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The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America's Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century

June 06, 2016

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Mark Mykleby, Patrick Doherty, and Joel Makower have written "a business plan for America that combines hard-nosed economic analysis with stark truths about demographic shifts, climate change, and resource scarcity."

The story of how The New Grand Strategy came to be is a fascinating journey through the halls of power and public policy development.

It all began when Admiral Mike Mullen, the seventeenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (nominated in 2007 by George W. Bush), tasked Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby with creating a grand strategy for America in 2009. What they delivered was a white paper entitled A National Strategic Narrative.

Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business, and then Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, was an early proponent of the paper. She shepherded it through the Washington establishment, and ended up writing the foreword to the paper when it entered the public domain through the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2011. Thomas Friedman moderated a debate there on its merits, and became another key advocate. Mykleby left the Marine Corps and teamed up with public policy strategist Patrick Doherty at the New America think tank, who produced another white paper, called A New U.S. Grand Strategy, that (with the help of longtime aide to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson) found its way into the current administration. The Obama Administration, while passing on its larger ideas, challenged the authors to produce "three ingredients necessary for any administration to consider a new grand strategy: content, coalition, and an implementations plan."

Two years ago, they decided that it would be best to get out of the beltway to continue their work, and they took up the invitation of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and formed the Strategic Innovation Lab there. After meeting Joel Makower, a sustainable business strategist, gave them a third leg to balance their efforts on. They now had "a military strategist, a policy strategist, and a sustainable business strategist who arrived at a similar vision from different disciplines, perspectives, political leanings, even generations." Together, they produced The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America's Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century:

 

It tells the story of a grand strategy, born within the Pentagon, to recapture America's greatness at home and abroad by elevating sustainability as a strategic imperative.

 

The question they set out to answer is a big one: "What is America's role in the world?" That question isn't easy to define these days. "The cause we must embrace as a nation," they tell us, "is to lead the world's transition to a more sustainable order. No one else is in a position to do this."

Our cause, therefore, our purpose, should be one of leadership. But to take on that mantle, we must first "get on with the hard work of fixing ourselves instead of squandering precious time on ideological debates and ineffectual dithering." Americans have done this before. Our country's response to The Great Depression, to the onset of World War II, and to the Cold War all came in tumultuous times, required such strategic shifts and realignments. And that is where the authors begin—by looking to America's foundational beliefs, specifically the Preamble to the Constitution:

 

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

 

They describe specific moments in our history when we rose to meet these ideals by using "the Preamble's six action words—form, establish, insure, provide, promote, and secure" to strengthen and extend our experiment in self-government to more people, from the Civil War that freed the slaves in our own country to the Cold War, when we built a liberal economic world order to counter the threat of Communism. Most often, those moments were defined by grand strategies that drove business growth, with that growth acting as the undergirding of our national and international interests. Explaining how the strength of our economy has always backed up our foreign policy, military efforts, and national security, they propose a new business plan for America to lay the groundwork for renewed growth.

There are obviously challenges to that growth, but so many of them are internal challenges—and where there are challenges, there are opportunities. There is pent up demand inherent in the changes taking place in our economy. The three pools of demand they identify are "Walkable Communities," in the urban landscape and small towns of America, "Regenerative Agriculture" in both urban and rural settings, and "Resource Productivity" in American manufacturing. It is probably the Resource Productivity section that most regular business readers will feel most at home. You'll read about The Industrial Internet, collaboration and fixit economy, the maker movement, zero-waste factories (like Subaru's plant in Lafayette, Indiana, which achieved that status in 2004) and the idea of a circular economy being embrace by more and more of the country's largest corporations.

The fact that they thought it best to leave the beltway to continue their work is a sad indictment of our current political climate, but if anything, the current election season is certainly proving that a prudent and prescient move. And the authors detail how we can accomplish this without Washington, and while I'm not sure I'm convinced on that score, it seems increasingly likely—with the deadlock there—that we'll have to. Of course, one of the underlying causes of the issues we face as a country is a citizenry disengaged from the ongoing experiment in their own self-government. One of the great challenges of this generation is getting off the sidelines and getting back to work of leadership on the local level.

Mykleby, Doherty, and Makower have provided many ideas to start that work. It is going to take a lot of hard and smart work in our communities, corporations, and city councils across America to build the future the authors' envision, and they're clear that there's no real template. But they have me convinced that it's necessary to set out, start finding our way, and building anew.

Attempting to maintain the status quo is causing us to miss economic opportunities, stifle innovation, and, in fact, undermining our national security in the long term. Instead of trying to protect our global positions as they exists today, we must create entirely new ones by once again taking up the mantle of leadership and helping move our communities, and hopefully, eventually, the world, toward a more sustainable economic, environmental, and secure future. 

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