The Best Defense

America’s enduring grand strategy: The Constitution of the United States

It's a common complaint among big thinkers that the United States lacks a strategy. But Mark Lewis, who advises senior government officials on national security, recently commented in a note to several friends that we do have a grand strategy, that it is laid out in a document, and that it has been in place for more than two centuries: The Constitution of the United States.

"What if -- just what if -- our grand strategy is internally focused, not externally focused?" he asked. "What if it's the Constitution and every effort since then to remain consistent with those founding principles is our strategy? Some of those efforts manifest themselves in the way we engage the rest of the world."

He added, "The Preamble describes the end state, and the Articles and Amendments describe how to organize the elements of national power to achieve it. I think the key is the enduring principles, but the ability to adapt over time as conditions change."

Meanwhile, my friend John Byron, a retired Navy submariner, poses a related strategic question: Might we be better off fighting them here instead of aggravating them there?:

As we continue to get nowhere in Afghanistan (a war to end terrorism) and have no end in sight, isn't it time to explore the contrast between the successes of the law-enforcement approach to potential acts of terrorism in the U.S. and the dubious efficacy of our military efforts to do the same?

On one hand, we rooted out the Taliban and removed Al Qaeda's safe haven. On the other, we've certainly made many more terrorists worldwide than we've eliminated in the Middle East. And what of the alternative uses of the incredible sums of money we are spending to help our friend Hamid Karzai: how much better would it be to apply even a fraction of this sum to counter terrorism directly in the U.S.?

Strategy is choice-taking. We've chosen to fight terrorists where they might live in a future time rather than where we do live now. Is this the sound strategic choice? You've done a great job of juxtaposing HIC vs LIC in your blog. Now how about the trade-offs between military action there and direct counter-terrorism at the target sites.

The Best Defense

Steve Coll on how to understand the Times Square wannabe bomber

There are certain events that are made for certain reporters. For example, everything in Anthony Shadid's career prepared him to cover post-invasion Iraq. Likewise, if you want to understand the guy who tried to bomb Times Square, you need to read the New Yorker‘s Steve Coll, the only person I can think of who has written books about the South Asian subcontinent, the Taliban and Islamic extremism terrorism, but who also understands New York City, and indeed co-authored a book about Wall Street.

Take it away, Steve:

Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad's profile -- especially a U.S. citizen -- turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual's case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack -- without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a ‘freebie,' the former officer said -- if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.

Francisco Diez/flickr