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No Room for Strategic Thinking

December 23, 2018

The “stink” about President Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria is due to the effect that decision will have on Kurdish allies, the manner that the President made that decision, reportedly, after talking to Turkey’s President, and the subsequent resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

All that is relevant, except we do not hear anything about the “strategy” guiding American foreign policy. That silence is due to the fact that there is none. Not since Richard Nixon have we had a President who thought strategically in matters of foreign policy. Most Presidents were driven by ideological dispositions such as extending democracy throughout the world, assisting the downtrodden or seeking world peace.

One wonders why that is the case?

There are schools where one can learn this such as the Nitze School at Johns Hopkins and the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Though Paul Nitze and Fr. Edmund Walsh, SJ were strategic thinkers, there is little of their emphasis on strategic thought in the curricula of their institutions

In order to think strategically it helps very much to have studied, worked or traveled abroad. Some government agencies afford that opportunity as do major corporations. Spending time learning foreign languages is important also as is studying the history of important nations such as England, France, Germany and Spain whose histories are indelibly connected to the West. China and India are very important also and to build mastery of them, you’re looking at a decade of reading, study and travel to acquire the beginnings of a strategic view of politics and national security.

President Trump has none of that experience and it shows in his foreign policy decisions. They are no more than campaign promises fulfilled.

The President saw an opening in 2015 and 2016 when only Rand Paul represented the nationalistic views that Donald Trump adopted and rode those views to election in 2016. That won’t happen again because the American electorate is focused on the economy and a possible recession, not legal and illegal immigration of non-Europeans.

Unfortunately, none of the President’s appointees bring a strategic view. Jim Mattis was a good General officer but not another Paul Nitze. John Bolton is an ideological Johnny One Note looking for opportunities to commit American military forces. Occasionally a strategic thinker appears, there were one or two in the Reagan era (Bill Casey was one and Constantine Menges another). But, not many make it to the appointive ranks of high office.

I’ll let you know if I spot another.



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