What’s Obama’s Grand Strategic Vision?

by Patrick Appel

Stephen Walt complains that the Obama administration “never bothered to lay out a clear strategic framework that explains why they are acting as they are” with regards to the Arab Spring and other foreign policy issues:

The problem with this ad hoc approach to policy formation is it leaves the administration perennially buffeted by events and vulnerable to pressure from all those factions, interest groups, GOP politicians, and ambitious policy wonks who think they know what ought to be done. If you don’t explain what you are trying to do and why it makes sense, it is hard for anyone to get behind the policy or see the common thread behind each separate decision.

By failing to lay out a clear set of principles — which in this case means explaining to the American people the basic points that Friedman made and why it doesn’t make sense for the US to toss a lot of resources into these various struggles — Obama & Co. end up looking inconsistent, confused, and indecisive.

By the way, laying out a clear set of strategic principles wouldn’t force the country into a rigid political straightjacket. Sometimes broad goals have to adapt to particular circumstances, and foreign policymakers often have to accept what is possible rather than what is ideal. But if you don’t explain what your underlying objectives are, why those objectives are the right ones, and how your polices are on balance going to move us in the right direction, then you are giving your political opponents a free gift and your supporters little with which to defend you.