What sort of strategy would Spykman prescribe to cope with a troublesome but less than overbearing Iran? He might counsel Washington to continue taking an active part in managing events in South Asia and the Gulf region, in keeping with his onshore leanings. He would urge America to keep its alliances in the region strong, helping allies help U.S. naval forces gain access to the rimlands in times of strife. But at the same time he would exhort officialdom to keep its priorities in order. Iran poses no direct or immediate threat to the Western Hemisphere, but there are aspiring hegemons out there that warrant renewing his resource-intensive rimlands strategy. They must take precedence.
Strategy is the art and science of setting and enforcing priorities. The Pentagon has rightly designated great-power competition as its top priority. It would make little sense to commit heavy resources to offset a secondary worry such as Iran—especially if the opportunity costs were losing out in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean, or elsewhere around the Eurasian periphery. Let’s keep things in perspective.
Sound about right, Professor Spykman?
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and the author of A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy, forthcoming this November. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.