The Trump Doctrine: A Radical Change

June 4th, 2016 | M. Menuck

With the nomination all but secure at this point, Donald Trump now begins the uphill battle to win the upcoming general election, where he will more than likely face Hillary Clinton. The brash, polarizing tactics that served him so well in the primaries will likely need to be tempered now as he seeks to win the support of the broader public. Trump has repeatedly promised to, in effect, tone things down in pursuit of this very goal, and while the jury is out on whether or not that will occur, one area where he has begun to demonstrate this (on both presentation and policy) has been in the realm of foreign affairs. This would already be a fertile field for any Republican challenger, given that the pinnacle of Mrs. Clinton’s rather mangy resume is her time as Secretary of State under President Obama, whose two terms in office can be admitted to being a foreign policy fiasco with the few dubious achievements largely coming after Mrs. Clinton left the post. Trump has managed to elevate this opportunity even further by opportunistically using it as a chance to emphasize his outsider credentials by presenting a vision of America’s foreign affairs that is objectively quite unique from what the governing consensus has been for decades.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the realm of foreign policy in the United States has been monopolized by liberal internationalism on the left and neoconservatism on the right. The track record of both has been quite poor, largely due to the unfounded utopian optimism that is the foundation of both schools of thought; the former places far too much trust in the ability of multinational institutions and forums to effectively govern world affairs while naïvely trusting in the good intentions of other nations, and the latter premises itself on the incorrect (and in truth rather racist) assumption that every person in the world secretly aspires to nothing else than the ways of Western-style liberal democratic life.

In stark contrast to this, Trump has advocated a pragmatic and hard-headed version of realpolitik that will (in his own words) put “America First”. Ironically, it’s a position that would not be that distant from the one held by George Washington; that America should step away from world-building and globalism and instead look to its own interests above all. Under Trump, America would be isolationist, but not a pacifist; genuine threats would be fought (the best example of which has been Trump’s repeated promises to destroy ISIS – how is still unclear) and America’s armed forces would be strengthened, but the days of the USA playing global policeman would be over. There would be no wars to spread democracy at the tip of a marine’s bayonet that would lead to endless quagmires of occupation. The free ridership that has characterized so many “allies” of America would end, and those nations hoping to shelter under the States’ military umbrella would be expected to pay the price of admission.

Most impressively of all, Trump seems willing to accept that the new geopolitical reality of the world today is one of multi-polarity; that while America today is likely still stronger than any other individual power it is no longer stronger than every single combined power. Recognizing this, Trump has declared he will abandon Obama’s policy of wagging his finger scolding at Russia and China and other nations while doing nothing to actually constrain their actions, in favour of opening up dialogue with America’s adversaries from a position of strength, with the understanding that if no agreement can be made that meets American interests he will walk away from the table.

Now, I am highly wary of both China and Putin’s Russia, and I recognize that they have interests and objectives that are completely at odds with ours, but I also recognize that there are areas where our interests and objectives completely align, which rank much higher on the list of priorities facing the West. However murky Putin’s intentions may be in Eastern Europe, the fact remains it is ISIS and not Russia special forces that are committing suicide bombings in Paris and Brussels. One of the oldest rules of diplomacy is that we don’t make peace with our friends, and the unfortunate reality is that the days when America could simply impose its will are done. Trying to reach an actual accommodation with Russia and China that takes into account both their concerns and ours, while simultaneously collaborating with them over areas of mutual concern such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation is far superior than drawing lines in the sand and looking the other way when they’re crossed.

Now, those who hold reservations about Trump still have valid reasons for doing so. However rational his foreign policy goals are, his follow through and temperament remain severely in doubt. Fears of Trump having his finger on the nuclear button are exaggerated fantasies (there are actually procedures and fail-safes in place that ensure the launch codes will never be utilized on a whim or by a tantrum) but it is not unimaginable to see Trump, as president, causing an international incident at a summit or self-sabotaging a key negotiation because someone offends his ego or bruises his fragile self-esteem. What cannot be denied, however, is that at this time Trump is the only candidate candidly acknowledging the truth that no one else will: that the past two decades have been a foreign policy disaster for the Western world and a radical new approach is desperately needed, one founded on pragmatic and realistic objectives and tactics over utopianism and wishful-thinking.