The Trump (Obama, Bush) Doctrine
I suppose President Donald Trump’s Tuesday address to the United Nations General Assembly constituted the official debut of the Trump Doctrine. And I suppose it’s fair to say the Trump Doctrine is exactly what I expected it to be. The president made it abundantly clear that he will be approaching foreign relations with the same delicate touch he brings to his other endeavors. I couldn’t help but notice that if you turn down the volume from “Trump” to “non-deafening,” the Trump Doctrine sounds a great deal like the Obama Doctrine, which was itself a limp-wristed version of the Bush Doctrine
Conservatives liked the “I’m done playing patty cake with these clowns” tone, but disliked the threat of more wars which don’t deserve American blood. Neocons had the exact opposite reaction; appalled by Trump’s artless chest-thumping, but cheered by the promise of a continuation of America’s “all war, all the time” hit parade. And liberals — well — liberals hated everything about it, because Trump could announce a plan to enact every entry in former President Barack Obama’s dream journal, and they’d be against it, because Trump.
In the same speech in which he professed respect for sovereignty, “Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just co-exist but work side-by-side on the basis of mutual respect,” Trump also threatened to drag America’s enemies upstairs and throw them off the roof, calling Iran a “rogue nation,” threatening to take “further action” against Venezuela and promising to “totally destroy” North Korea, should the evil midget who currently owns the joint wander too far off his leash.
Granted, Trump’s rhetorical approach is unique to Trump. Referring to Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” in a formal address to an audience which included the “Rocket Man’s” minions made Bush’s “Axis of Evil” remarks seem like a mere poke in the ribs. And Trump’s bombast stands in stark contrast to Obama’s beta-male plaintiveness, although it’s worth noting that, about 18 months ago, Obama leveled a threat against North Korea virtually identical to Trump’s. But while the guys on the sharp end of the threats may have changed places with the guys on the soft end of the bribes (Iran, hello!), the song remains the same.
My concern is that the stakes have changed. The “carrot-and-stick” approach to North Korea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela requires that all four choose the former over the latter. North Korea has almost nothing to its name, other than a few nuclear weapons purchased by a Clinton/Albright grant. Iran has hundreds of billions of dollars, courtesy of the Obama Initiative to ensure a nuclear Iran. Syria is essentially a failed state, one into which either of the previous two would happily send a nuke on its way to somewhere in the West. And Venezuela has become a case study in why communism benefits no one other than communist leaders, and American college professors. While none could withstand a U.S. lead invasion, such an invasion could have radioactive consequences, a threat with which neither of Trump’s predecessors were forced to contend. And while both Bush and Obama faced political opposition at home, neither endured an opposition which essentially began lobbying for the enemy, as Democrats have begun doing in response to Trump’s speech.
The Trump Doctrine doesn’t yet include the shock and awe of Bush’s approach, nor does it include the mealy-mouthed appeasement alternating with drone strikes that Obama favored. Nonetheless, Trump seems bent on continuing that age-old presidential tradition of treating our allies with feigned deference, our principles with casual disrespect, and the world as a beat which we patrol like rogue cops with hearts of gold. We’ll work with you, so long as you play by our rules. We’ll respect your sovereignty, so long as you play by our rules. And we’ll let you live, so long as you play by our rules.