Below is a thoughtful essay by Ambassador Chas Freeman. He describes how the United States has painted itself into a corner on the Syrian Question. Many see this problem in terms of President Obama’s missteps, but Freeman shows it goes far beyond one man’s grand-strategic foibles.
While Freeman does not express the evolution of grand strategy wrt Syria Question in the following terms, the core issue is, I believe, the increasingly dysfunctional moral design for grand strategy evolved by the United States since the end of the Cold War. Abstractly, this dysfunction takes the form of a growing web of policy-induced mismatches among (a) the codes of conduct and standards of behaviour the United States professes to uphold and others expect the U.S. to uphold, (b) those standards of behaviour we actually adhere to, as demonstrated by our actions, and (c) the conditions in the world we have to contend with. The hypocrisy implicit in this web of mismatches, in abstract terms, is the moral heart of our growing foreign policy crisis and our state of perpetual war.
The crucial importance of having a moral design for grand strategy is described by the late American strategist Col. John Boyd in his seminal Discourse on Winning and Losing. In fact, this notion is the capstone grand strategic ideal synthesizing the tactical, operational, strategic, and philosophical threads of Boyd’s entire Discourse. And while the idea is expressed in highly compressed terms on Slides 54-58 of his briefing Strategic Game of ? and ?, one must study the entire Discourse to appreciate both the elegance of his compression, as well as the central importance of forging a grand strategy that is consistent with his ideal.
Exorcising those mismatches from the body politic can start with Syria, but it goes far beyond Syria to our dealings with Middle East, Iran, Russia, China, and indeed the whole world. Nor will it be be easy; extremely powerful domestic factions in the US are profiting from these mismatches, and their corollary state of perpetual war (as I explained here). Ridding ourselves of these mismatches is now the foreign policy challenge of our generation
Ambassador Freeman’s thoughtful assembly of the facts associated with our patterns of post-cold war behaviour is worthy of careful study and comparison with Boyd’s ideals, because without intending to, he reveals how far the United States has strayed from these ideas. In effect, Freeman has issued a call for an injection of common sense into American foreign policy, and Syria is the place to start working the problem.