The Missing Grand Strategy

Alfred W. McCoy argues that president Obama may be regarded by future historians as an unappreciated geopolitical genius.  "Since he took office in 2009, Obama has faced an unremitting chorus of criticism, left and right, domestic and foreign, dismissing him as hapless, even hopeless. ... But let’s give credit where it’s due."

Obama’s military has adopted a more mobile Middle Eastern footprint of advisers, air strikes, drones, and special operations squads. ... Obama’s diplomats have, for instance, pursued reconciliation with three “rogue” states—Burma, Iran, and Cuba—whose seemingly implacable opposition to the U.S. sprang from some of the most disastrous CIA covert interventions of the Cold War. Moving from repair to revival, from past to future, President Obama has been using America’s status as the planet’s number one consumer nation to create a new version of dollar diplomacy.

McCoy believes the president has deep geostrategic plan.  In comparison to China which has based its grand strategy on  Sir Halford Mackinder's concept of dominating the “world island” by trying "to unify Eurasia economically through massive construction projects financed by loans, foreign aid", McCoy thinks  Obama has "unleashed a countervailing strategy, seeking to split the world island economically along its continental divide through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) ... this treaty aspires to a Pacific economic integration unparalleled in any existing trade pact. In the process, it would draw these highly productive nations away from China and into America’s orbit."

If so Obama is trying to execute his strategy without either substantially increasing the size of the Navy or the relative clout of the US economy.  As Martin Jacques notes in the Guardian, without American economic expansion to counter the raw growth at the core of China's grand strategy, Beijing may bull its way past the alliance perimeter of American diplomacy.  Jacques explains this is happening now:

The UK became the first non-Asian country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), after which more than 30 other countries joined, including Germany and France. The United States opposed the decision because it saw the AIIB as a threat to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The underlying thinking behind the British decision has since become clear. ... At the time of the last state visit to Britain by a Chinese president, that of Hu Jintao in 2005, the UK economy was still slightly larger than that of China: today China’s GDP, by the most conservative measure, is over three times greater. We are fast becoming a minnow by comparison.

China now accounts for over a quarter of its [Australia's] exports – far greater than America’s share. That, by default, means Australia has come to enjoy a much closer relationship with China".

How much of Chinese prosperity is sustainable is a matter of conjecture. Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth think  "China—the only country with the raw potential to become a true global peer of the United States—also faces a more daunting challenge than previous rising states because of how far it lags behind technologically ... Half of all Chinese exports consist of what economists call 'processing trade,' meaning that parts are imported into China for assembly and then exported afterward. And the vast majority of these Chinese exports are directed not by Chinese firms but by corporations from more developed countries."