A policy of strategic ambiguity” is a striped-pants way of saying “keep your opponent guessing.” It also can be a Foggy Bottom euphemism for lack of policy, or for just not knowing what to do in a difficult situation. It has the advantage of keeping your opponent off balance, never quite sure what your intentions are, making it more difficult for him to formulate a policy of his own or to implement one to counter your strengths.
But such a policy also can be dangerous because it may just lead your opponent to misinterpret your unstated basic interests and possible reactions when you cannot in the end tolerate their being further eroded and … bang! World War I, World War II and …
Alas, we are in that situation on a number of fronts today. Some of them were long in the making, but some are direct results of “leading from behind,” the Obama administration’s peculiar version of strategic ambiguity. That has proceeded from a public policy of apologizing and denigrating American actions of the past and abdicating the role of world leader established with the U.S. and Allied victory in World War II.
The Obama approach also has been a projection of a denial of a long-held American concept — that, because Americans do not owe their origin to a single race, a single ethnicity, a single religion or a single all-encompassing motivation, the republic was built on an ideological concept. Whether in the Founding Fathers’ words, or in those of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” Americans thought they had a unique reason for existing. In a sense, it doesn’t really make all that much difference if this belief in “American exceptionalism” is true or false, because it has been fundamental to holding together the country and its society in pursuit of often very difficult if laudatory goals.
True, the current American situation arises from relative and perhaps objective weaknesses. The U.S. economy has short-term and long-term problems that may be greater than at any other time since the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s. Public opinion on so many issues is as deeply divided as ever, even in moments of great disarray such as on the eve of the War Between the States. Dealing with the continuing technological revolution has spiked with the arrival of digitalism in all its forms, challenging American political, social and economic ingenuity as it has not been challenged since the coming of industrialization and the great Western expansion of the 19th century. Self-criticism and self-mockery, always welcome in any free society, have reached outrageous proportions, imperiling basic values of self-control and discipline that any society must have to maintain its values.
But the glass is only half-empty. America still, after 300 years of exploitation, remains an incredibly rich environment — notably in our vast farmlands that dwarf the arable areas of other nations, perhaps even continents. Our mineral and energy resources — as the shale revolution most recently has revealed — with our vast coal deposits waiting for new technologies to use are still unique. Pick up a small weekly in any part of the country and you see that the genius for voluntarism the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville recognized as the treasure of American democracy is still alive and well in the nation’s myriad local associations, both religious and secular. Immigrants still flock through the golden door and strengthen our own native talents, as Silicon Valley continues to exemplify. Our unsurpassed military, not only for its spirit of sacrifice and nobility of spirit but also in its ability to improvise in unfamiliar circumstances, is, if nothing else, an expression of all these assets.
With the likelihood of the coming crash of the euro, with all its implications for our mother civilization as well as the direct effects on our own economy, with the chaos overtaking the Middle East where, unfortunately, we cannot ultimately avoid decisions, and with the growing disenchantment with what had seemed to be miraculous economic advancement in East and South Asia, it is well to recall America’s unique strengths as we formulate policies, rather than choosing the strategic ambiguity option. As one of his critics said to John F. Kennedy, referring to his book on leadership, what we need right now is a little less profile and a bit more courage.
• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at email@example.com and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.
Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.
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