that, we would have had to be prepared and to know it was happening very quickly, much quicker than we did. Because we were spending so much time looking at other parts of the world, we didn’t give any attention to the areas of the world where there was that extreme humanitarian need such that we could respond in time. So you can imagine that under a strategy of restraint, if we were clear about if there’s some things we were going to pay attention to for altruistic humanitarian reasons, not for security reasons, we could put some effort into paying attention to those if we chose as a society to do that. We could improve and redeploy and change our intelligence focus, because now we are focusing our intelligence effort, a tremendous amount, on old issues not new issues, right. So adapting to the strategic situation we actually face can allow us, in our limited remaining engagements, to do a much better job.
The final thing I’ll say about what does restraint looks like (this is kind of a detailed Washington sort-of comment, I think) we organize our military in terms of having combatant commanders, so these are the operational commanders- the four-star generals and admirals that we use to actually implement the way we fight around the world as some of you may be familiar [with]; some of you may not. We have some functional combatant commands… strategic command that takes care of our nuclear deterrents; that’s an important command- it’s important to have some specialists who understand nuclear weapons and prepare to defend us from other nuclear powers; from all other nuclear powers…fine. We also have a set of commanders whose job is to focus on different regions of the world. We have CENTCOM, most famously these days which covers the Middle East in general. We have PACOM for the pacific and SOUTHCOM for Latin America for the most part, we have AFRICOM… EUCOM, so we have high level commanders with quite substantial staffs whose job is to prepare contingency plans and to pay attention full-time to things that are happening in their region of the world. And the result of that is that they’re constantly generating demands for resources, engagement, and dreaming up scenarios- “What if this happened?” and preparing and creating a pole that tugs the United States into the affairs of their regions. These are representatives of their regions, they are lobbyists for their region’s pull on American strategy. There’s no reason unless the United States is trying to manage the world that we need regional combatant commanders. We need experts and commanders prepared to execute certain kinds of military operations… functional commanders that would prepare the United States to execute the strategy of restraint. The strategy of restraint does not call for regional-combatant commands, advocates for U.S. engagement in their region, which by the way (last comment on this) step all over traditional diplomacy for the United States. So, if we believe that the State Department is a serious organization, which I do, and has diplomats who are trained in diplomacy, and who build experience over many years, and want to be the leading figures for U.S. engagement for countries to which they’re appointed- those diplomats are constantly undercut because the people in those other countries know there’s also this other guy, the combatant commander, who has the full resources of the U.S. military, unlike the poor ambassador who has the full resources of the six guys in the embassy. So if the other country wants to pay attention to the United States, they also engage the combatant command; not necessarily the ambassador, so this is a threat to the other tools of statecraft of the United States that we organize our military this particular way.
So, a fair breath of arguments on the table and I want to try to distill them and sum together into a few short statements to take with you and to start a question-and-answer for our remaining time together. So the first (this is in a sense, it’s not a principle because it’s not very formal… it’s an idea, it’s a soundbite for restraint) don’t meddle. The United States has built up a habit of, we call it engagement, but really often, it’s meddling. It’s telling other people how they should live their lives, it’s telling them if you lived your life this way we would appreciate it, it would be better for us if you lived your life this way. We also usually tell them it would be better for them, but of course as I mentioned in the nationalism discussion, they don’t usually like it when we tell them this would be better for you, it’s very paternalistic, they object. So don’t meddle, and the key is we have to change our strategic mindset because right now whenever something happens in the world, our first inclination as Americans ever since post-Cold War, we start to think about “what can we do?” That shouldn’t be our first choice, our first choice should be- “What does this have to do with us? Aren’t there people over there who really have a stake in settling this problem; who have more information about this problem, and who will make better choices about it than we will- blundering about and assuming we know what’s happening in their part of the world? So we have to change our mindset, and if we did it would also change their mindset. So, one of the things that is frustrating and ubiquitous in parts of the world; particularly in say, the Middle East is the prevalence of conspiracy theories about what’s happening to the people, particularly in respect to their government, and these conspiracy theories way disproportionately involve the United States. Something happens in Egypt, everybody thinks it’s because the U.S. willed it so. So, the Muslim Brotherhood wins, critics of the Muslim Brotherhood say it must be because the United States likes the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Muslim Brotherhood itself says the reason we’re having trouble governing is because the United States doesn’t like us. Nobody takes responsibility for their own situation in their own country because they believe that the United States is always there behind the scenes pulling the strings. We should make it crystal clear to people; restraint would make it crystal clear to people that that is not the case.
Second, we should capitalize on our strengths. Remembering back to that very first slide that we talked about, all four slides ago, where we talked about how the geography helped us. Right now our strategy of engaging forward means that we pay the costs of going a distance away from ourselves and fighting in somebody else’s country or imposing our will in somebody else’s country. We pay the costs of geography, actually they should pay the costs of geography; if somebody wants to change our lives and impose their will on us, I don’t think it’s going to work. I think we’re tough and we can react and we can defend ourselves, that’s good. But they should pay the extra costs of having to come over here and try to make it so. So, its a question of who’s going to pay the costs or benefit from geography; it should be us, that is a fundamental part of restraint. Similarly with technology, the way technology is changing, it’s getting harder and harder to cross water; cross these big open spaces. The United States should take advantage of that. The Chinese want to come get us, they should figure it out. We’re patrolling their coast, their coast guard should patrol their coast. Last, on this point, if you think about the cultural point I made with respect to terrorism, think about those American soldiers who end up as effectively as the mayor of little villages, whether it’s in Iraq, or Kosovo, or South East Asia, or wherever it might be, they make mistakes. They don’t know the history, they don’t understand the politics, they make the blunder, that faux pas everywhere. These guys are well intentioned, smart, capable, can-do Americans. For doing the best they can, sometimes it’s pretty good, but it’s not ideal. We should not rely on eighteen year-old Americans or twenty year-old Americans, not necessarily very experienced, basically trained how to shoot in order to make responsible political decisions about other countries. This is a poor choice of instrument of American strategy. We should choose a strategy that gives us the opportunity to not rely for national level decisions on young, low-level, untrained Americans; even though young, low level, untrained Americans are wonderful people and are doing good stuff and doing the best they can, but they should maybe be encouraged to do good stuff somewhere else.
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And now for the final point. Remember I talked about how the U.S. defense budget dwarfs other countries’ defense budgets? We have many, many resources. Some of those other countries also have many resources. So the current U.S. alliance structure… has the U.S. allied with Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, other very wealthy, capable countries that are doing well in the world. Countries that have a lot of capability to take care of problems for themselves. They have that opportunity if we give it to them. They’re not doing it now because we’re doing it on their behalf. We’re squelching their endeavors, and we should let them manage their own problems; these are capable grown-up good countries. The alliance structure has the richest country in the world, us, defending the second richest country in the world, Europe (not a country, but group of countries in the world) from a bunch of very poor and weak adversaries. This is not a sensible, just on its face, it’s just not sensible that the two richest places in the world, most capable places in the world desperately need each other for defense in the modern world. We should change that; we should have a strategy of restraint.