The Trump Doctrine

Every President in modern times has created a National Security Strategy which encapsulates the foreign policy views of an administration and alerts the world to understand the attitude of an administration to them and their relationship with the United States.

This codification is often created by the press of real world issues at the time. It is often communicated during a State of the Union speech and it provides a guiding light for the White House, State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Congress.

The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine is the granddaddy of all “doctrines” which was spoken for the first time in President James Monroe’s seventh State of the Union Address to Congress in December 1823.

It held the following guidance:

 1. The New World and the Old World were to be considered as two very different spheres of influence.

 2. Any European nation that attempted to quash the independence movements of its Latin American or South American colonies (talking to you, Portugal and Spain) would be viewed as having taken an “. . . unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

 3. It further stated that European nations that adhered to the Monroe Doctrine could rest assured that the United States would not interfere in their internal affairs in Europe.

 4. The Monroe Doctrine was not called the Monroe Doctrine until 1850, but it was embraced as the policy of the United States for more than a century and influenced the administrations of Ulysses S Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Not every administration from Monroe to the present had challenges in Latin or South America related to European colonial expansion, so the Monroe Doctrine was more important or less important to different administrations based on their current foreign affairs challenges. Today, it is not particularly relevant as there is no real European colonial kerfuffle in Latin America or South America though it is often invoked when talking about Russian or Chinese influence in places like Nicaragua or Venezuela.

I give you this background as I want to set the table to discuss what is an emerging Trump Doctrine applying to the Middle East and terrorism.

The Trump Doctrine

Three years in, the Trump admin Middle East foreign policy is now coalescing around some basic concepts. Chief amongst them are:

 1. America is going to protect its interests in every part of the world, including the Middle East, as a primary interest, as our first interest.

 2. Even when America is a part of a coalition of allies, it will first look to its interests and only then embrace the coalition interests. [This is not really an odd codification as it is the basis for the formation of NATO, as an example.]

 3. Nations in the Middle East who engage in state-sponsored terror will be held accountable not solely as nation states, but as terror organizations.

 4. Terror organizations — state-sponsored, proxy organizations — will be treated as terrorists and the Trump admin will be free to engage with them in accordance with the US Constitution, the War Powers Act, and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists.

Let me translate that for you: The Trump admin is going to make war against nations who sponsor terror (Iran), national terror organizations (the Quds of Iran), and proxies funded by nations (Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, Al Qaeda offshoots).

 5. Nation states who sponsor proxy performed terrorism will be held accountable and dealt with like terrorists — meaning they will get the Osama bin Laden, the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the Qassem Soleimani treatment — they will be hunted down and killed even if the individual has a dual role as a state actor and a terrorist.

 8. President Trump is prepared to use the full range of American military options — cruise missiles for the Syrians when they cross the red line of chemical weapons usage, active combat for ISIS, drone fired missiles at selected targets like Qassem Soleimani, and shock and awe if the Iranians should decide to engage in retaliation.

 9. While President Trump has presided over the emergence of the US as an independent energy power, no longer dependent upon the freedom of navigation of the Straits of Hormuz for supply, he is not going to allow anybody who is a mal-actor (talking to you, Ayatollah) to exert influence beyond their direct foot print.

Translation: American vessels will enjoy freedom of navigation even if transporting oil to foreign countries. Nobody can interfere with US interests.

 10. Accountability will be national, tribal, proxy, and personal. Qassem Soleimani checked three of those boxes. Accountability will be routed through the graveyards of the Middle East.

Any president’s doctrine develops around the issues of that day. In this instance, President Trump has clearly indicated he wants our country out of the Middle East and Afghanistan, but he isn’t going to just walk away. He is going to leave order behind.

The war on terror may be never ending. It is like a bank of embers awaiting a breeze to burst back into flame, and the Trump Doctrine will apply to that also.

In the next State of the Union Speech, I expect we will hear the Trump Doctrine spelled out with great clarity. Clearly, President Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Esper are singing off the same sheet music.

Slowly, the rest of the Executive Branch will begin to hum and then sing that tune. The US Congress might as well wise up also.

Get acquainted with the Trump Doctrine because it is going to guide American foreign policy for the next five years.

Other doctrines

The Truman Doctrine — President Truman wrapped up World War II after the death of FDR. He was the man who brought the US into the atomic age with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Truman Doctrine, introduced in March 1947, committed the US to counter Soviet geopolitical expansion in places like Greece and Turkey. In addition, he approved the Marshall Plan to rescue Europe from the Iron Curtain.

The Eisenhower Doctrine — In January 1957, Eisenhower announced that any country could ask for and receive American economic and military assistance if they were being threatened by armed aggression from international communism.

One of the big touchstones was the Suez Crisis of 1956 wherein the Soviets influenced Egypt and Syria against the interests of Israel, Great Britain, and France.

Lebanon requested and received American military assistance in 1958.

This unholy alliance — the Soviets, the Egyptians, the Syrians — would give us a major war in 1973 wherein the Egyptians and Syrians attacked Israel without provocation. Nixon assisted Israel in their hour of need thereby ensuring their survival.

The Kennedy Doctrine — John Kennedy built on what Eisenhower had left him and used his Inaugural Address to say:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

JFK was an eloquent speaker and clearly articulated the Kennedy Doctrine on a number of occasions and was the first President to really dig in on the Cold War declaring his opposition to: ” . . . the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

One of my favorite lines was this one:

“In the long history of the world only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom from its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”

The Johnson Doctrine — LBJ extended the Eisenhower and Kennedy Doctrines with particular emphasis on the Western Hemisphere as driven by the trouble in the Dominican Republic in the general’s revolt of  1965. The United States invaded the Dominican Republic in August of that year and drove off the nascent Communist regime.

The Johnson Doctrine ” . . . will not permit the establishment of another Communist government in the Western Hemisphere.” It incorporated the Monroe Doctrine.

Johnson comes in for a lot of criticism for his lack of clarity as it relates to Vietnam, but he was clear on Communism in the Western Hemisphere.

The Nixon Doctrine — President Nixon set forth the Nixon Doctrine in July 1969 (the height of the Vietnam War) in a speech in Guam. The Nixon Doctrine is often called the Guam Doctrine for this reason.

Nixon said that the US would assist in the defense and development of allies and friends, but would not ” . . . undertake all the defense of the free nations of the world.”

He was the first President to articulate the idea that the US might provide a nuclear umbrella for freedom, but we would expect countries to defend themselves. This is the first instant at which the funding of NATO became an issue that was not really addressed until President Trump forced it in his administration.

The Nixon Doctrine was particularly importsnt in evaluating American commitments to Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, and Iran (which was fighting off Communists).

Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran used this doctrine for their justification to convert vast oil wealth into American arms.

The Ford Doctrine — President Ford did not articulate a unique doctrine and simply followed that spoken by Nixon.

He had the Mayaguez Incident on his watch which drove the issue of the power of a President to respond to a military provocation which had implications for the War Powers Act and the use of Authorizations for the Use of Military Force — a blank check short of a formal declaration of war.

The Carter Doctrine — During his State of the Union speech in January 1980, President Carter succinctly stated that the US would use military force to defend its strategic national interests in the Persian Gulf. The Soviet Union had just gone into Afghanistan, we had oil shocks in the rear view mirror, OPEC was alive and well.

Zbigniew Brezinski, Carter’s national security advisor said it thusly:

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

Carter was a one term President.

The  Reagan Doctrine — President Reagan in February 1985 during a State of the Union speech:

“We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives–on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua–to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”

In practice, this took the form of assisting anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements world wide. Reagan didn’t intend to “contain” the Communists; he intended to roll them back.

He would not be in office when the Berlin Wall fell, when the USSR splintered, but it was his policies that made this happen.

The George HW Bush Doctrine — President George HW Bush continued the Reagan Doctrine. He, also was a one term President.

The Clinton Doctrine — President Clinton was all over the gameboard arriving at something that was called “interventionism.” In February 1999, he said:

It’s easy … to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.

This garbled policy led to questionable adventures in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Somalia. All turned out to be mistakes and ended in chaos.

The George W Bush Doctrine — President George W Bush articulated a vision of unilateralism, regime change, and preemptive war. Some say the Bush foreign policy was overly influenced by VP Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, a notorious neo-con.

The Bush admin did not like using the term the “Bush Doctrine” but they did go it alone in a lot of theaters including Iraq and Afghanistan and the War on Terror.

For all the inability to articulate a clear policy, Bush in his memoir (Decision Points 2010) seemed to get it right:

  1. “Make no distinction between terrorists and the nations that harbor them — and hold both to account.”
  2. “Take the fight to the enemy overseas before they can attack us again here at home.”
  3. “Confront threats before they fully materialize.”
  4. “Advance liberty and hope as an alternative to the enemy’s ideology of repression and fear.

If you hold your eyes just right, it sounds very similar to the Trump Doctrine described above.

Who said this?

We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

President George W Bush in September 2001 after 9-11. It sounds like the Trump Doctrine to me.

The Obama Doctrine — President Obama was easily the least articulate of all modern Presidents, which is odd as he was such an articulate man. He disavowed that there was even an Obama Doctrine.

He did say:

“You asked about an Obama doctrine, the doctrine is we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

With the benefit of a rear view of the Obama admin, many will say that the Obama Doctrine was one of appeasement, lots of talk, little action, hubris, and moral miscalculations.

They bombed a lot of people including Libya, Iraq, ISIS, Afghanistan and used rockets from drones to wipe out tons of adversaries including the killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone attack that killed him and two weeks later, his 16-year-old son.

Oddly, the Obama admin did produce a National Security Strategy. It was most noted for its unwillingness to use the term “global war on terror” and calling Islam “extremism.” The Obama made war on words rather then terrorists.

Famously, the Obama admin entered into an agreement with Iran that misled that country as to its relative negotiating power in the Middle East.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

Here’s the bottom line:

Every presidency has had a “doctrine” of some kind. President Trump has one that is emerging, taking shape, being codified even as we speak.

For those who are clamoring for a strategy, there is one. Read the Trump Doctrine above.

Remember that strategy is the view from 30,000 feet, while tactics are the view from 10,000 feet, and operations are the boots on the ground.

So, yeah, there is a clear strategy — if you conduct terror operations that endanger Americans, if you plan such operations, if you support such operations, you are going to get the Bin Laden/Baghdadi/Soleimani treatment even if you are a hidden in plain sight as a senior leader of a sovereign nation, like Iran.

It — payback — will come without warning, anywhere, at any time, and it will be violent. Such is the price of supporting terrorism.

The magic shield of the Obama admin over Iran whereunder nothing can be done to Iran because it might impact the Iran Nuke Deal — that is over.

Keep an eye on the Trump Doctrine. He will undoubtedly speak of it at the next State of the Union speech.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Good week ahead for everybody. Get on it.