A US Strategic Vision in a Changing World Order

Because the US faces multiple challenges simultaneously—economic, political, ideological, and military—a comprehensive strategy is needed to preserve stability and protect our interests and our allies in the pivotal regions of the Middle East and Asia. These essays offer policy prescriptions toward the development of a grand strategic vision.

ESSAYS

The Question of American Strategy in the Indo-Pacific
by Michael R. Auslin

For much of its history, America had little formal strategy for the Pacific. Only with the rise of China and the vital economic role of Asia can one envision a US grand strategy with the Indo-Pacific region at its core. Yet just when Asia has become central to US global strategy, Washington’s influence and power in the region have been significantly challenged. US policy makers must formulate an effective and comprehensive strategy toward Asia that preserves stability and protects American and allied interests while managing a growing strategic competition between Washington and Beijing and the threat of a nuclear-capable North Korea. 

The United States in Northeastern Syria: Geopolitical Strategy Cannot Ignore Local Reality
by Fabrice Balanche

The presence of the United States in northeastern Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State is justified in the context of the confrontation with Iran and Russia in the Middle East. However, by relying primarily on the YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, Washington creates an existential threat to Ankara and pushes Turkey into the arms of America's enemies. The inversion of local power to the benefit of the Kurds and the disastrous economic situation strike the Arab populations, who are turning to Damascus. That calls into question all the calculations made by strategists who are not interested in the deep reality of the territory that must support their action.

Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Enduring War on Terror
by Hal Brands

The United States has now been fighting a global war on terror (GWOT) for nearly two decades, but the threat posed by extremist groups remains. This essay seeks to reconcile the strategic requirement of prosecuting an aggressive campaign against the most dangerous extremist groups with the grand strategic constraints that the United States currently faces. After reviewing the principal strategic options from which the United States might choose, it recommends a medium-footprint military strategy, one that entails an aggressive operational posture but avoids the high military, economic, and political costs associated with manpower-intensive stabilization and counterinsurgency missions. The limitations of this strategy are numerous, not the least of which is that it will not bring about decisive victory in the GWOT anytime soon. But it nonetheless represents the best of a set of bad options for protecting the United States in an age of enduring terror. 

Assad's Lethal Peace Deals
by Mohammed Alaa Ghanem

Ceasefires are often assumed to be a means to peace; but in Syria, the Assad regime has transformed them into a powerful weapon against civilians. This essay describes how Assad's forces have strategically deployed ceasefires to achieve two goals: (1) the starvation and displacement of urban areas, and (2) the massing of otherwise overstretched forces. Through a series of case studies, this essay also charts the evolution of Assad's ceasefires strategy, from the “local ceasefires” that took hold early in the conflict to the current “de-escalation zones.” The essay also highlights impacts on Iranian regional expansion and long-term population displacement and demographic re-engineering. 

Countering Islamism in the Middle East
by Dennis Ross

Countering Islamism requires several elements. First is defining the term and understanding that Islam is one of the world’s great faiths and that Islamism is not a religion but an ideology of power and control.  Second is recognizing that radical Islamists seek to use that ideology to gain control for a violent, exclusionary, and expansionary agenda.  Third is realizing that radical Islamists are both Sunni and Shia.  The Sunnis, in the case of the Islamic State, must be defeated and the idea must be discredited—and only other Sunnis can do that.  Fourth is knowing that we have a stake in the success of Saudi Vision 2030—there has never been a successful model of development in the Arab Middle East and the emergence of one could undercut the appeal of radical Islamists and deny them the fertile ground of failed governance that they exploit.  The final element is blocking the radical Shia Islamists. Iran's continuing expansion must be contained and Syria is the place this must start.

Russia and the World of Islam: Within and Without
by Robert Service

Of all the world's great powers, Russia has the longest and most tangled experience of Islam at home and abroad. Muslims have led or taken part in revolts. Chechnya is only the latest such rebellion against Russian rule. Tsars, commissars, and now presidents have had to contend with internal difficulties that are aggravated by external Islamic interference. They have also intervened actively in Muslim countries in the "near abroad" and in the Middle East. This makes for danger in world politics.

The Sorrows of Egypt Revisited
by Samuel Tadros

Does Egypt still have a place in the US grand strategy? For many pundits in Washington the answer is a resounding no. From every corner of the US foreign policy community frustration abounds with Egypt. If, however, the United States is ever capable of understanding its troublesome ally and salvaging what remains of the US–Egyptian alliance, it must tread carefully, following Fouad Ajami’s steps, and approach the Egypt of reality, and not that of imagination. It must take a voyage to “a jaded country,” as Ajami called it, and visit the land of sorrows.

Iran on the Brink: Challenges and Opportunities for Washington
by Sanam Vakil

In this essay, Sanam Vakil assesses the four interconnected economic, regional, domestic, and nuclear deal challenges besetting Iran. These challenges have emerged due to renewed US pressure against Iran but also stem from Iran’s endemic factional tensions between pragmatists and conservatives and their ideological differences on how to best protect the Islamic Republic. Vakil also argues that the gravity of these challenges offers a unique opportunity to the Trump administration to move beyond its traditional containment policy toward a meaningful grand strategy to reduce US-Iranian tensions.