Magazine article The Spectator

The Trump Doctrine

Magazine article The Spectator

The Trump Doctrine

Article excerpt

On foreign policy, Donald Trump will either win big or destroy decades of American doctrine

Every American president since Harry Truman has arrived in the White House committed to globalism -- a belief that America must lead always and everywhere -- as the central organising principle of US foreign policy. In recent years, we have seen Barack Obama's faith in globalism waver. The prospect of President Donald Trump abandoning globalism altogether is real. For US allies as varied as Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israel, American globalism has been the gift that has never stopped giving. Nations enjoying a 'special relationship' with Washington have relied on American power to shield them from danger and, to some extent, from bearing the consequences of their own folly, past and present. Listen to Andrew J. Bacevich and Freddy Gray discussing Trump's foreign policy Motives other than kindness and goodwill have shaped US policy throughout. Sustaining American globalism has been the conviction that its benefits are reciprocal and its costs affordable. British diplomatic and military support has on multiple occasions endowed American muscle-flexing with a sheen of legitimacy, especially since the end of the Cold War. Japan's willingness to host US forces has helped sustain American primacy in the Pacific, won at Japanese expense in 1945. In return for guaranteeing the security and survival of the Saudi monarchy, the US gained privileged access to the world's most abundant oil reserves. Providing extraordinary military largesse and diplomatic cover to Israel ostensibly kept alive prospects of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believed in some quarters to hold the key to restabilising the Middle East. At the outset of his presidency, Obama was a true believer in American globalism. Yet his was a faith that had not been tested. Over the course of his two terms, a succession of crises and disappointments transformed believer into sceptic. It's not simply that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, displays of American leadership did little except exhaust America's military and drain its treasury. Equally (perhaps even more) important was the growing evidence that US allies were not holding up their end of the bargain. In the so-called 'war on terror', the Saudis were manifestly playing a double game. For its part, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu was maliciously creating obstacles to the two-state solution in which a succession of American administrations had invested so much attention. And as for the second world war allies and adversaries who had turned to Washington for assistance in recovering from that catastrophe, here they were, decades later, still sticking the Americans with the tab for Nato, ostensibly a security partnership. Even more than his predecessors, Obama had little patience with 'free riders'. Enter Donald Trump, the designated heir of the Obama legacy. It is always difficult to predict what an incoming administration will do -- who could have imagined George W. Bush embarking upon a crusade to democratise the Islamic world? Trump's background and personality make forecasting more uncertain still. That Americans have handed the keys to the White House to a foreign-policy novice is not particularly novel. The last time my countrymen elected a president possessing any measurable prior knowledge of how the world worked was in 1988 -- George H.W. Bush. Since then, we have treated the post as a chance for on-the-job training, with mastery to be gained through trial and error. The things that set Trump apart from his immediate predecessors are his lack of fixed convictions and his erratic temperament. Given the narcissism that may well be his dominant trait, his own impulses and inclinations will supersede what others have put in place. He is unconstrained by precedent. There is no playbook to which he will conform, no past practice he will feel obliged to honour. Trump's confidence in his ability to grasp the essentials of any situation and to intuit a solution is seemingly without limits. …

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