Foreign Policy Blogs

Thoughts on the Light Footprint Strategy

A U.S. drone. Source: Getty/The Guardian

A U.S. drone. Source: Getty/The Guardian

With President Obama’s second term around the corner, it is a perfect moment to look back at the administration’s so-called “light footprint” strategy – a military strategy characterized by the use of targeted tactics like drone strikes and the avoidance of large-scale, on-the-ground intervention.  As journalist David Sanger summarized it in a video interview, it is “a strategy that can deal with America’s adversaries without sending 100,000 troops in, without spending $1 trillion, without occupying a country [and] building up the resentments that are involved in that.”

The light footprint strategy faces opposition from different sides. Certainly, some argue that this strategy – in conjunction with the renewed military and political focus on Asia – does not leave the U.S. with the necessary range of options to confront pressing security challenges, such as the crisis in Syria.

Moreover, despite strong levels of American support for drone attacks, the attacks still fall under vehement and arguably increasing criticism. Main reasons include, but are not limited to, ethical opposition to targeted killings per se, concern about collateral damage, the debatable effectiveness of the strikes, and the precedent these attacks could set for other countries’ actions. Those who argue that the light footprint strategy does not give the U.S. sufficient options for intervention are rarely on the same side as anti-drone advocates, but the light footprint strategy gives both cause for concern.

Regardless, on the whole, the American public is tired of war and preoccupied with economic issues. Recent news out of Iraq and Afghanistan continues to show the kinds of casualties and unintended consequences that Americans hope to avoid going forward — a strong reason why the light footprint strategy will continue to have staying power.



Julia Knight

Julia Knight is a graduate of Yale's Ethics, Politics & Economics program and a proud resident of New York City. She grew up as an American expatriate in Singapore and has traveled extensively, mostly in Asia and the Middle East. Professional experience ranges from criminal justice research at a public defender in the South Bronx to foreign policy research at a think tank to local government in Connecticut. She is interested in the ways that U.S. foreign policy and U.S. domestic policy interact, particularly in terms of American competitiveness, foreign citizens' perceptions of the United States, and job creation at home and abroad. In her free time, she enjoys drinking coffee, swimming, visiting New York's museums, and trying to learn Persian.