Believe it or not, President Donald Trump has a grand strategy. According to some analysts, Trump’s endless streams of erratic and apparently improvisational ideas don’t add up to anything consistent or purposeful enough to call a grand strategy. We see it otherwise. Beneath all the rants, tweets, and noise there is actually a discernible pattern of thought — a Trumpian view of the world that goes back decades. Trump has put forward a clear vision to guide his administration’s foreign policy — albeit a dark and highly troubling one, riddled with tensions and vexing dilemmas.
Grand strategy is the conceptual architecture that lends structure and form to foreign policy. A leader who is “doing grand strategy” is not handling global events on an ad hoc or case-by-case basis. A grand strategy, rather, represents a more purposeful and deeply held set of concepts about a country’s goals and orientation in international affairs.
At a minimum, a grand strategy consists of an understanding of the basic contours of the international environment, a country’s highest interests and objectives within that environment, the most pressing threats to those interests, and the actions that a country can take in order to address threats and promote national security and well-being. Grand strategy, then, is both diagnostic and prescriptive. It combines an analysis of what is happening in the world and how it impacts one’s country, with a more forward-looking concept of how a country might employ its various forms of power — hard or soft, military or economic — to sustain or improve its global position. Every grand strategy has a “what” dimension, a notion of what constitutes national security in the first place, and a “how” dimension, a theory of how to produce security in a dynamic international environment and given the tools at hand.