How can we describe the Trump Doctrine?

Trump was caught between his promise to “bring American troops home,” and that countries critical to America’s welfare still needed protection.

US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner stand behind US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in August. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner stand behind US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in August.
President Donald Trump came into office promising to “bring the troops back,” and “end America’s endless wars.” After three-plus years, are we finally seeing the emergence of the Trump Doctrine?
While Trump may have come into office believing that he could make deals with America’s most dangerous rivals – the Russians, the Chinese and even the Iranians – he soon learned that it takes two to make a deal, and these nations were not interested in “deals” but in “victory.”
Now it appears America is looking for new alliances to contain the Chinese, the Russians and the Iranians in critical areas of the globe. The Washington Times recently headlined a story, “Trump Administration Considers Assembling Asian NATO to Counter China,” bringing together India, Australia, Japan and the US
However, America’s cast around the world for friends and allies, à la NATO or SEATO, has proved exceptionally disappointing. Seventy years of American defense spending and its defensive shield has made the European democracies into economic powerhouses, but with only a thin shell of international responsibility. From Australia to Germany, not a single country has an armed force capable of being a credible threat, or even capable of defending its own country!
Their foreign policies are dedicated to maximizing every possible economic benefit whether from a friend or foe. In reality, this situation is little better for the defense of the Western world than it had been in 1947, when Europe and Japan were still in ruins.
Trump, however, was no longer content to play Santa Claus to our allies by spending American treasure to spread our protection over countries too spoiled or reluctant to step up to provide for their own credible defense, much less provide the muscle necessary for a credible deterrence.
Trump was caught between his promise to “bring American troops home,” and the real-world problem that areas and countries critical to America’s welfare still needed protection. Trump recognizing that he could get no help from America’s historical allies, switched to finding a “deputy sheriff” for critical areas.
America’s first problem was to keep the West’s enemies at bay in the vital Middle East. Here, Russia, Iran and Turkey were all vying for political influence, and at the same time grabbing critical territory. The Gulf states, surrounded by hostile countries and attacked by state-backed terrorists, were highly alarmed. Trump wanted to pull back American armed forces in Syria and Iraq, but where could he find a substitute to take America’s place? A substitute capable of assuring the friendly states in the Middle East, while providing a credible threat to those who would break the area’s peace?
The answer turned out to be the tiny State of Israel! A small state that has successfully fought five or six major wars and innumerable small military actions, and has lived under threat of invasion and annihilation from the day it was founded in 1948. As a result of this history, Israel created the fifth-most powerful military force on the planet.
It has the technological genius to equip its army, navy and air force with the most advanced offensive and defensive weapons, in addition to developing outstanding intelligence gathering/analysis and cyberprotection as well as attack capabilities. But could America convince this traditionally insular and defense-minded nation to step up to this new responsibility?
Enter Jared Kushner, David Friedman, Avi Berkowitz, Robert O’Brien and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle Eastern policy team. With little foreign policy experience between them, they possessed a personal and passionate desire to change the configuration of the Middle Eastern power dynamic and break the frozen, ridged interrelationships that had stymied any changes or chances for peace since 1948 – and especially since 1967.
Not having any preconceived notions, or being vested in past efforts or plans, they started from scratch and hatched the daring and “out-of-the-box” Trump peace plan for Israel-Palestine. This plan was so novel that everyone with experience in the Middle East immediately proclaimed it would never work. The Palestinians would never agree to a disarmed state without contiguous borders to another Arab state, and the other Arab and Muslim states would support them.
HOWEVER, PLACED within the peace plan was a “poison pill” – American permission for Israel to immediately extend its sovereignty over 30% of the remaining West Bank, including the entire strip along the Jordan River.
This poison pill set in motion a clock whose hands ticked off the time until Israel would move forward and take possession of these now-approved areas. This had a two-pronged effect on the Arab states surrounding Israel and the Gulf.
First, the Arab states knew they had to do something immediately to halt the Israeli move, as they had publicly dedicated themselves to oppose such an outcome. But what could they do since their protector, the USA, was the sponsor of this move?
Second, they were faced with the absolute refusal of the Palestinians to talk with the Americans or the Israelis, thus blocking any kind of movement. In addition, they were under intense pressure from Iran and her satellite Houthis in Yemen, as well as Turkey and Russia.
Many of the Gulf states were already at war with Iran’s proxy in Yemen. The Gulf states’ benefactor and supporter, Saudi Arabia, had recently sustained great damage from a rocket attack launched from Yemen. Nations along the Persian Gulf realized they were now defenseless against air or sea attacks from their Persian Gulf foes.
The advantage of having a negotiating team of veteran deal-makers soon paid off. Offering something of great value for every party (the essence of a good and lasting deal), the American team offered the Gulf states potential business expansion, hi-tech investment opportunities, facilities modernization, delivery of the most advanced war plane in the world, and, most probably some form of Israeli military protection, and intelligence capability.
In a bold strategic move, the Trump plan jumped over the Iranian, Russian and Turkish military presence that surrounded Israel in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, and placed advanced military and intelligence capabilities right across the Gulf waters from Iran and Yemen, where protection is offered to critical shipping in the Persian Gulf, where an “Iron Dome” protects America’s Gulf allies, and from where the capability of launching a retaliatory attack is only minutes away from the Gulf states’ most active enemies.
Moving the forward defensive wall so close to the Iranian border offers the best guarantee that Iran with think twice about tangling with the Gulf states – or with Israel – the best chance to block any potential Iranian move toward war.
The Americans offered the Israelis almost a blank check to procure all the state-of-the-art American military equipment Israel desired, plus support in the UN and other world bodies.
Most important, they stuck closely to the Trump peace plan terms, requesting that Israel only freeze a potential extension of sovereignty to the West Bank, and not insisting on taking the move completely off the table, thus giving political cover to any Israeli government, Left or Right. With these benefits and level of support, Israel could hardly look away from such an advantageous deal.
So, is this the Trump foreign policy plan to create new front-line alliances with America acting as the guarantor? Is this the first step in replacing American forces while still protecting vital allies in critical areas around the globe? Is Israel the first in a series of coming moves that will allow America to bring back many of its overseas troops, while still delivering support and defensive capabilities to our allies? Significantly, the delivery will be through second parties backed by the United States.
The final question: Are other countries up to carrying out these defensive capabilities and leadership roles? For example, Israel has always been a loner in the military area. She has never had military alliances and has never had to deliver military protection to another country. Unlike America, she has never had to send her sons and daughters overseas to work closely and actively with another nation’s military and political leaders, and share their risks. This is a great step-up in responsibility: militarily, diplomatically and politically. The Trump Doctrine will only succeed only if other countries are willing to take this step.
The writer is a former editor and manager of US News & World Report’s book division, the editor or author of 25 books, and has been recently published in The Jerusalem Post and First Things magazine.