Trump the Answer to Foreign-Policy ‘Goldilocks’ Problem
President looks for balance between nation-building Bush and lead-from-behind Obama
Moments before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, worst-sheriff-ever Johnny Behan told the Earps that he had disarmed a gang of lawbreakers. After the bloody gunfight, it turned out that Behan had simply asked the outlaws if they were armed and then taken them at their word.
For the Behans of the world, the path of least resistance is a seductive policing philosophy. You get to claim a victory and look tough while avoiding any sort of uncomfortable conflict. It’s a win-win outlook if you care more about optics than real security, and — unfortunately — it’s also been the cornerstone of the past eight years of American foreign policy.
An ideological imperative toward inaction isn’t peace through strength — it’s chaos through surrender.
Remember the Obama administration’s Syria deal? Then Secretary of State John Kerry bragged, “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Assad’s chemical weapons had “been acknowledged, rounded up, removed from the country, and destroyed.”
Fast forward to 2017, and — much to the shock of the small number of Americans who thought President Barack Obama’s administration was actually racking up foreign-policy achievements — Assad still had chemical weapons, as evidenced by his gruesome attack on Khan Shaykhun.
Toothless deals that went unscrutinized by much of the media while emboldening America's enemies were a major part of the Obama administration's lead-from-behind foreign policy. After the Syria debacle, could anyone possibly believe the Iran deal wasn't destined for the exact same result? Did anyone really believe the Obama administration and a planeful of money would actually stop Iran's nuclear ambitions? Only the most delusional leftists — those who are eager to serve as volunteer propagandists — could still take the Iran deal seriously.
The only way to survive this sort of Behan-style leadership is to have a Wyatt Earp who swoops in to clean up the mess.
Rest in Peace, lead-from-behindism. President Trump is the answer to American foreign policy's Goldilocks problem — President Bush's neoconservative nation-building idealism was too hot, President Obama's peace through hiding in a bathroom stall was too cold, but President Trump's doctrine of unpredictable defensive realism is just right.
NATO has gone from "obsolete" to "great." The relationship between the U.S. and Russia has gone from potential BFFs to "a low point." The administration has gone from neutrality on Syria to launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base. China has gone from must-be-punished trade thieves to an apparent geopolitical ally. For many in the mainstream media, this ranges somewhere between a cause for concern and dangerous. But it's an inability to adapt to new information that is dangerous.
New information, new outlook. Mr. Trump is a pragmatist. That's rare in American politics, but it shouldn't be. The media punish those who aren't ideologically entrenched by labeling them flip-floppers, and then they complain about gridlock. If Congress had more pragmatists, their approval rating might not be in the gutter.
And while Mr. Trump's foreign policy is unpredictable on a micro-level, it remains clearly America First on the macro level. Every foreign policy move Trump has made so far can be classified as a realpolitik — a decision that directly benefits American interests.
When Syria used chemical weapons, Mr. Trump chose a minimal military response. It upset Russia, but it showed the world that America finally has a leader who isn't afraid to back up a red line — even if he's not the one who drew it. Peace through strength doesn't work if it's all talk and no muscle. As a deterrent, a "Beware of Dog" sign can't compete with a barking, frothing-at-the-mouth Rottweiler.
Suddenly, Chinese President Xi Jinping—who heard about the Syria response from Mr.Trump over "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake" — now shows signs of a desire to reign in North Korea. Mr. Trump purchased this cooperation with proof that he's willing to use American military might against Syria and ISIS and by cashing in bargaining chips he created during his campaign by threatening to label China a currency manipulator and threatening to renegotiate U.S.-Chinese trade relations.
When the U.S. president lectures in the theoretical realm that North Korea and its mad dictator must be stopped, the world kicks its collective feet up and yawns the yawn of the uninterested. When we send the U.S. built THAAD missile defense system to South Korea and then Carrier Strike Group 1 to the Korean peninsula — while a 21,000-pound bomb drops on ISIS 5,000 miles away — suddenly world leaders are paying attention.
An ideological imperative toward inaction isn't peace through strength — it's chaos through surrender, and eight years of that is plenty. As long as Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.) are both dissatisfied with Mr. Trump's foreign policy, he's hitting the peace-through-strength sweet spot.
Eddie Zipperer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College and a regular LifeZette contributor.