Everyone will know by now that there has been a foreign policy speech by Mr. Trump outlining his vision for a different kind of foreign policy for the United States. There have been some who called it incoherent and rambling while others have hailed it as visionary. I will be breaking down the Trump Doctrine for you in this article.
Before we get to it, we have to first realize that Trump has already done a tremendous service by offering up a different view on foreign policy than other politicians. Traditionally we have always had similar views from both Republicans and Democrats. Centred on free trade, exporting democracy thru military or cultural means, and projecting American power throughout the globe no matter the cost. Previous elections never gave us a choice on the theory but rather the choice was limited to how we would implement the specifics.
It is very healthy for a democracy to offer these topics up for discussion and decision by the people. Do you want a continuation of Nafta and eventually the TPP or do you want it reversed? Should we pay for the defense of every nation in NATO? Do we need to engage in nation building and transform middle eastern dictatorships into democracies? The answers have always been taken for granted and it is about time the questions have been asked.
Peace Through Strength
The roman emperor Hadrian was the first to coin this phrase. It is true in his time as it is now. Every foreign policy decision must be viewed thru the lens of America First. We must decide what makes the country stronger either economically , politically, or socially and act on that. After all if we are to have any value to our allies then we must be as strong as we possibly can.
This is the core principle of the Trump doctrine and as such it is the most widely criticized. People say that it calls for isolationism and abandonment of the US role in the world. It calls for none of that. It calls for a renegotiation of every agreement that we have to make sure that both sides benefit equally. America can no longer take on the burden of subsidizing the rest of the world. It can no longer afford to ship out jobs, give jobs inside the country to illegals from outside, and pay for the defense of the rest of the world. If current trends continue the US will collapse in on itself and the rest of the world will be left to fend for itself anyway.
The Trump doctrine wants America to be there for its allies, but we also want our allies to be there for us. If we find that the only way for some of the relationships we are in to continue is for the US to pay for more than its share then we should be willing to take a look at that relationship and the commitment of that ally to us. A relationship like that may not be worth keeping and it is better to find out now rather than
All nations work towards its own self-interest. It is only in America where outsourcing jobs to foreign countries is praised as a virtue, where employing illegal immigrants over citizens is seen as desirable, and where providing for the poor of other nations is considered more important that providing for the poor of other nations. All nations put their own interest first yet only in America is it called fascism. The Trump doctrine seeks to change that. After all if America is doing well then it has more resources to help the rest.
Unpredictable like fire and immovable as mountain. This is part of the battle standard of the japanese general Shingen Takeda. Trump has been criticized for his saying that the actions of the US must be predictable and certain to its allies and then in another part of the speech say that the country must be more unpredictable in its dealings with ISIS. People point to this and dismiss the entire doctrine as contradictory.
Most generals can point out the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy being the overall goal while tactics are how the goal is achieved. The US must be immovable as the mountain when it comes to our commitments to our allies and enemies. If our ally needs support they must know that we will be behind them and if our enemies attack they must know that the retaliation will be certain and disproportionate. The US must also be unpredictable like fire when dealing with our enemies. They know the retaliation is coming but they must not know when or how. There is no merit in telling the media that we are deploying a thousand soldiers by this date or that we are removing them by another. That just lets our enemies plan ahead. There is no merit in telling the enemy that we will not use nukes or any other methods. It is always better to let them wonder how the retaliation is coming. If there is anything dealing with terrorism has thought us is that it is a lot harder to defend from a threat which can come from any direction.
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
The words of Teddy Roosevelt form an integral part of the Trump Doctrine. America as a country must use all means possible to avoid war, however if war must be fought then we should do everything we possibly can to get the war over with as quickly as possible and get out. We must not engage in any useless nation building that has plagued previous administrations. As Trump has said we must not force democracy upon cultures who may not want it. Instead Trump proposes we promote western values throughout the world. If these cultures then see democracy as something that is beneficial to them then they can implement it without our intervention.
Critics are quick to point out that this is contradictory. Why call for isolationism one day, killing the families of ISIS after, and then letting Putin fight ISIS the next. They miss that this is all part of the same strategy. War is terrible and must be resisted at all cost. If we must fight though we have to use every means necessary to break the will of the enemy. Let them see what the war they have wanted so much will cost them. Utilizing countries with the same goal like Russia as allies in the fight is part of that. There are enough bodies to fill with bullets and their help can only make the fight end faster. As Trump says if America must fight it will fight to win.
Old Friends and New
The Chinese have a saying. “Do not trample over old friends in your rush to make new ones”. This is an integral part of the Trump doctrine as well. Trump says that our allies have been treated terribly and they are looking at different places for help. This is true. Let us take a look at Britain for example. We have had a long history of friendship with them and fought on the same side in every war this century. Yet in his recent trip there President Obama sided with the EU saying that if Britain left they would go to the back of the line for any new trade agreements. The US was able to finalize trade agreements with Australia and other countries in 10 months but he said that it would take 10 years for a Britain not in the EU to get one. Whether the Brits stay or leave the EU they will always remember that the US chose their relationship with Germany and the EU over them.
Let us take a look at Israel now. The US and Israel have had a very close relationship and have fought on the same side on multiple occasions. Yet we signed the deal with Iran, which Israel views as a direct threat to its existence. In our efforts to make peace with Iran we have left out Israel. Let us take North Korea, South Korea, and Japan into consideration next. We have watched North Korea one of our enemies develop nuclear weapons and become a nuclear power while we deny these very same weapons to our allies and in the case of Japan even deny them the right to have a standing army.
I hope the danger is clear here. In most of our interactions we have consistently sided with nations we would like to be friendlier or have normal relations with over our longstanding allies. If the message we are sending is that we will consistently do this then what incentive do countries have to keep long-term alliances with the US? The message we are sending them is that if they are closer to us we will take them for granted yet when they begin to pull away that is the only time we will consider them again. Our current foreign policy has made it so that it is more profitable for a country to be belligerent towards the US than to be friendly.
Our allies must be shown that there are rewards for their loyalty. If there is a conflict, the default position must be that we take their side. Does that mean we should always support them no matter what? No. Every situation must still be looked at based on its individual merits but the length and track record of our allies fighting for our interests should be a major factor into which side we take. For instance in the Brexit situation with Britain unsure of its stance and Germany a newer ally, the Trump Doctrine would have preferred to be neutral instead of heavily committing to one side.
Martin Luther King Jr once said that we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. Russia has always been the great enemy to American foreign policy. The world is viewed as a chessboard with American democracy on one side and Soviet communism on the other. The Trump doctrine views this as an outdated worldview and maintains that friendly relationships and even an alliance with Russia is possible.
The US has fought against the British for independence, Germany in both world wars, and Japan in world war two. If we were to maintain our prejudice against our earlier opponents then we should have the same adversarial relationship with them that we do with Russia. We let go of this prejudice and now these three countries are some of our strongest and most committed allies.
The prejudice is so strong that Trump has been criticized for suggesting that we would be able to negotiate with Russia by the very same people who said that we could negotiate with Iran. A country that has repeatedly called out for the destruction of the US. There should be no reason why we trust that country more than we would Russia.
Desperation is Not a Strategy
Perhaps the most controversial tenant in the Trump doctrine is the statement “If you are not willing to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win”. This is a declaration that both countries should be willing to work together in mutual self-interest. If that goal is not achieved then it is acceptable for both sides to walk away and seek to achieve their goals using other methods. If the other side knows that you are not willing to walk away then they have no incentive to give you anything that you want.
Let us take a look at NATO. Almost every administration from Obama to Bush all the way down to Eisenhower have wanted our European allies to pay more of their fair share. Yet every administration has failed and the US is paying a historically high share of the organization. That is because member countries knew that the US would not be willing to walk away so they had no incentive to agree to pay more. After all why would you when American leadership has shown they will not do anything if you refuse.
The Trump Doctrine is controversial because it asks us to take a look at the world as it is now, not what it was decades ago. We may have had a comparative advantage in business then that may have disappeared. We may have had an implacable enemy in the Soviet Union then that no longer exists. We may have threats now like terrorism that did not exist before. We have never had a choice of a different foreign policy and it is understandable that the experts who have only known the free trade centered America would be confused and afraid. We just have to take a look at the Doctrine with our own eyes and start a discussion as to the direction we want the country to be headed.