Eventually some Harvard professor or New York Times editorial board member will write the Establishment's definitive book on the unifying principles of the Trump Doctrine for international affairs. They will depart from the current #Resist meme that Trump's foreign policy is just a bunch of impulsive, uninformed decisions born of inexperience and a flawed personality. They most likely will not develop the theme that Barack Obama left a mess after eight years of withdrawing American power. What follows is a first draft - version 1.0.
Premise: Hobbes had it largely right - the world is filled with inequality, injustice, and immoral leaders who will respond only to force. We cannot fix it all, but it is in our self interest to try to fix those things which will affect us. At the low end, that means preventing attacks on us; at the high end it means supporting international organizations and norms which keep us safe. There is plenty of room for international engagement in an America First philosophy.
There are several levels about how international problems should be approached. Each needs to be approached with clear eyes; the accumulating malaise since the current world order was established in the mid- twentieth century needs to be fixed. .
- The concept of the United Nations is fine, but the veto power of Russia, China, the UK, France, and the United States makes it ineffective for most important issues. (Obama's acceptance of the condemnation of Israel was an exception, but demonstrates the point.) The bureaucracy has gotten fat. When there is an urgent issue the Security Council should be given a chance, but with a short fuse before looking for other avenues. Witness the strike in Syria after Russia blocked action condemning Assad's use of chemical weapons.
- Regional alliances are important for containing our major geopolitical rivals - Russia and China - and for combating Islamic terrorism. We provide the dominant amount of money, intelligence, equipment, and leadership for these alliances. In many cases we provide a large part of the manpower. This needs to change - the Europeans need to fund their own defense at agreed levels; the Japanese and other Asian partners need to do more; Saudi Arabia and other Sunni governments need to take the lead in terms of money and troops in combating ISIS, al Queda, and whatever comes next. We will provide active support, as in the current battles in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
- Spheres of influence are important. The major powers need to patrol their neighborhoods. China needs to take care of North Korea. The Europeans need to stand up to Russia.
- Where others will not act, and our national interests are threatened, we will act. Our national interests include enforcement of international agreements on development and use of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical, and biological. (The WMD term has been badly overused - the issue is nuclear, chemical, and biological.) Chemical in Syria; nuclear in North Korea.
Within that framework there are a couple of policy adjustments that have not yet received the administration's attention:
1. Afghanistan. By now we have forgotten why we have sacrificed a generation of soldiers and billions of dollars in this landlocked quagmire on the other side of the world, and still have 8400 troops there as the next "fighting season" approaches and the Taliban are expanding their areas of control. Bin Laden was there - and he was killed in Pakistan. They were big opium exporters - and they still are. Their girls were not educated - and now some are. For Obama it was a chance to show that Bush was wrong in Iraq, and he was not a wimp. Our real national interest in South Asia is the protection of the nuclear arms in Pakistan, not choosing among the warlords of this graveyard of empires.
2. Central America. Our illegal immigration problem is partly about economic migrants from Mexico seeking a better life, but it is also about true refugees from decades of civil war, gang warfare, and corruption in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. As we deport these immigrants to Mexico, their "country of entry", they really cannot go home. Europe has a problem with at-risk refugees from the Middle East; our comparison is Central America. The root problem needs to be fixed.
Trump has a habit of speaking clearly where our leaders have spoken in muted tones for decades. After the audible gasp, it is useful to note that he is right - Obama did not believe in American world leadership; a huge gap was created; and there will be a time of challenge while Trump reestablishes America's credibility. Fortunately, his actions - from demanding that the Europeans pay their committed share for their defense, to being willing to make trade concessions for Chinese action on North Korea, to punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons - fit a pattern that is part of Making America Great Again.
This week's video is Charles Krautheimer's commentary on Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice. To review the bidding: the administration - unsuccessfully except for one occasion - sought wiretapping authority on Trump campaign members to find a Russia connection; they oversaw wiretapping of foreigners who might be talking to Trump campaign members; they exposed the names such as Mike Flynn who turned up; and they changed the rules for distributing intelligence information to ensure that people in 17 agencies had access to the reports which were subsequently leaked to the New York Times and others.
bill bowen - 4/14/17