By Luis Durani*
“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else.” Donald Trump’s recent speech discussed his overall foreign policy theme. In the course of navigating through his speech, Donald Trump attempted to paint a new global direction for America that breaks away from the “rusting” trajectory of US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.
While sounding almost elementary, Trump vowed to return the US to a timeless principle of “America First,” which he argued has been absent from US foreign policy objectives for a while. As Trump read through his speech, there was a dialectical engagement of sorts with the audience on whether America has been protected by her foreign policy for the past 25 years. After discussing and critiquing the status quo, Donald Trump laid out his vision for a new America.
After glorifying the past and discussing the necessities of certain wars such as World War II and the Cold War, Trump turned his attention to the current state of foreign policy. He argued that America has lost her way since the end of the Cold War by engaging the world with a vision of “foolishness and arrogance.” Interestingly, this castigation of US foreign policy is bipartisan in the fact that he was critiquing Clinton, Bush, and Obama. More importantly, he gets to the root of failure in American foreign policy. He critiqued the premise that American intervention would lead to Jeffersonian democracies around the world. In such a manner, he condemns the humanitarian interventionist policy of Bill Clinton, nation building of George Bush and neo-democratic interventions of Barack Obama. Trump defies what the media, Republicans, and Democrats all neglect; by stating the large degree of culpability the US shares in decimating the infrastructures of the nations the US has intervened in and creating the environment for terror to thrive due to bad foreign policy principles.
Trump goes on to outline five (5) shortcomings plaguing the current state of American foreign policy:
1.Resources – Trump focuses on America’s solvency and economic state, which appears to be heading towards collapse. The US has become overextended in all aspects leading to a weakened nation that is unable to fix its aging infrastructure.
2.Fair Share – Trump continued his attack on the notion of unequal distribution of costs amongst America’s allies when it comes to defense. He brought up the fact that only a few of America’s NATO partners are adhering to the minimum requirements per the alliance’s charter while the US is carrying the preponderance of costs for defense. Trump plans to end this problem by either having these nations pay their fair share or exclude them from the American defense umbrella.
3.Reliability – Trump accused the Obama administration of not being a dependable partner to America’s historical allies such as Israel and Egypt. Trump believes the fickleness in American foreign policies has left both allies and enemies dumbfounded.
4.Respect – Due to the actions of the US or lack thereof in some cases, ally and foe alike do not respect the US anymore, according to Trump. In order to make his point, Trump alluded to the two recent trips President Obama took (Cuba and Saudi Arabia) and where there were no foreign leaders present to greet him.
5.Lack of Direction/Clarity – Finally, Trump points to the lack of vision for American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. This lack of clarity has led to quagmires in areas where America should not have been involved. While alluding to the fact that his administration will not be isolationist, he points out that this legacy of intervention has led to disarray and tragedy for everyone.
The Trump Doctrine
While “America First” appears to be the theme of Donald Trump’s entire campaign, he has managed to bring it into the foreign affairs realm as well. Trump is creating a foreign policy that is almost reminiscent of a distant past, where nationalism trumped (no pun intended) globalism. Trump claims he will reorient American foreign policy by focusing on imminent and long-term threats. Donald Trump plans to:
- Eliminate the most looming threat to US national security; ISIS and extremism. He plans to work with regional nations to help eliminate the scourge that threatens Europe, the Middle East, and America.
- Focus on rebuilding the military to be able to withstand the expanding capabilities of nations such as Russia and China.
- Concetrate on policies that are a function of American interests. Trump wants a foreign policy that is more centered on Realpolitik than the current Neoliberalism approach.
- Even though the US appears to be butting heads with Russia and China, Trump thinks the US can coexist with both nations. While being cognizant of their differences with the US, Trump believes rivalry is not the only option. He views cordial relations based on shared interests and fears are key. China will be Trump’s main focus; he believes the Chinese are the key to a prosperous future. While they have taken advantage of America, according to Trump, their behaviors can be rectified if dealt with from a position of strength.
- Upon becoming president, Trump will call a NATO summit and an Asian summit. The intention is to update the objectives of the alliances threatening today’s world as well as rebalance financial commitments with America’s allies in Europe and Asia.
How is it Different
Trump’s doctrine is looking to hearken back to an era where America’s foreign policy was more nationalistic in nature than globalist. Perhaps the largest difference that can be observed is that when the US gets involved abroad its intent and how it is pertinent to its interests will be well known, thus laying out a clear set of objectives for Americans. The current approach of American foreign policy always tends to have some sort of corporate interest cloaked beneath the justification of humanitarian intervention or nation building. Americans have grown weary of this and do not see any benefit in this approach. Instead the inveterate approach creates more enemies and results in tremendous costs for the American public. Trump promises to change this by focusing his foreign policy on American interests solely. This will be a deviation from the past. In a sense, he is altering the definition of superpower. The long held belief is that as a superpower, nations would have additional responsibility to the international community by being more involved. This type of archaic thinking, according to Trump, is what has gotten the US into quagmires, endless spending, and loss of prestige. In its place, Trump wants a strong US that watches out for its interests and does not intervene in anything that does not pertain to that.
As with any policy or objective, flaws and shortcomings exist. With the Trump Doctrine, there are few points that Trump appears to have omitted or will need to address.
- While Trump is echoing the frustration of most Americans with respect to the unequal distribution of costs for defense between the US and its allies, Trump appears to neglect the fact that these treaties were not dictated to the US by these nations but in most cases crafted by the US. While the US does pay for the majority of costs, these expenditures are the price the US pays in terms of securing allies, land bases, air space rights, etc. as well as opening foreign markets to American corporations. It doesn’t behoove any nation to just provide free defense or give away aid. The US benefits as well in such agreements. If not economically, it is imperative to the US geopolitical calculus to have such nations on their side.
- While Trump continues to contend that the US military has gotten weaker, this is not necessarily true. Yes, military spending is reducing but this comes at the heels of it exponentially exploding in the past decade. Simultaneously, technology has greatly improved, thus changing how America fights its wars. The US military is undergoing a philosophical shift to become autonomous by relying more on aerial, ground, and aquatic drones to fight and gather intelligence, hence its reduction in size. A 21st-century military will need to be lean, autonomous and technology adept.
- When Trump accuses China of taking advantage of its relation with the US through devaluation of currency, he is right but he also ignores similar methods employed by the US. Either Trump is neglecting or uninformed about the current global currency war ongoing between nations. China devalues its currency to boosts its exports because the US devalues its currency as well. The US devaluation takes place through quantitative easing (QE) and interest rate reduction. With the US retaining the major reserve currency status, China and other nations have invested heavily in the US dollar. Through QE, the US has devalued its currency by mass printing, which helps the US reduce its debt burden to China.
- A major omission from Trump’s speech was the Afghan war. Donald Trump did not discuss the longest war in American history. He has broached the subject before with the idea of maintaining the current contingent of 10,000 troops almost indefinitely until the situation is pacified but he never discusses how. The current situation in Afghanistan epitomizes the true definition of a quagmire. Despite employing an Iraqi-style surge to no avail, the US finds itself lost in Afghanistan with no clear objectives. The Taliban are gaining ground and popularity as each day goes by while the corrupt Afghan government continues to fight internally over money and power. If elected, the Afghan War will pose a major headache for Trump since no solution really exists aside from a full withdrawal.
In order to further promote his credential as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump gave a foreign policy speech outlining his objective and position. Demonstrating a break from the past, Trump plans to take a more nationalistic tone in his vision for America. Citing the failures of the past 25 years of American foreign policy, Trump emphasized how his approach will scrutinize everything before an action is taken and only proceed with actions for the protection of Americans, not other entities be they allies or corporations. While his policy demonstrates inconsistencies and flaws, overall it appears to be a reset in how America will do business abroad.
About the author:
*Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of “Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State” and “China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine.” Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy