American Grand Strategy after Iraq

Abstract

To the extent that a grand strategy can be discerned in the first year of the Obama Administration, its defining features are not a break from the past but continuity. As the President himself has analogized since taking office, crafting grand strategy is like parallel parking. He has only been able to make changes to grand strategy around the margins since a number of existing commitments limit his freedom of action. This article first identifies the structural determinants of grand strategy, pointing to the international distribution of power, American bureaucracy, and public as the key sources of strategic constraint and opportunity. It then shows how shifts in these factors—comparatively less U.S. power, an overstretched military organized around counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an American public weary from an aggressive grand strategy—produced a shift in grand strategy that predated the 2008 election and that remains consistent with the current strategic setting. It is for these reasons that the 2008 “change” election has produced considerable continuity in American grand strategy.

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