Tellam: ‘A National Strategic Narrative’ offers solutions to put U.S. back on track

On April 8, 2011, the most important U.S. document in over 60 years exited the Pentagon. Titled “A National Strategic Narrative,” written by Capt. Wayne Porter of the U.S. Navy and Col. Mark Mykleby of the U.S. Marine Corps, the report claims the U.S. is heading down the wrong path and offers several remedies to fix our course.

The two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff published the article under the pseudonym “Mr. Y,” a historical nod to the alias of “Mr. X” used by George Kennan in his “Long Telegram.” The “Long Telegram” was published in 1946 and outlined the strategy of containment for U.S. relations with regards to the Soviet Union, becoming the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy for the next 44 years.

The report by “Mr. Y” represents not only an advance in the alphabet, but an advance in U.S. goals and strategy.

The authors point out that while the strategy of containment allowed the U.S. to emerge from the 20th century as “the most powerful nation on earth,” we failed to remember that “the world, in fact, is a complex, open system — constantly changing.” America’s policy decisions and strategies, both domestic and international, have failed in a dramatic fashion to evolve since the fall of the Soviet Union. We have thus opened the door to doubts about our ability not only to remain prosperous, but to survive.

“A National Strategic Narrative” is a radical document on many levels. The sheer breadth of its topics makes it revolutionary, yet it develops these ideas so concisely and expertly as to make them appear commonsensical. It would be impossible to sum up its insights in one article, and I encourage everyone to read it in full. I will attempt to lay out some of its most interesting and important conclusions.

To begin with, it advocates reduced defense spending. Keep in mind that while the report was released “independently,” neither Porter nor Mykleby could have released the document without considerable approval from the Pentagon. Porter and Mykleby claim that “For too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy.” This is essentially the Pentagon begging for cuts in its own appropriations. Show me any organization that is clamoring for budget cuts, and I will show you an organization that is either a) crazy or b) deeply concerned with a certain issue. This simply isn’t the modus operandi for any organization, much less the largest and most powerful organization in the world.

In order to answer the multiple choice question, we have to look at why they desire cuts in defense spending.

Porter and Mykleby claim that for America to compete in the globalized world, its citizens “must have the tools and confidence required … this begins at home with quality health care and education.” This makes such intuitive sense that it is almost surprising that it needs to be stated at all. Yet all across the country, in light of shortfalls in both national and state governments, representatives have been looking at these two sectors specifically as regions in which to make cuts. These areas represent a minuscule fraction of the budget of national and state governments, yet we continue to skim away at them while defense spending grows.

The other big claim made by the authors is that the U.S., as a nation, has to stop attempting to control the world through military, economic and social means. This is a direct holdover from containment strategy and it is failing dramatically in the 21st century. Despite advances that make our world appear smaller and more homogenized, it is in fact just as diverse and complex than ever before, if not more so. The authors say, “It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment.”

Perhaps the only sustainable approach is to stop attempting to dominate the globe and instead merely use our influence to achieve our goals. According to the authors, the U.S. needs to build “credible influence to pursue our enduring national interests.” As opposed to simply enforcing our will, we have to rebuild our influence from within — through education, technological advances, culture and a strong economy. Once we have accomplished this task, we can use our influence as a diplomatic tool to advance our national strategy.

The sole reason that the United States has been able to survive throughout the tumultuous years of its history during which greater nations have fallen has been its ability to adapt to changing global circumstances. Globalization represents the single greatest evolution of human affairs (and continual change) the world has ever known, and we have yet to properly adapt. The decline of a nation state is only visible in hindsight, so it is impossible to know if it has begun. Porter and Mykleby offer but a blueprint; Americans’ minds still need to change.

The question remains: Will we?

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