zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Metz on Grand Strategy

Metz on Grand Strategy

Dr. Steven Metz of SSI is the author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.

I will have some comments on Big Steve’s presentation in an update here later tonight.


The presentation was informative and thorough and I often found myself in agreement.

Liked Metz’s emphasis of affordability/efficiency, vertical/horizontal and especially internal vs. external variables and would suggest that in the future he compact elsewhere to expand that section. Perhaps this is not the most significant aspect for the military officers that come to study at NDU and SSI, but the internal-external dynamic is the “third rail” of grand strategic thought – the connection between the domestic political conception of what Walter Lippmann called  “The Good Society” and the capacity of that good society to survive and thrive in a hostile world ( John Boyd emphasized this point – what Metz calls “augmenting”, Boyd referred to variously as “constructive”, “pumping up”, “attracting”or “vitality and growth” and considered it a definitive characteristic of grand strategy).

When there is what Steve in his lecture called a “strong consensus” on grand strategy, a nation’s  state and political economy are in sync with its foreign relations and military posture. For example, the Founding Fathers, aware of America’s great potential but weak condition, erected the Constitution and Federalism, Hamilton’s plan for economic development and Washington’s “no entangling alliances”, modest navy and small military establishment. FDR and Truman realized that the American system of liberal capitalist democracy could not last in a world dominated by depression, totalitarianism and autarky and delivered the Atlantic Charter, the UN, Bretton Woods, the IMF and World Bank, the GATT, the Marshall Plan and NATO, imparting American values into global institutions and importing global institutions into America. Where there is a “weak consensus” – as there is today – it is because the nation is divided on the nature of a good society and/or its role in the world leaving grand strategy flawed or absent.

Worth watching.

3 Responses to “Metz on Grand Strategy”

  1. onparkstreet Says:

    That is one good lecture. It’s fun as a sometime educator to listen to lectures – especially good ones – and pick up tips on how to present information.
    I paid close attention to the section on partnerships (ahem) and included it my latest comment section screed at Inkspots. I dunno, man. I’m gettin’ weird, what with all the screeching about strategy and Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and the rest of it. DC would make me insane if I lived there.
    – Madhu

  2. zen Says:

    It makes many insane, in my observation 🙂

  3. T. Greer Says:

    I agree, Metz would do good to expand on the initial section. The "internal/external" and "horizontal/vertical" discussion was the most interesting part of the entire lecture.


    On the issue of internal strategy I concur with Zen. Indeed, I go further than he – national purpose is not just a third rail, but the necessary prerequisite for grand strategy itself. The United States can have no grand strategy ’til America has developed some sense of unified purpose that stretches across the spectrum. A few months ago I wrote a post germane to this discussion. Said I:


    In times of crisis it is this sense of of purpose that has sustained the Republic, and in achieving national goals it is this sense of purpose that has acted as the unconscious guide of American statesmen and citizens alike. Strip away America’s mission, and you have stripped away America. And in doing so you have stripped away our grand strategy as well.

    You will be hard pressed to find a strategy articulated and pursued by American statesmen that was not embedded in a larger sense of American purpose. The isolationism of the early 1800s was rooted in the conviction that America was creating “an Empire of Liberty”, untouched by the despotism of the old world. 50 years later the nation fulfilled its “Manifest Destiny” to “Extend the Area of Freedom” by expanding to the Pacific coast. Before Roosevelt could put “Germany First”, he needed to declare that his country was “The Arsenal of Democracy”.  Kennan’s policy of containment was reliant on the assurance that America was the true and only “Leader of the Free World.”

    Phrases like "Manifest Destiny" and "Arsenal of Democracy" were not merely the rhetorical flourish used by canny politicians to justify the exercise of power. They were the reason power was exercised in the first place. These phrases were, in essence, bit-sized distillations of the mission and purpose Americans claimed for their nation. Containment only worked because the American populace believed that it was America’s mission to act as the Leader of the Free World. Cold War grand strategy was an outgrowth of this mission – a means to maintaining the mission’s end. 

    Purpose provides America with a vision. It prioritizes our interests, informs us of our enemies, and tells us what position we seek to hold on the international scene. A nation without a purpose is a nation without a grand strategy to achieve it.


    And it is in exactly this situation that America has found herself.

Switch to our mobile site