Steve Walt asks whether Obama or Putin is the better strategist and concludes its a tie.
So who’s the better strategist? On one side, Obama does have an underlying sense of realism and understands that U.S. interests in many places are limited. He also grasps that our capacity to dictate outcomes is equally constrained, especially when it involves complicated matters of social engineering in divided societies very different from our own. In other words: Nation-building is expensive, goddamn hard, and for the most part unnecessary. But he has to lead a foreign-policy establishment that is addicted to “global leadership” — if only to keep giving itself something to do — and he faces an opposition party that derides any form of “inaction,” even when its proposed alternatives are “mumbo-jumbo.”
Putin, by contrast, has done a better job of matching his goals to the resources he has available, which is one of the hallmarks of a good strategist. His failing is that it’s all short-term and essentially defensive; he is fighting a series of rearguard actions designed to prevent Russia’s global position from deteriorating further, instead of pursuing a program that might enhance Russia’s power and status over the longer term.
And Adam Elkus at War on the Rocks cleverly explains why the U.S. is so bad at strategy.So let’s call it a tie. The real losers, alas, are the unfortunate people in Ukraine, Syria, and several other places.
I'd offer one other critique of planners and analysts: not keeping their eye on the ball that matters. Our biggest strategic reason for action in Syria is really Iraq, to protect the Abadi government and the unified Iraq we want it to represent. And the real problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan; that's where the solution has to be found, if anywhere.