Two Texas A&M professors wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times last week that calls for United States officials to put together a cohesive and clear foreign policy “grand strategy” as the world enters a new decade.
Kimberly Field, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general who works as the executive director of the Albritton Center for Grand Strategy at the Bush School, and Texas A&M history professor Elizabeth Cobbs co-wrote an essay titled “Why Did the U.S. Kill Suleimani?” that appeared on the Times website Tuesday. In it, the scholars begin by noting that the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani (as his name is often alternately spelled) raised questions from some people across the political spectrum as to how the action “fits into America’s overall interests — in other words, our grand strategy.”
“America doesn’t really have a grand strategy,” the authors wrote in the Times. “What we do have, a patchwork of doctrines left over from the Cold War, fails to match our abilities, our national goals and the changing shape of global threats and opportunities.”
In an interview with The Eagle on Thursday — one day after President Donald Trump announced that “Iran appears to be standing down” following the U.S. killing of Soleimani and subsequent Iranian missile strike on Iraqi bases that had housed American soldiers — Cobbs said that publication of the NYT piece had been planned for some time and just happened to follow the Iranian military leader’s death. The introduction was recently rewritten, Cobbs said, to include commentary on U.S.-Iran tensions.
“Regardless of how you feel about that admittedly really maligned actor [in Soleimani], before we get embroiled in something bigger, we need to understand why — what is at stake, what are our interests there, and to what extent are we willing to pay to pursue them in terms of dollars, in terms of potential lives and in terms of reputation,” Field said on Friday.
In the essay, Cobbs and Field wrote that in its history, the United States has had two grand strategies. The first was George Washington’s “Great Rule,” which “shunned military alliances for 150 years.”
“At the time, it was possible to sit safely separated from the rest of the world by two oceans and focus on solidifying control over our slice of the continent. America had no reason to spend resources on other countries’ dubious fights, unless attacked,” they wrote.
Following World War II, the U.S. took primary responsibility for the security of its allies, the authors said, as “a way of checking” Soviet expansion.
“The Truman Doctrine, set within an American-led multilateral framework, succeeded for decades. It stabilized new United Nations rules banning conquest. Armed conflict between nations became exceptional,” the authors said in the Times.
The scholars said that following the end of the Cold War, the U.S expanded its role as the preeminent military power in the world.
“We’ve taken this military and begun to do more intervention in civil wars — and those interventions are very dicey,” Cobbs said on Thursday. “They rarely turn out how you think they’re going to turn out.”
They wrote that Trump said during his 2016 presidential run that he would shift America’s strategy toward something more closely resembling Washington’s “Great Rule” but has not governed in that vein, with the decision to kill Soleimani as an example
Moving forward, Field and Cobbs propose three potential grand strategies that they believe could guide U.S. presidents and help the American people understand their government’s foreign policy trajectory.
The first proposal is the “City on a Hill” proposal, in which the U.S. leads by example and redirects money from military commitments abroad and puts more funding toward domestic infrastructure improvements — as well as help some other nations with economic development.
A second option, which they call the “Fortress on a Hill” strategy, calls for a fiscal focus on military strength while “selectively reducing overseas bases” and providing military assistance to like-minded nations to reduce the pressure on the U.S.
The third strategy Cobbs and Field outline is the “World Policeman” approach. In that plan outline, the U.S. would continue to be the world’s “emergency responders.”
“We would guarantee security for all countries that ask, maintain existing foreign bases, increase spending on soft power assistance, and in general do whatever is necessary to remain No. 1,” they wrote.
In interviews with The Eagle, both scholars said that the world police approach is the closest to the U.S.’s current policy strategy.
“We hope that the big difference between the present policy and this third way would be to commit ourselves to not taking military action when it’s not sanctioned by the United Nations,” Cobbs said. “We would follow the rules that we helped to establish about how to behave internationally.”
Field said she is speaking in, and on, national and local news outlets to advocate for citizens to engage with questions of policy.
“You want to encourage a conversation that the American people should be having,” Field said. “It’s not a conversation that should just be happening in Washington. The American people have to be involved in these things — there is no greater form of patriotism than questioning a government and asking respectful questions to try and get some real answers.”
“The great thing about history, at least I hope, is that it helps you appreciate the patterns that have gotten you to a certain place,” Cobbs said.