America’s Biggest Foreign Policy Weakness: No Grand Strategy

As 2024 begins, the global threat to American interests is on the rise as the interests of adversaries continue to align. However, Washington policymakers appear either unable or uninterested in displaying resolve.

The late Henry Kissinger noted, “Convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office.” From the opera box, it seems American leaders walked into their current positions without any ideas or historical understanding to take on the crises erupting before them. Bets are being hedged, and punches are pulled. Conflicts are crises to be managed, not wars to be won. Adversaries shun every treaty and deal they’ve signed, but diplomats insist on more talks. The United States has always struggled with producing a coherent grand strategy, and whether Washington has the ability to create one is a matter of debate. To the extent that a U.S. grand strategy exists, it seems to be the hope that things don’t deteriorate further—a precarious stance that falls short of effective policy, especially in today’s geopolitical minefield.

If the U.S. support for Ukraine continues to arrive slowly and only after significant deliberation in Washington, it will be the first and most glaring case study of American strategic lethargy after the next global war. Following stunning successes in 2022, the Ukrainian summer counteroffensive struggled to achieve objectives, facing fortified Russian lines without sufficient air cover or armor. Ukraine’s great successes—driving the Russian Navy out of Sevastopol and clearing the Black Sea—are thanks to Ukrainian ingenuity and the material support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

A serious administration and Congress should see the folly here. Invading Ukraine should have been the vice that crushed Putin’s war machine. Instead, the Russian military gnawed its way out of bear traps in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson and recovered enough strength to defend its gains in Eastern Ukraine. American rhetoric on the war belies the lack of strategy. “As long as it takes” should have given way to “Help Ukraine win now.” A victory in Ukraine would have crippled Russia and brought a powerful, experienced, and modernized force into NATO. Currently, our Eastern European allies are worried that NATO still doesn’t comprehend the threat. That can still happen, but feckless policy risks a frozen conflict. Worse, if Western support is allowed to disintegrate, we risk summoning the ghosts of the Munich appeasement to solidify Russian gains.

The Biden administration’s efforts to link the Israel-Hamas War to the Russo-Ukrainian War seemed prescient. The Moscow-Tehran partnership is strengthening, and Russia was already making public outreaches to Hamas before the October 7 massacre. Now, that linkage seems bitterly ironic. The White House is losing daylight between its initial promise of full support to Israel, facing demands from left-wing Democrats for a “permanent ceasefire.” Attacks by Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen were answered belatedly.

Where rhetoric and resolve fall short, so does the mate. The United States seems unable to produce basic arms such as howitzer shells in numbers enough to aid the two allies. Legislatively, the efforts to link Ukraine and Israel’s funding have become a trap for Democrats as the House GOP insisted on stronger border funding to the massive bill. While the original linkage showed strategic foresight, the tone of the ongoing negotiation shows how this fecklessness has become bipartisan. Democrats show hesitation to compromise on important border protection, and Republicans seemingly downplay the significance of European security. While the audience of this comedy might make strategists want to pull at their hair, at least some have pointed out that the solution to a weapons shortage is to make more weapons. A collection of Republicans have shown themselves to be pro-Israel hawks, but Russia doves. Apparently, the friendship between Putin, the Ayatollahs, and Hamas does not factor into this calculation. Perhaps pretending they have made any calculation is the mistake.

Read the rest at the National Interest.

Michael C. DiCianna is a research assistant at Yorktown Institute.

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