Walter Russell Mead’s WSJ op-ed on President Obama’s “failed Mideast policy” is getting quite a bit of comment, in the blogosphere and beyond. James Joyner has a nice post on it. Much of the blogospheric commentary has taken the form of ad hominems, the rhetorical equivalent of “Oh, yeah?”
Dr. Mead jumbles strategy and grand strategy a bit in the op-ed. As I read the op-ed he sees the president’s grand strategy was to make the Middle East more democratic using the strategy of working with moderate Islamist groups. That’s the same grand strategy as President Bush had; the difference is in strategy rather than grand strategy.
Every American grand strategy that has been attempted with a top-down approach has foundered. In President Obama’s case it’s because the strategy was a contradiction in terms. President Bush’s strategy had that problem and more—not only did it have internal contradictions (not everyone aspires to democracy) but it lacked the support of substantial portions of the American people.
In the United States grand strategy is an emergent phenomenon. As much as our elites wish they were 19th century British aristocrats, they aren’t. Any successful American grand strategy will come from the bottom up rather than the top down.
What is the American grand strategy for the Middle East? Do we have one? Should we?