The question before the house is: have our commitments to Ukraine and threats to Taiwan forced the U.S. to reconsider potential involvements in other parts of the world? The short answer is no—we are not forced to limit our actions based on those commitments. We have the strategic bandwidth to take decisive action in multiple parts of the world at once if we have to do so.
That stated, I strongly believe the U.S. should change course and recover its “Peace through Strength” grand strategy approach employed especially well by the President Reagan administration, and be much more careful in its decisions to use military force. Since Vietnam, the U.S. has been too hasty to use force and that approach has not made us safer. In the process, we have expended resources (including the precious lives of our citizens) that would have been better invested elsewhere. Those wars of choice have also significantly contributed to the polarizing of American politics and the tearing of our nation’s social fabric. Social and political turmoil sap national power, and limiting this development is an important consideration when choosing a grand strategy.
Our grand strategy should be grounded in realism that is advanced by deterrence and strengthened by alliances, with the aim of securing American vital interests, especially promoting peace and prosperity for all of her citizens.
Beyond the aforementioned, I offer three additional reasons for reestablishing a grand strategy of “Peace through Strength.”
1) We are blessed with the natural resources, remarkable human potential, and impressive military capabilities to establish a credible deterrence that would influence the strategic decision- making of China, Russia, and other potential adversaries. As the U.S. (and West’s) victory over the communist bloc during the Cold War displayed, this “Peace through Strength” grand strategy approach works.
2) This approach is fiscally responsible and sustainable, an aspect of grand strategy design often overlooked. History demonstrates that nations who over-extend and squander precious resources unnecessarily invite dire consequences. It could be argued that the Soviet Union’s failure to develop a fiscally responsible and sustainable grand strategy played an important role in the West’s victory during the Cold War. Wars of choice are not in our interests, especially when a military occupation is employed after intervention and regime change.
To be clear, the U.S. military operation to defeat al-Qaeda after the attacks of September 11, 2001 was just and initially effective. But the 20-year occupation that followed was folly, which is especially disappointing considering we appeared to learn nothing from the British and Soviet empires’ disastrous occupations on the very same ground. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not justified and also a strategic mistake, and the decade-long occupation that followed was not much better–– although we do appear to have achieved some positive strategic effects two decades on. While beyond the scope of this essay, I maintain we could have achieved better strategic effects in Iraq by other methods than invasion and avoided all the wrenching costs.
It’s important to point out that a “Peace through Strength” approach does not rule out covert kinetic operations against terrorist organizations when intelligence warrants such action against adversaries planning, coordinating, and rehearsing for attacks against Americans. The distinction here is between one course of action that relies on rapid strike operations by Joint Special Operations Forces against a known enemy combatant group; and another course of action that commits massive amounts of U.S. conventional ground (and Joint) forces to invasion of a sovereign nation, regime change, and a lengthy and costly military occupation of a foreign land. Military occupations appear contrary to our values and have not proven to make our nation safer.
3) There is historical precedence for a “Peace through Strength” approach dating all the way back to President George Washington’s administration, and importantly, this approach is consistent with our professed values as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Our highest aspiration is to be a peaceful nation whose chief aim is to secure liberty and promote prosperity for all so that each citizen may be the author of their life, living up to their God-given potential. As President Washington convincingly argued in his Farewell Address, a constant state of war abroad is bad for liberty at home (and costly). Our country, on our best day, does not start wars, although we are prepared to finish them on our terms if attacked. We prefer instead to deter wars and work with friends and allies to keep the peace, promote commerce, and stand as an example for the world of how a republic can help set the condition for its citizens to lead successful, meaningful, and joyful lives.
Effective deterrence relies on convincing potential adversaries that any offensive action they may take will result in costs exceeding benefits. While always projecting strength and demonstrating the political will to do what is necessary to prevail when challenged is a must, sometimes strategic ambiguity and being somewhat unpredictable help achieve optimal outcomes. You can enhance deterrence by keeping your potential adversaries off balance. Potential adversaries should always interact with America with the notion that we are a better friend than foe.
At this inflection point in world history, for all the reasons stated, we should change course and recover this proven strategic approach that Reagan employed to advance freedom and protect our cherished way of life.
 For more on how to design and implement a “Peace through Strength” grand strategy approach see Chris Gibson, Rally Point (New York: Twelve Books, 2017), chapter 1.