Posted by Curt on 19 June, 2017 at 7:03 pm. 3 comments already!


Paul Bonicelli:

Presidents who have been successful in achieving their foreign policy goals sometimes are described as having a doctrine. Harry Truman’s was containment of Communism; Ronald Reagan’s was rolling back Communism and “peace through strength”

Not all administrations can be labeled, because they lacked clarity of goals or didn’t achieve their goals. Bill Clinton didn’t seem to have a strategic goal; Jimmy Carter had one—promoting human rights—but he mostly gave left-wing dictatorships a pass while harassing right-wing dictatorships.

Not only do U.S. presidents have identifiable doctrines. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had one—namely that not one square inch of soil that Soviet communists conquered would be relinquished (NB: most such square inches were). When we can identify a president’s foreign policy doctrine, it provides a useful shorthand to describe how the administration sees the world and the U.S. role in it, and then we can judge its effectiveness.

There Is No Trump Doctrine Yet

It is too soon to ascribe a doctrine to the Trump administration. Candidate Trump campaigned on rejecting nation-building, foreign adventurism, and the notion that an assumed global consensus was the North Star for U.S. policy. Voters liked this, and it helped him win the White House. Nevertheless, over the past five months Trump has revealed another facet in his approach to foreign policy: clarifying who the United States’ enemies are and hostility toward them rather than accommodation.

By withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, rattling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by insisting on fair dealing regarding its costs, disrupting business as usual at the United Nations, and strictly scrutinizing the Iran nuclear agreement, President Trump is signaling that U.S. action in the world will be decided first and foremost according to U.S. interests, not some vague notion of an internationally approved consensus.

This approach makes sense. After all, no country on earth is now acting or ever has acted in the world for the good of the world. All nation-states serve their interests first. If they are wise, they try to act in ways that attract allies and provide common benefits, but the chief goal is always their own interests and security. To think countries do otherwise is fantasy.

Speaking of the Obama administration: Trump’s actions are a marked departure from his predecessor’s approach to the world. Steeped in the “anti-colonial” view of the world that saw first British then American leadership as the cause of the world’s ills and a justification for rogue states’ bad actions, Obama intentionally put U.S. interests last or subsumed them into some vague notion of the world’s interests. No matter how hostile, threatening, or insulting a regime was toward the United States, Obama looked for ways to accommodate them.

But Trump’s bombing of the Russian-backed Syrian government’s military positions from which the regime used chemical weapons against civilians, and now with his revisions to Obama’s Cuba policy, reveal the president’s contempt for hostile regimes that treat human beings as fodder for their heinous acts.

Other Countries’ Bad Behavior Isn’t Always Our Fault

Obama spoke and behaved as though Cuba was poor, dysfunctional, and allied with our enemies because the United States had pressured and bullied Cuba. His view was that if the United States would simply normalize relations (treat Cuba like any other country in the world) and trade with it, the regime would moderate, open its economy to the world, and democratize. From that would flow peace, harmony, and development on the island.

The Obama administration did not deny that the Cuban regime was a dictatorship or was failing its people materially or in terms of freedom. The administration simply did not hold Castro’s regime responsible for all the problems it caused itself and others. Rather, Obama believed the U.S. posture toward the regime had caused the regime’s bad actions. Therefore, if the United States would change its behavior and embrace the regime, then the regime would respond in kind.

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