US President Trump greets Jordan's King Abdullah II during joint news conference at the White House.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As US President Donald Trump’s schedule moves from a successful meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi to Chinese President Xi Jinping, his foreign policy continues to perplex the experts.
Their ongoing efforts to pigeonhole him into a familiar school of thought blinds them to the business roots of an approach that is revolutionary simply because it embodies common sense and a thorough understanding of human nature.
Trump sees clearly that the interactions among five primary players will determine the course of the 21st century: the US, Europe, Russia, China and Islam. The US remains by far the richest and strongest of the five, but military and economic mismanagement have weakened it, while others have grown stronger. The key to keeping America first is understanding each player’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – known in the business literature as a SWOT analysis.
Our European ally is quite prosperous, but is by far the weakest and most vulnerable of the players. European birthrates cannot sustain the continent’s generous social safety nets, and its militaries could not deter a determined invader. It has devalued God and country to create a present-focused culture with minimal concern for the future. Unless Europe can reverse these trends, it is hard to see it ending the 21st century in any recognizable form.
Muslim countries tend to be the most fragmented, violent, passionate and dangerous players. With the exception of a fabulously wealthy elite, most are also the poorest.
Islam is an all-encompassing understanding of God, the world and society. Its early conquests sunk deep supremacist roots, teaching believers to serve God by expanding the reach of his divine will. There is, however, little consensus among Muslims about which elements of their all-encompassing worldview are most relevant and appropriate today. As a result, the Islamic world is mired in an increasingly bloody civil war that often alternates between killing and seeking expansive conquest.
Russia and China possess significant differences, but also important similarities. They are strong nations with an abiding sense of their own grandeur and clear designs to emerge from periods of relative weakness.
They are ascendant powers that have centralized critical aspects of economic and military policymaking. Their populations will sustain larger military budgets and weaker safety nets than most OECD countries. And they understand that much of the expansion they desire can happen only at American expense.
Rational interests have driven Russia, Islam and China to challenge American power indirectly, by targeting our vulnerable allies.
The fear of Russian military incursions in Eastern Europe and the Islamic refugee crisis destabilizing Western and Northern Europe threaten our most important alliance. That Russia and Islam also share an interest in elevated oil prices doesn’t hurt their coordination, either. Meanwhile, China is working to undermine our Asian allies while prospering from its increasingly central role in global commerce and finance.
Western progressives, including the Obama administration, accept the rationality and justice of those developments. As strong disbelievers in American exceptionalism, they seek a classic balance-of-power world, where regional powers police their own spheres of influence and negotiate most great-power friction without resort to warfare. Progressives care little about the internal governance of Russian, Chinese and Islamic spheres of interest, as long as the US invests its savings in making America a more government-centric progressive place. Furthermore, they see the Islamization of Europe as reorienting traditionally oppressive Western societies toward a multicultural future while providing the demographics necessary to shore up Europe’s generous economic and social programs.
President Trump disagrees with the progressive worldview. He wants the US to remain the world’s strongest and richest player, and he knows that we can’t get there without strong allies. His challenge is thus to alter the rational calculus driving Russia, China, Islam and Western progressivism.
As a businessman, Trump understands that the only way to change someone else’s calculus is to change their perceptions of costs and benefits. The various strands of Trump foreign policy appear directly attuned to this shift. His promotion of European nationalism and defense budgets seeks to push our vulnerable ally to pay greater attention to its own future. His focus on immigration from selected Muslim-majority countries seeks to increase the costs of Islamic incursions beyond the lands it already controls.
His complaints about Chinese monetary and trade policies seek to increase China’s perceived costs regarding its own expansionism.
And his simultaneous acknowledgment of Russian greatness and critique of Russian actions seeks to alter Russian perceptions of the benefits of cooperating with the US.
If President Trump succeeds, he will leave office with a stronger, more self-confident Europe, Chinese influence in East Asia no greater than it is today, and weaker coordination between Russian and Islamic expansionism.
No combination would better serve American interests.
Contrary to the myopic popular narrative of an erratic president in over his head in foreign policy, we are witnessing the emergence of a coherent and vital “America first” Trump Doctrine: disincentivize challengers, strengthen allies and retain American preeminence in global affairs.Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, Chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union’s Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy.