The most a wise statesman can do is imagine his ship of state on an infinite sea, with no port behind and no destination ahead, his sole responsibility being to weather the storms certain to come, and keep the ship on an even keel so long as he has the bridge.
I write this after an interesting Twitter conversation with Gunslinger of Ink Spots, which he later excerpted in his own reflections on strategy in America. Gunslinger points out a recurring dynamic. The upper layer of policy and strategy is thin and operational art, the solid bottom foundation, is filling in the void. The problem, however, is that operational art provides a narrow viewpoint to see the world. It is good as a cognitive ordering device for some things, but poor for others. When we try to use it as a strategic device, it magnifies our confusion because the blurs outside of our finely tuned vision are all the more distressing, frightening, and alien to us.
Of course, grand strategy is difficult to formulate--both in a historical and contemporary sense. And it may be, in fact, chimerical. I don't want to get back into the very esoteric dialogue that Zenpundit, Joseph Fouche, Smitten Eagle, and I (as well as countless other bloggers) had last year, but there is a very real question whether grand strategy is possible--especially today. Have we evolved the cognitive instruments to handle modern policy problems? Some of the joys of talking to someone with a British historical training like Aaron Ellis is the feel he has for the mundane persistence of these issues.
In the long-term the minimum role of the statesman and the policy official/strategist is what McDougall described. To keep the ship going, without any clear destination beyond his or her own very limited field of vision. When it comes to the conduct of war itself, we might begin to revive "strategic art"--or strategy as it was known before World War II. The alternative is to cycle through ever more elaborate concepts of operation without the guidance and framing that strategy provides.