PRESIDENT OBAMA'S decision to appoint a bipartisan national-security team comprising experienced individuals from the moderate middle of the political spectrum has led some observers to harken back to the Eisenhower administration's more successful arrangements for developing national strategy. This is a step in the right direction, but it does not address the deeper malaise afflicting U.S. strategy today. American strategy has been in decline since the early 1970s. U.S. political and military elites no longer exhibit competence at formulating, much less implementing, good long-term strategies. Our national-security establishment is increasingly hard-pressed to choose realistic goals or craft strategies likely to achieve our objectives at affordable costs in the face of various constraints, especially the countervailing efforts of our adversaries. In the national-security area, a sine qua non for the incoming Obama administration will be to reverse this decline-to regain a measure of strategic competence relative to America's rivals.
The problem of declining strategic performance is not insurmountable. In World War II, and at times during the cold war, American performance was markedly better than it is now. We believe that the fundamental reason for the gradual decline in U.S. strategic performance is an intellectual one. American political and military elites are no longer very clear about what strategy is, nor do they act as if the decline in strategic performance is a serious problem. Additionally, the kind of insight that is the hallmark of the competent strategist tends to be rare. Strategy is not something at which most anyone can excel, and we have not been inclined to identify those individuals with the talent to be good strategists and put strategy formulation in their hands.