In the decade since September 2001, why is the U.S. still reacting to events rather than planning ahead, separating challenges instead of connecting them, and pretending we'll live in a unipolar world forever?
To understand 21st century geopolitics, think of the global capitalist system: it is a marketplace, not a monopoly. In this diffuse network of nodes and connections, stronger and weaker ties, interdependencies and feedback loops, bad decisions are punished almost as quickly as the stock market punishes bad business models. We have just lived through the inaugural cycle of this geopolitical marketplace. Two decades ago, president George H.W. Bush proclaimed a "New World Order" at the United Nations General Assembly, yet today's world is multipolar and leaderless. It is a Gaullist world: no allies, only interests. The difference between alliance and dalliance is just one letter.
It is in this context of realities too complex for sound bites that we must formulate grand strategy. Sadly, though this imperative has been especially clear since the September 2001 attacks, rather than focusing on meaningful strategy, Washington's policy elites appear to have spent the past decade obsessed with finding a winning narrative. Like a high school debate competition, style seems to matter more than substance. Absent a coherent grand strategy to guide them, debates about national security spending and defense budget cuts quickly devolve into turf wars, ultimately decided by patronage rather than national interest. Graduating from the hard-versus-soft power divide and embracing "smart power" is considered a great intellectual stride. Jargon swamps strategy.