The Trump Doctrine: America First

*This article represents the views and opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Patterson School or ExPatt Magazine as an organization.

Now that Donald Trump has won his unlikely bid for the White House, predicting his foreign policy has become the topic du jour, so it is only fitting that we give it a shot. What then will be the Trump Doctrine? Trump’s ideas on foreign policy can be summed up succinctly in his catchphrase “America First.” Trump campaigned against America’s powerful foreign policy community, which includes Democrats and Republicans. Trump has stated that these experts have failed and left America less safe. This was precisely the message many voters wanted to hear, and the president now has the opportunity to change how the United States deploys its power around the world.

The President has embraced some unorthodox ideas in foreign policy. Trump could be behaving like a typical politician by pandering to his base during the election only to pivot once in office. He has already walked back some of his more outlandish statements, and events he faces in office could change his plans. However, some of these pledges should be taken seriously as representative of Trump’s values. Trump has voiced opposition for NATO, stating that it is obsolete and expensive. He also said he would not pressure Turkey or other authoritarian allies to cease conducting purges of their political adversaries or cracking down on civil liberties. Trump wants to work with partners in the Middle East to eliminate ISIS and opposes nation-building abroad. More importantly, he plans to reset relations with Russia, while taking a harder line against China.

What will the Trump’s actions be like once in office? With a business-like approach, Trump will bring The Art of the Deal to foreign policy making. Using his acumen, Trump will approach every situation like one of his many business negotiations. Trump wants a military that he can use as a tool for enforcement on his own terms, not those of the global community or the foreign policy establishment. Those terms are often oriented to benefit his business. If there’s no clear benefit for the United States, Trump would prefer to stay on the sidelines. It appears that the Trump Doctrine will be a realist, transaction-based approach to international relations, using the military as a policing force for American economic interests – and by extension Trump’s – as a case of last resort.

According to John Mearsheimer, realism does not call for the United States to dominate the entire globe. Instead, realism is chiefly concerned with America’s position in the global balance of power. Instead of trying to invade the world and spread democracy, the Trump administration should concentrate on maintaining the balance of power in the three regions that are vital to U.S. security: Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf. This is the realist perspective according to Mearsheimer.

Following realism, Trump should make a concerted effort to improve relations with Russia. Russia hardly has the power of the former USSR. There are questions surrounding Russian cyber crimes during the election. However, the country is not a serious threat to American interests. Instead, our two countries should be partners, as they have a common interest in combating terrorism and ending the conflict in Syrian. Most importantly, the United States needs Russia to help contain a rising, more assertive China. Given the history of competition between Russia and China and the long border they share, Moscow is likely to join in this effort, once Washington abandons the misguided foreign policy that has driven Moscow closer to Beijing.

Controversial Nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson by William Munoz, Flickr Creative Commons

Has Trump displayed a willingness to embrace realism so far? Looking at how his Cabinet is shaping tilts towards yes. Trump has nominated General Flynn as national security adviser, who has ties to Russia and sees ISIS as the world’s greatest threat. Trump named General “Mad Dog” Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense. While Mattis may take a more hard line approach against Russia, he is a tough-minded realist focused less on politics and more on winning the fight. Trump has chosen Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for Secretary of State. As head of America’s largest oil company, Mr. Tillerson has earned a friendship award from Russia and voiced skepticism about American sanctions that have halted some of Exxon Mobil’s biggest projects in the country. While there may be conflicts of interest, this pick for Secretary of State is perfect for a turn toward realism.

As President, Trump and his cabinet will face many challenges in the years to come. These challenges will not only come from fighting ISIS and combating the spread of terrorism. Should the U.S. maintain its current course of demonizing Russia, then Russia and China could form a military alliance. This would be a strategic mistake of epic proportions that Trump should work to avoid. Instead, President Trump should pursue a long-term, realist foreign policy that balances Russia and China against each other. One thing is clear, Trump will always place America first.

Featured Image: American Flag by Mike Mozart, Flickr Creative Commons 

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