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If world politics pundits covered the Women's World Cup....

The Official Blog Son and I were lucky enough to catch Team USA's thrilling come-from-behind victory over Brazil in the FIFA Women's World Cup. It was a great and controversial game, sure to be replayed on ESPN Classic for years to come. It also got me to thinking about how prominent thinkers and writers about world politics would use the game as a hook for their foreign affairs columns and op-eds this week. Here are their opening paragraphs:

Tom Friedman:

I was quaffing hearty German pilsners with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in a luxury box in Dresden's Glücksgas Stadium (try the bratwurst!!) when he said something that hit me like a thunderbolt: "I can't understand why there's so much demand for video replay in soccer. You know, there is no instant replay in the real world." And really, that's what the global economy is like -- a fast-speed, arcing bullet of a free kick with no time to press the pause button. You have to use every part of your being -- your legs, your head, though admittedly not your arms -- just to keep pace.

Anne-Marie Slaughter:

Watching the thrilling run of the Americans leading up to Abby Wambach's header, I was struck by the complex, free-flowing sequence of passes that got the ball from the American end to Megan Rapinoe's left foot. It was such a seamless, interlaced network of exchanges -- dare I call it a web of them? -- that moved the ball forward. As the passes moved from one player to another, I bet social networking technologies moved even faster, alerting Americans that a Big Moment was about to happen. In winning, the United States showed the power of webbed networks -- or is it networked webs? -- yet again.

Kishore Mahbubani:

All of the Western media will focus on the "theatrics" of the USA-Brazil game, but it doesn't matter. This was an intramural match between Western Hemisphere teams, which means it was irrelevant. Japan's stunning upset of host Germany in the quarterfinals is the real story of this World Cup, yet another signal of how the one remaining Asian team will leave the three "Western" teams still alive in the dust.

Charles Krauthammer:

This was an example of American exceptionalism and American will to power at its finest. Battling a set of rules and referees that were clearly anti-American in their effect, the noble U.S. side displayed dogged determination and grit, vanquishing their Brazilian counterparts. The only black mark on the U.S. side was the timidity of the U.S. coach Pia Sundhage in obeying FIFA's absurd and corrupt rules. Sundhage, from that socialist bastion of meek multilateralism that is Sweden, adhered to the letter of FIFA law in pulling Rachel Buehler after she was "red-carded." A true American coach would have instead followed the spirit of the law and sent an 11th player onto the pitch in place of the unjustly accused Buehler.

Glenn Greenwald:

Americans will thump their chests, display their brassy jingoism, and bray to the heavens about how the refereeing in this game was "unfair" or "ridiculous." They'll claim that the referee's red card of Buehler and mandated do-over of the penalty kick during regular time was "anti-American." They'll overlook the fact that the Australian ref could have midfielder Carli Lloyd off the field for a flagrant, deliberate handball but didn't. They'll overlook the granting of a re-kick for U.S. player Shannon Boxx during the penalty kick phase. They'll overlook the aesthetic beauty of Brazilian star Marta's soccer artistry. They'll overlook the arrogance of U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo -- a perfect American name if there ever was one -- as she had the audacity to question the ref (if the officials weren't so obviously in Corporate America's back pocket, Solo would have been red-carded). They'll overlook the fact that the extra half-hour of play insidiously stacked the deck for the Americans, rewarding their better conditioning against the poorer and put-upon Brazilians. They'll overlook the 158 other things that I will now lay out in excruciating detail. Only when WikiLeaks focuses its might on FIFA will the soccer world be more just.

Robert D. Kaplan:

The sweltering heat in Dresden clearly began to affect the crowd. They booed the Brazilian star Marta with all of her touches. You could sense a growing danger as the boos grew louder. The German fans, upset at seeing their own team get knocked out, had clearly decided to side with their tribal allies. It is likely that only Wambach's header prevented what would have been an unruly German/American riot, breaking down the tenuous social fabric. The riot would have started in the heart of Europe, but I have every confidence that, before long, the unrest would have spread to Halford MacKinder's heartland in the middle of Eurasia.

Gideon Rachman

This match crystallized both the promise and the peril of the rising BRIC powers as they assume more responsibilities in global governance. The game put FIFA's many problems -- bad decision-making, a lack of transparency about the bad decision-making -- on full display. Even after the match, FIFA never explained why Brazil was awarded a re-kick following Solo's block of Christina's penalty kick. Instead of constructively seeking reform, however, the Brazilian side tried to free-ride off of FIFA's flaws. Marta constantly whined to the refs about the lack of Brazilian free kicks. Defender Erkia flopped onto the pitch in a transparent effort to stall play. Unless and until the BRIC countries learn to play cooperatively with the fading West, global governance will look as effective as FIFA's efforts to block corruption. Which is to say, not effective at all.

Readers are warmly encouraged to offer their own suggestions in the comments.

Daniel W. Drezner

The virtues of grand strategies

Fareed Zakaria's Washington Post column today opens as follows:

Every few months, commentators find a new grand strategy that animates Barack Obama. First he was the antiwar candidate, because his rise in the Democratic primaries had much to do with his early and consistent opposition to the Iraq war. But even some on the right, including Robert Kagan, pointed out that he was interventionist on other issues, such as Afghanistan. Some criticized his multilateralism, pointing to his offers of engagement to all comers, from Iran to Russia to China. More recently, watching his vigorous outreach to Asian countries threatened by China, the scholar Daniel Drezner concluded that the new grand strategy was one of “counterpunching.”

In fact, the search itself is misguided. The doctrinal approach to foreign policy doesn’t make much sense anymore. Every American foreign policy “doctrine” but one was formulated during the Cold War, for a bipolar world, when American policy toward one country — the Soviet Union — dominated all U.S. strategy and was the defining aspect of global affairs. (The Monroe Doctrine is the exception.) In today’s multipolar, multilayered world, there is no central hinge upon which all American foreign policy rests. Policymaking looks more varied, and inconsistent, as regions require approaches that don’t necessarily apply elsewhere (emphasis added).

A minor point and then a major point.  Minor point:  as I said before, there's a difference between a foreign policy "doctrine" and a grand strategy, and Zakaria is conflating the two here. 

The major point:  the whole "world is too complex and multilayered to fit into a grand strategy" sounds great -- except that it is precisely in this kind of uncertain environment when countries need to prioritize what's important and what's not.  Or, as I phrased it in Foreign Affairs

A grand strategy consists of a clear articulation of national interests married to a set of operational plans for advancing them. Sometimes, such strategies are set out in advance, with actions following in sequence. Other times, strategic narratives are offered as coherent explanations connecting past policies with future ones. Either way, a well-articulated grand strategy can offer an interpretative framework that tells everybody, including foreign policy officials themselves, how to understand the administration's behavior.

That's what a coherent grand strategy should provide.  Admittedly, it's much easier to do this when a single overarching threat exists -- but it's still necessary in a complex world. 

Zakaria seems to equate a grand strategy with rigidity, but that's hardly necessary.  Linking back to my previous post on whether Reagan was really a Reaganite, one could argue that Reagan's greatest strength was his ability to simultaneously articulate a toghness in his rhetoric but have a political gifts to make exceptions when necessary.  This is the only way a president who traded arms for hostages, negotiated with terrorists, refused to escalate a crisis with the Soviet Union, cut and ran after a terrorist attack, and came veeery close to negotiating a nuclear-free world with the Soviet Union could have the reputaion as a hawk.   

I agree with Zakaria that there are times when grand strategy is not necessary -- but this ain't one of them.  Or, to repeat what I said back in April: 

[I]f I were Obama's foreign policy team, I'd start thinking very hard about a speech that clearly prioritizes American interests and values.  Because unless the president defines his grand strategy, pundits will be more than happy to define it -- badly -- for him.