Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues in FP’s Nov/Dev 2009 issue that the American empire should adopt the milder grand strategy of the Byzantines. (I have immediate doubts about the historical validity of such a thing as Byzantine grand strategy. For one, how does an empire that spans eight centuries maintain a somewhat cohesive strategy? No mad Caligulas in Constantinople? Just who gets to decide such a thing anyway? And the bigger question: to what extent is the behaviour of empires conditioned by their particularities in time and space? In other words, couldn’t the Byzantines’ grand strategy be understood more in terms of where they were, when they were?)

On the whole, the advice given is typical realist (Stephen Walt) talk–don’t fight wars you don’t need to; the fewer military engagements, the greater your power; and intelligence and diplomacy do have a considerable effect on power relations.

If you’re going to heed his advice, I’d caution you: do we really want to be associated with an empire that is today synonymous with the word devious and lived a largely inglorious existence?

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