It is said that American President Ronald Reagan did not like to talk about foreign policy and instead preferred to tell jokes and narrate stories about him and his wife Nancy. Despite this, his administration changed the face of the world as we know it today and plenty has been written about the Reagan Doctrine.
This almost applies to Trump who spends a lot of time posting on Twitter and fighting the media. Despite this annoying fuss, the structures of Trump’s doctrine on foreign policy have began to form in a clearer way than before, especially after firing Tillerson and McMaster. In order to understand this doctrine we must highlight previous wrong analyses and we must also compare it to the doctrines of his predecessors Obama and George W. Bush.
Trump did not become the Mussolini of America but his foreign doctrine, despite its flaws, proved it’s more realistic than Bush’s and braver than Obama’sMamdouh AlMuhaini
How Trump differs from his predecessors
After Trump’s speech on inauguration day, many panicked and thought they entered an isolationist and populist era. They thought Trump was the American Mussolini and that time would prove this. They said Trump’s speech was frightening and had a terrifying tone that indicates the nearing of Doomsday and “the end of America as we know it,” as one writer put it. Those who hate the US rejoiced that Trump is the leader who will sink the ship to the bottom of the sea.
This is a wrong sentimental analysis that ignored the fact that his foreign policy team consists of figures who are well known as hawks and for their international tendencies. It was not long until the opposite was proven. The administration that was accused of isolationism struck Assad twice, fought ISIS, withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran and is preparing to seal a historic deal with North Korea.
If we compare Trump’s foreign doctrine with that of his two predecessors, we will find major and clear differences. Bush’s doctrine believed in the idea of changing regimes, exporting democracy and building nations. These are all values which the current administration does not believe in.
There’s a rumor that actually became a reality with time which stipulates that the neoconservatives whose doctrines were formed in the 1940s believed in changing political regimes. But in fact, they are against this, because they think that interfering in countries’ affairs and socially engineering them using foreign hands worsens the situation.
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This was seen in Iraq as America withdrew after a tough experience, and it did not build the state which it had wanted to be a model, like Germany, for the entire region to look up to. The common belief then was that democracy is the medicine that heals the region’s chronic illnesses.
Now, however, only few believe in this solution, not out of hatred for democracy but because the absence of the traditions of freedom, fragility of states and the rise of extremist groups and the ISIS caliphate make the experience itself catastrophic. Trump’s doctrine is completely distant from Bush’s romantic doctrine, and he did not mention democracy in his speeches except for a few times.
Comparing Trump to Obama
However, this doctrine is still incomplete if we do not also compare it with Obama’s doctrine. Obama who published the famous book Audacity of Hope was reclusive and isolationist to a great extent. The Iranian nuclear deal reached during his term did not aim to intervene but to withdraw further more because he thought that the deal will discipline Iran’s behavior. Thus, he thought the region will be void of crises and we will not hear calls demanding American forces to intervene to resolve disputes. Obama’s vision was not right, however, his doctrine was solid and deep. He abstained from intervening despite the thousands killed in Syria.
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What about Obama’s vision of the liberal international order that’s guarded by American forces after World War II following the collapse of the power of Great Britain? Obama was not among those who believed in this idea and he preferred the idea of international axes that maintain the world’s stability and balance. Why not have more than one policeman or more than one police station for the world?
Trump’s foreign doctrine is greatly different. A writer criticized him saying to understand Trump’s doctrine, just recall everything that Obama believes in and think of the complete opposite. This is true as the doctrine of Trump and his foreign policy team is against the principle of intervening and changing rogue regimes (which the Bush doctrine believed in) but it’s also against rewarding them and is with punishing and suffocating them. We’ve clearly seen this with the Iranian regime which will face tough economic sanctions that will have major repercussions.
In 2009, Obama did not say a single word to support the Green Movement, but Trump tweeted and supported the recent protests in Iran, where momentum is less than that of the Green Movement’s, because his administration incites and supports change but leaves the action for the Iranians themselves.
What about protecting the international order which the Obama administration neglected? Trump’s doctrine is the opposite. In this context comes besieging Iran, the upcoming dialogue with North Korea and punishing Assad. In his two speeches when he decided to target the Assad regime, he repeated that it’s not possible to keep silent over some acts and that any violation of the laws of the international order will be decisively confronted.
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It’s a mixture of ethics that defend the weak and realism that defends the stability of the world order without being dragged into toppling regimes thus producing bigger problems. Another major difference is how the Trump administration restored strong alliances with the traditional allies in the region, of course if we ignore his local fiery speeches that aim to maintain momentum in his electoral base.
Obama confronted terrorists like James Bond by hunting them using drones, but at the same time, he did not mind the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood which is the deep center of extremism and terrorism. Trump’s administration includes men like John Bolton who are aware of this truth. Bolton once said that the Brotherhood is the smiling face of terrorism.
Trump did not become the Mussolini of America but his foreign doctrine, despite its flaws, proved it’s more realistic than Bush’s and braver than Obama’s.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.