Sponsorship strategies bolster and subsidise allies who share America’s interests and are motivated to implement them.

Critics of US President Barack Obama’s grand strategy have alternatively argued that the president has one and it is wrongheaded, or that he has none and needs one. This latter claim extends beyond the predictable array of Republicans jostling to contest the 2016 presidential election to include varied analysts, academics and even members of the president’s own party, notably Hillary Rodham Clinton.1

The substance of the latest National Security Strategy (NSS) has been analysed, scrutinised and criticised. The 2010 NSS signalled a departure from its immediate predecessors by taking a more complex view of international threats, emphasising multilateralism, acknowledging the limits of American resources and highlighting the importance of domestic well-being.2 But the 2015 version offers a more radical approach, including substantial references to climate change, education and economic security. It also emphasises ‘strategic patience’. The 2015 NSS draws attention to the general lack of patience of both the US political system and the US public when it comes to addressing foreign-policy issues. This emphasis is revealing. America’s muscular political culture emphasises the need for quick solutions, preferably by demonstrating resolute leadership and using overwhelming force. Running for president in 2008, Obama described: 

a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.3

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Peter Dombrowski is a Professor in the Strategic Research Department of the US Naval War College.

Simon Reich is a Professor in the Division of Global Affairs and Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, Newark.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

October-November 2015

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