US President Donald Trump has been in the White House for 100 days and has made a huge achievement by adopting a clearly defined foreign and security policy based on “military-backed diplomacy”. Perhaps the best expression of this doctrine is the words by some officers in the US military leadership to their friends: “If we had to shoot down two Russian planes over Syria, we have to do it”.
There are many aspects to Trump's doctrine, including sending an American fleet to Korea to counter Pyongyang's missiles in every direction, as well as the bombing of the Syrian regime’s Shayrat Airfield and then discussing the consequent solutions with Moscow.
The achievement of the “political doctrine” goes back to a sequence of important incidents. The United States president entered the White House with a group of key aides and when the National Security Council was formed under General Michael T. Flynn, Trump ruled out senior officers and intelligence chiefs and appointed Steve Bannon as his political adviser.
Several weeks later, General Flynn would resign and Trump would appoint another national security adviser, General McMaster, who reorganized the National Security Council, reinstated the intelligence chiefs and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “expelled” his political adviser.
When the Syrian regime attacked Kha Shaykhoun with sarin gas, the new team was already in place. The US president came to the decision to bomb the Shayrat Airfield with Tomahawk missiles.
When North Korea fired its missiles, Trump decided to send one of America’s own fleet to South Korea. The US declared that all options were on the table, including sending Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems to protect South Korea and Japan.
All this is because of the team in place, which mainly consists of the National Security Adviser General McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and intelligence chiefs, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Dan Coates.
This team was highly professional which prompted some of the Republican members in the Congress to say, “Now we can rest assured!”. The Congress members were skeptical about Trump's ability to understand and manage national security, but now realize that he is surrounded by a rational group that adopts his “military-backed diplomacy” doctrine.
Trump during the campaign, and even the first few weeks of his presidency, seemed to favor Russia which irritated many inside Congress, especially the heads of the armed and foreign forces committees. Senator John McCain considered Russia's actions hostile and said that the Russian president “believes that reaching his goal of restoring Russia as a superpower means weakening US power”.
During his short time in the White House, Trump discovered that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were not the friends he initially envisioned, but that Russia was a threat to US power and interests.
But the truth is that the new president understands the Russian threat and decided to face it through NATO. Trump now considers that NATO’s weakness was not because of the alliance that existed since 1949, but because of the weakness of the US leadership under former President Barack Obama. He insists to revive it under his own leadership.Pierre Ghanem
During a press conference with NATO’s secretary-general, Trump retracted saying that “NATO is outdated” and said the argument was not serious because of the way in which Trump announced the adoption of his new policy when he announced: “I said that it was outdated but it is not anymore”.
But the truth is that the new president understands the Russian threat and decided to face it through NATO. Trump now considers that NATO's weakness was not because of the alliance that existed since 1949, but because of the weakness of the US leadership under former President Barack Obama. He insists to revive it under his own leadership.
The US National Security Council now considers it necessary to improve NATO's military capabilities to counter Russia. Trump’s request for an increase in the Pentagon's military budget comes as part of this escalation. Senior officers even say that “if the United States had to make some difficult or bad choices, so be it”.
This American expression reflects a “revenge” on the American military elite of the Obama administration and now that they consider that Russia poses a distinct threat as it has vast land control and can influence all its neighbors from Japan to China, Mongolia to Central Asia, and to the Middle East and Western Europe. There is no country in the world that resembles Russia in its alignment with other countries. Russia has military capabilities and has millions of its citizens living outside its territory and it wants to use them to expand its network of influence.
There is a saying echoed by members of the US National Security Council, that Russia has studied the United States and now wants to defeat it. “Every time the Americans leave the room; Russia intervenes”.
But the National Security Council under General McMaster considers the Russian leadership a false one that must be confronted.
Iran must be confronted. The new National Security Council and Trump are placing the Iranian threat within the strategic threat posed by Russia.
The Americans see Iran's actions and goals as similar to those of Russia’s. Both Tehran and Moscow want to replace US influence. In addition, the Americans see Iran as a “potential for Russia”. It is difficult for Russia to keep Bashar al-Assad without Iran. Iran can help Russia gain wider influence in Iraq at the expense of the Americans.
Since his campaign, the US president has decided to confront the Iranian influence, and now this confrontation has become clearer. The Trump Doctrine does not want to change the Iranian regime. It wants the Iranians to mind their own business and stop interfering in the affairs of the neighboring countries and particularly, they want to prevent Iran from repeating Hezbollah-style interference in Iraq and Yemen.
The United States is now conducting a comprehensive review of Iran’s policy, including the Iranian nuclear deal. It is necessary to see that the US president still considers the Iranian agreement as a bad one. But the main problem in the agreement is that Iran has taken advantage of the removal of sanctions to receive funds, and used the money to continue its interference in the affairs of its neighbors and to fund the organizations that Washington has placed on the terrorist list, such as the Hezbollah.
Syria and Iraq
The third axis in Trump's foreign policy is North Korea. The ‘rogue state’ resembles Russia and Iran. Whenever it fires a missile, it threatens its neighbors. It also threatens to launch nuclear-tipped intercontinental missile capable of reaching the United States.
The policy of the US President and the National Security Council in Syria and Iraq is governed by strategic boundaries, and the Americans want to address the problems of Syria and Iraq as well those of Iran and Russia.
It is clear that the American president was deeply affected by the scenes of the children killed in Khan Chikhon, and he completely reversed his situation towards Bashar al-Assad because he repeatedly attacked his people with chemical weapons.
Trump and his team are opposed to Assad remaining in power and are now convinced that his continuation at the helm would mean the continuation of the Syrian crisis.
US is intensely opposed to Assad’s presence because they are convinced that all the efforts to defeat ISIS would go in vain if Assad remained and the Iraqis did not reach political consensus.
The Americans have drawn up a three-phase plan to solve the problems of Syria and Iraq: firstly to eliminate terrorism, then to establish neutral zones like Manbaj, and third to reach a comprehensive solution.
There is now a conviction among the Americans that the mistake of leaving Iraq in 2011 cannot and should not be repeated. Their departure, in the absence of solid government institutions and national consensus in Iraq, paved the way for extremism and political oppression.
Pierre Ghanem is an Al Arabiya correspondent based in Washington, D.C.