Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 19, 2017
It is good to hear that we have a national security strategy because often in the last months, it has seemed as if our foreign policy decisions were spur of the moment impulses from President Donald Trump — sometimes over the objection of his security advisers.
So, on the one hand, for the president to stand up and make a good faith effort to put it all together yesterday was welcome.
On the other hand, the announcement seemed as much a political rallying cry as it was a coherent explanation of what American goals are in the world.
Actually, the president’s speech came about because Congress mandates statement of a national security policy once a year. Adding campaign-like flourishes and his personal braggadocio seems to have been Trump’s own idea.
“You spoke loud and you spoke clear,” Trump said of his upset election last year. “On November 8, you voted to make America great again. You embraced new leadership and new strategies and also a glorious new hope,” he said.
See, that’s not the kind of language you think might be helpful in explaining America’s role in the world.
The president went on to name economic and domestic security as preeminent in creating an American role in the world, brushed by the problems of international terrorism and dialing down any problems of climate control in naming Russia and China as our prime, vigorous foes for primacy in the world.
It sounded a bit like this was the Miss Universe contest that Trump has owned, rather than a discussion about finding sufficient common ground with allies to keep the model of America as the world’s strongest and most admired democracy. Trump insisted, as always, that America, like him, needs to watch out for itself, and use economic and military might over the heads of anyone who would utter a critical world.
Hey, Mr. President, it’s America First, not Trump First that you’re supposed to be describing.
In real terms, the actual statement sets forth few programs or priorities that we haven’t heard before, but as one official was quoted in The Washington Post, it frames Trump’s priorities differently. When he can, Trump’s most significant foreign policy and national security decisions mostly have been described as reversals of policies by Barak Obama, including on Iran, climate change, and North Korea.
Just how different Trump’s actions are, however, is debatable in many instances. Obama would have identified China and Russia as important competitor; still, Trump’s words always have more of an edge. During the election campaign, he accused China of raping the U.S. economy, though clearly, Obama’s words on Russia seemed a whole lot tougher than those from Trump.
The main thing is that we finally have a complete statement, whether it actually was from Trump or from his strategic security staffers. Trump’s new strategy document outlines four organizing principles — protecting the American homeland, protecting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing U.S. influence. It is less strong on promoting human rights and democracy around the world than previous presidents, and it throws Europe and other allies under the bus as non-players.
Only America can do it. This is exactly how Donald Trump talks about himself, so perhaps this is no surprise.
As we have seen time after time, from declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital to calling out North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with belittling names, Trump’s words don’t necessarily translate into actions. If foreign policy comes down to building a Wall on the southern border (which is still not done, whether we pay for it or Mexico allegedly does), it’s not really a strategy that makes American values central for the world.
Putting American values First should mean more than spurning climate change, turning one’s back on immigrants and refugees, taunting leaders and then stating the obvious — that China and Russia may not have American interests at heart.
Judge Candidate Withdraws: Matthew Petersen, a nominee to federal district court in Washington, has withdrawn from consideration days after descriptions of his inability to answer basic questions about legal procedure went viral, the White House confirmed on Monday. Petersen is the third Trump nominee for a lifetime federal judge spot to withdraw in the past week amid criticism over basic qualifications. Though Peterson, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, has been a member of the Federal Election Commission, he had never been in a trial court.