Obama Tries To Weave A Strategic Narrative: But Did He Check The Feng Shui?

Listening to the chattering classes, a paramount challenge for U.S. strategy is ‘the lack of a narrative.’ What is to go after ‘Once upon a time . . .’?

Obama tries his hand declaring by fiat ‘we have turned the page’ from whatever 2001-2011 was. (Report here). Apparently, winding down two land wars allowed him to glimpse the U.S. would seek agility with inevitable force re-sizing. Who knew? Conveniently forgotten is that DoD now has more contractors in *Afghanistan* than uniformed personnel anyway.

At its core the Stiftung finds the report, well, Goldilocks. Compared to competing camps and their ‘narratives’. Its cardinal achievement? To begin re-focusing institutional U.S. geostrategic fixation on Europe and re-align it to the Pacific Rim, alas 20 years too late.

U.S. Shifts Strategic Focus To China

This PR exercise is also less than it seems. Most of the hard questions about mission re-definement made real through procurement? Punted. A defense budget and alleged cuts, etc. are always gamed not what they seem. Obama claims he will start cutting $480 billion over the next ten years. First, reductions in future rates of growth are not reductions at all. Second, given the (malfunctioning) annual budget authorization and appropriations process, projecting beyond 3 years is to party with Charlie Sheen. The Stiftung has long-supported a two-year budget appropriation cycle but people on the Hill prefer the one year approach for narrow self-interested political reasons.

A Few Trillion And Soon You’re Talking Real Chinese Tax Payer Money

The current Obama FY defense budget is over $708 billion. That is over double the FY 2001 outlay of $316 billion. (And for those counting, pure top line defense industry profit – the net of the net profit in 2011 was over $25 billion according to SEC filings. That is a 400% increase since 2001).

Let’s put everything in context: the U.S. since 2001 spent $ 4trillion on defense *and* a further $1.4 trillion fighting actual wars. The latter costs were kept ‘off budget’ in so-called ’emergency’ war supplementals. (Don’t blame just Cheney, et al, a Democratic Senate went along). Remember that when you see frowns about ‘dangerous’ cuts, etc.

Substantively, the apparent fantasy is that U.S. power projection will be light and fast, with drones, JSOC and CONUS-based kinetic strike. The need for littoral heavy footprints and consequent force protection and SLOCs, etc? Gone. Booyah!

It’s a convenient day dream. Littoral access just about anywhere along the so-called Crescent of Crisis will be contested if not denied, whether Iran, Korea, the ASEAN region, etc. The pivot from Europe (so-called) is two decades over due. The Army presence there a hang-over from 1949 and 1991. So some down-sizing inevitable anyway. The Marines, by the way are themselves seeking a smaller force. They want to go back to being both elite and focused on their unique mission. Stationing a token presence in Australia a geopolitical signal Asians will understand.

You’d be excused for wondering how the U.S. forgets its own Asian Lost Weekend. It deployed unprecedented kinetic violence, body counts and Special Forces and eventually sent GROPOS ashore at Danang. The internal logic of escalation dominance (irrational to an objective outside observer) and all that. How’d that work out?

According to Obama’s document the U.S. will not repeat Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. You see, Obama has invented ‘partial-pregnancy’. We will assert U.S. global superiority but not with onshore footprint of large combat forces. We will intervene and help domestic entities but won’t get ‘dragged in.’ Apparently it is the geo-political equivalent of the Rhythm Method. We don’t need to worry about logistics or CSAR because, well, because. While a drone base has a smaller footprint than a F-22/F-35 capable runway, bladders, hangers, etc. the report doesn’t deal with the future of Jedi Knights sitting in cockpits.

Overall, it’s a B. Leaving Europe and realizing the future will be in Asia notable achievements given endemic superficial U.S. strategic planning. A few rice bowls got nudged. Most of all Obama cynically kicked the can down the road after the elections for the details and real turf fights. Because you just know how well Obama does when he’s fresh off a victory. It’s bank, man.


Appropos of absolutely nothing, but offered as a public service. What history suppressed. And now can be revealed.

Strategic Conference, U.S. President, Soviet Union, British Empire


  1. Sam Lowry says

    Those are good points. Just found a site (Polling Report) that compiles poll results and according to some recent ones (CNN, CBS/NYT, USAToday/Gallup), support for our Afghanistan endeavor is extremely low. So I can see where that, combined with the Movement’s discarding of the military as a prop (per your previous post), would make using our withdrawal to galvanize support for some kind of “stab in the back” meme a tough sell.

  2. Sam Lowry says

    Came across a couple of pieces indicating the extent of strategic disasterousness that our (mis)adventure in Afghanistan has become. However, I wonder if, going into an election year, this realization will be used to fuel some kind of “stab in the back” narrative (something like “we were winning in Afghanistan when Bush/Cheney/Republicans were running things, but now we’ve lost because liberals/Democrats/seekrit Kenyan anti-colonialists/[insert non-rightist group here] hate America and love ‘the terrorists'”)

    While I hadn’t heard of Franklin Spinney before, a brief search of the internets leads me to believe he is a credible source of analysis?

    He also makes use of the term “Versailles on the Potomac” to refer to DC. A definite plus .

    An intriguing first person account “outside the wire” from an Australian:

    • DrLeoStrauss says

      Agree Frank Spinney’s voice has earned attention. Am unaware of anyone outside some last ditch Neocons who thinks Afghanistan isn’t a slow mo retreat.

      Which is actually fine. Our enemy was never the Taliban per se but specifically the now-all-but disintegrated Al Qaeda. COIN and nation-builders mercifully discredited. Interesting links, Sam.

      Perhaps political gamesmanship and the optics of retreat will play out in 2014 even more than 2012. Hard to see, however, how support for the misadventure rises from today’s level, even among the Movement.

  3. jwb says

    Didn’t know where to put this and a link may have appeared elsewhere, since I’ve been out of circulation for a good long while, but I found this article fascinating, even though it appeared in huffpo:


    Fascinating, yes, but I really wasn’t certain what to make of it. Bromwich clearly has an ax to grind (several actually), even as he is not about to tell us for whom he is grinding this particular ax. A lot of sharp observation mixed with occasional slips into truthiness that seem to serve a purpose other than the usual scoring of cheap political points. Comments?

  4. says

    Newt really does not liked to be called a chickenhawk. No one ever got more upset then Max Boot – saw him get totally flustered and lose his train of thought when someone called him that in a drive by fashion. Romney is a chickenhawk, but for some reason it will stick to him like it does to the insecure Newt.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      You’re dead on re Newt’s fear of chickenhawkdom. He’ll go to great lengths when talking with others who served to find some arcane factoid to assert conversational dominance/right to be in-selected.


      “It’s patently obvious once one realizes that Stonewall Jackson’s stirrups were made by a tannery that was riddled with Northern sympathizers that he would be shot that way. Confederate counter-intellgience absolutely failed, a failure that we must study and apply those lessons today”.

      [ret. 2 star Marine general]

      [WTF?] “Mr. Speaker, fascinating. We’d really appreciate any help you could give us on the Ospery hold-up. They’re vital for our power projection capa – -”

      [Newt:] “A crucial mission for maintaining American civilization. When the Duce was held hostage, remember that Otto Skorzeny used gliders to approach the Italian traitor hold out and make the successful rescue . . . Do you know what Skorzeny had for breakfast that day? It’s instructive for our modern American doctrine.”

  5. says

    That’s about the only Diesel poster I’ve ever found in the least bit clever or funny.

    Anyway, a swing towards a maritime and fundamentally conservative strategic posture seems sensible and indeed overdue.
    Alex recently posted..Konsidered a waste of time

  6. Aldershot says

    Sounds logical. A nice, polite mutual build-up between the US and China; what could be more civilized?

  7. Dr Leo Strauss says

    During the Unified Government under Bush, the saying was Republican leadership and staff knew the geography of Israel and surrounding lands better than the U.S. and possibly their own state (if on the House side). And it was true in our experience.

  8. says

    The test should be “does this place appear in the Bible?” and if it does, the less money and time we spend there will be to our advantage/

    But here’s the rub – That’s not a popular thing to say.

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