I’ve had a chance to read and reread the transcript of Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech, as well as reflect on both what was written and what was delivered. I will leave the fiskings and point by point takedowns of the contradictions, flaws in logic, petty vindictiveness, and inconsistencies to others. I want, instead, to focus in on the core of the address, which could, perhaps, be referred to the Trump Doctrine. The Trump Doctrine, at its core, can be boiled down to America (we) will be treated fairly. As I wrote yesterday in my initial impressions, this is essentially National Security Narcissism. The Trump Doctrine of America being treated fairly runs through all of the five weaknesses he identified in his remarks. Even when those weaknesses don’t bear a lot of close scrutiny or resemble reality or contradict each other. More than that, however, is that the Trump Doctrine is really the animating force or theme of the entire Trump campaign. The other candidates had better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican National Committee better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican establishment better treat Donald Trump fairly, the media better treat Donald Trump fairly, the state level parties that handle the primaries and all the delegates chosen better treat Donald Trump fairly. And Donald Trump will make them treat him fairly! And the only candidate, nay the only person in America who can ensure that you are treated fairly is Donald Trump. And if he isn’t treated fairly or the US isn’t treated fairly, then he will get even!
In one way this is pure genius. It seamlessly connects the domestic and foreign policy, for lack of a better term because there really has been no discussion of policies (or even the shorthand of ends and objectives by Mr. Trump or his campaign surrogates), within the campaign’s messaging. And by doing so it reaches right out to and connects with those supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and ambitions. The average American, in some cases even the above average American, really does not know how policy is formulated or strategy is developed for domestic issues, let alone for foreign or defense issues. Donald Trump’s speech yesterday cut through all of that reality – that how the official business of America at the Federal, state, and municipal levels is done is often arcane and messy – and reached right for his supporter’s guts. Donald Trump has consistently been telling Americans – in his Washington Post interview, as well as the one in the New York Times, in his media appearances, at debates and town halls, and at his rallies – that they are being taken advantage of and that only Donald Trump can stop this. All he’s now done is formally extend it into the realm of foreign and defense policy and connect the pieces together.
So what does the Trump Doctrine, America will be treated fairly, really mean? Donald Trump has provided some explanation. NATO members must start paying their minimums and the alliance’s focus must be adjusted for a post Cold War world. Never mind that the Obama Administration was already engaging on the European defense spending issue and that NATO has already adjusted their mission set for the post Cold War world. Our other allies and partners must actually pay us for the privilege of our partnerships. The reality is that South Korea and Japan, who were both explicitly mentioned in this regard, already do so. And while there was a small amount of aid given to Saudi Arabia for military training, $10,000, that is not even a rounding error in the foreign military sales budget. It also means that if trade deals don’t actually work out to the US’s advantage, that the US will simply walk away from them. While this may work in private business deals in the US, it is not that simple when dealing with multilateral agreements negotiated through diplomatic channels. Of course it may also not mean any of these things as it is not at all clear that beyond the concept of fair treatment, Mr. Trump has actually thought through most of what would happen should he, as President, try to respond when he feels that the US has not been treated fairly.
The only people that should be happy with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy remarks are Vladimir Putin, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic extremists running the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Mr. Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly screams a revanchist approach to foreign and defense policy. Should the US not be treated fairly, the US will then retaliate. Maybe that’s taking our things and going home. Maybe that’s getting even. Maybe its something else, but because Donald Trump’s emphasis is on unpredictability there is no way to really know.
Vladimir Putin must be thrilled. Especially over the tough talk directed towards NATO and the EU, China and the Middle East. One of the cores of Putinism is to roll back NATO’s post Cold War expansion and weaken, if not outright dissolve, the EU. Both because he feels they are interfering in his near abroad and because part of Putinism is also revanchist; seeking retribution (h/t for both to: Stiftungleostrauss) for American and European predation on a weak post Soviet Russia. Putin also would love to have the US pull back from the Middle East and Asia so he could extend his influence there, as well as open up new opportunities and markets.
Similarly, the Chinese leadership would love for the US, in a snit, to take its expeditionary military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and go home. It seems to have escaped Mr. Trump’s notice that the only thing keeping China from not just fully capturing the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands, but from China’s actions in regard to them from turning into a full out Asian-Pacific war is that the US’s military presence keeps the sea and ground lines of commerce and communication open in the region. The People’s Republic would be thrilled if the US pulled its personnel out of Japan and South Korea and ended regional exercises in a snit of alleged unfair treatment. They would also, just like Vladimir Putin, like to be able to seek new opportunities in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Arab North Africa. They are already pursuing their own interests in all of these places, as well as sub-Saharan Africa, so having the US pull out because its new President’s feeling were hurt would be a dream come true.
Finally, the Islamic extremists that run the Islamic State and al Qaeda are most likely giving prayers of thanks every time Mr. Trump talks about excluding Muslims from the US, going after not just suspected and identified terrorists, but members of their families as well, and bringing back water boarding and then adding worse – whatever worse is. Aside from alienating the leadership of the Muslim majority countries that we need to be partnered with to contain and ultimately attrit the Islamic State and al Qaeda until they are incapable of causing the harm, destruction, and chaos they currently do, Mr. Trump’s remarks are the best recruiting material an Islamic extremist could ask for. Rather than having to destroy the gray zone themselves in order to force Muslims to chose a side, the Islamic State and al Qaeda can sit back and watch Mr. Trump’s rhetoric do it for them. And then leverage it in recruiting materials.
While Donald Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly may not make a lot of specific policy sense in regard to the global system that the US exists within, it makes perfect sense as a campaign theme to further connect Trump with his supporters. The real genius behind the Trump Doctrine is that it is Donald Trump’s promise to his supporters and anyone amenable to his message that: Donald Trump will be treated fairly, only Donald Trump can ensure Americans will be treated fairly, and only Donald Trump can ensure that America will be treated fairly. National Security Narcissism indeed.