In US foreign policy discussions, American grand strategy and the fundamental ideals that underpin it are often taken for granted. But where did US strategic thinking come from? In a Tuesday evening lecture at AEI, Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies traced US strategic thinking back to America’s colonial history and the battlefields of the Revolutionary War.
Approaching the war from the perspective of the British high command, Cohen outlined several key reasons for Great Britain’s failure, citing in particular British officers’ underestimation of the American rebels’ military strength. He explained that many colonial military leaders, emboldened by the cause of independence, had already fought two wars and were receiving aid from several European allies that were opposed to the British Empire.
Cohen underscored how remarkable the British defeat was by noting that typically, when the “locals” went against the empire in the 18th century, the empire tended to win. He further pointed to the colonists’ use of irregular warfare, which thwarted the conventional military tactics employed by the British. Cohen concluded that after the British were confronted with these challenges, they were eventually forced to relinquish the colonies, ending an era of British hegemony and sowing the seeds for America’s rise.
The questions of America’s role in the world and the effect of military power on international politics grow more significant every day. However, to truly understand their implications for our future, we need to better understand our past. The world America has made, what Thomas Jefferson called the “empire for liberty,” did not begin with the end of World War II, but during the British colonial era and the war of American independence.
Join us for an event in which Eliot Cohen will explore the Revolutionary War from the perspective of the men who lost the imperial debate: the British high command in North America. Cohen, a member of AEI’s Council of Academic Advisers, is also the author of “Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War,” winner of the 2012 distinguished book award of the Society of Colonial Wars.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Thomas Donnelly, AEI
Eliot Cohen, Strategic Studies Program, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Adjournment and Reception
Event Contact Information
For more information, please contact Mark Bennett at [email protected], 202.862.7184.
Media Contact Information
For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.
Eliot Cohen is the Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is also director of the Strategic Studies Program and the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at SAIS. He previously served as counselor of the US Department of State and as a member of the Defense Policy Board. He also served on the policy planning staff of the secretary of defense and directed the US Air Force’s Gulf War Air Power Survey. Cohen, a member of AEI’s Council of Academic Advisers, is also the author of “Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War” (Free Press, 2011), winner of the 2012 distinguished book award of the Society of Colonial Wars.
Thomas Donnelly is a defense and security policy analyst and codirector of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at AEI. He is the coauthor, with Frederick W. Kagan, of “Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields” (AEI Press, 2010). Among his recent books are “Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power” (AEI Press, 2008), also coauthored with Frederick W. Kagan; “Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources” (AEI Press, 2007), coedited with Gary J. Schmitt; “The Military We Need” (AEI Press, 2005); and “Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Strategic Assessment” (AEI Press, 2004). From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director and a professional staff member for the US House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services. Donnelly also served as a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is a former editor of Armed Forces Journal, Army Times, and Defense News.