President-Elect Trump Should Take an ‘Anti-Apology Tour’

Meeting with the leaders of America's greatest allies could kickstart a U.S. foreign policy revival

On Inauguration Day, President-Elect Trump will face a dangerous and deteriorating international situation. Eight years of President Obama’s dangerous doctrine has taken a terrible toll on the legitimacy and material basis of American power. As the administration has shrunk the American military, undermined American friends, and engaged illiberal adversaries, three revisionist tyrannies — Iran, Russia, and most dangerous of all, China — have filled the power vacuum in the world’s most important geopolitical regions. What President Trump does from Day 1 will have a huge impact on the calculations of our adversaries.

The president-elect has already taken the necessary, though not sufficient, step to make America great again by pledging to rebuild American military power, including a 350-ship Navy. Restoring American military preeminence, eroded by the Obama doctrine, will do more to reverse the perception of American decline than any other single measure a president could take.

Years of feckless policies under President Obama have left our next president with enormous — yet not impossible — challenges. 

Trump also would be wise to immediately infuse American grand strategy with a strategic and moral clarity sorely lacking over the previous eight years. He should undertake, even before his inauguration, measures constituting a veritable “anti-apology tour,” signaling that American exceptionalism has returned with a vengeance. That means meeting first with democratic allies rather than conciliating illiberal adversaries. Recall that President Obama gave his first foreign policy address on Arab Radio and made his first state visit to Turkey, where he apologized to the increasingly Islamist Turkish president for exaggerated or imagined U.S. sins.

President-Elect Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe speaks well of his instincts in that regard. Asia is by far the world’s most important power center for the 21st century. Japan remains the linchpin of our strategic position in the Pacific — a vital ally to contain an increasingly belligerent, expansionist, arrogant, and illiberal China’s bid for hegemony incompatible with U.S. vital interests and those of our democratic allies in the region. Unlike many of our decadent European allies, Japan is more than willing to pay their fair share, which should reassure the president-elect and inoculate him against his prior dismissal of the benefits of America’s alliance with Japan.

The president-elect should also attach high priority to meeting with Narendra Modi, prime minister of a decent and democratic India that, like Japan, shares our vital interest in containing an increasingly aggressive China. Modi also shares a joint imperative of defeating radical Islam, a malevolent force that threatens his country existentially. Moreover, Modi is pro-market, pro-Israel, and committed to spending significantly more on defense, making his country an essential linchpin in a democratic alliance system to vindicate America’s interest in East Asia as well as the Middle East.

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An early Trump initiative with India would reverse the perverse priorities of the Obama administration, which sorely neglected cultivating the strategic relationship George W. Bush wisely initiated, instead giving primacy to engaging China, ignoring Beijing’s ominous military buildup, and putting distance between the U.S. and our democratic allies.

Meeting Modi as well as Abe would demonstrate that the U.S. finally has a president who can clearly distinguish between friends and foes.

Trump could amplify that message by meeting soon, publicly, and cordially with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who understands more clearly than President Obama or Hillary Clinton the threats ISIS and Iran pose — and, critically, what we must do to defeat them. This would put Iran and other rogue regimes in the Middle East on notice to beware of American power and resolve rather than continue counting on the American fecklessness rampant in the Obama administration.

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The president should round off his anti-apology tour meeting with the pro-Brexit, pro-NATO British Prime Minister Theresa May. This would signal that Trump’s version of America First recognizes the importance of NATO, without being hostage to the lowest common denominator of the alliance’s weakest members or an unworkable, often anti-American European Union. During this meeting, Trump should ostentatiously ask for the bust of Winston Churchill that President Obama improvidently returned. Doing so would underscore Trump’s determination to do the opposite of what President Obama has done, which has been demoralizing the most pro-American Eastern European members of NATO while enabling Putin’s quest to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.

Years of feckless policies under President Obama have left our next president with enormous — yet not impossible — challenges. The preliminary steps outlined above could help a freshly inaugurated President Trump get a quick start out of the gate. May he have the will and foresight to chart and stay this course. Our freedom and prosperity may depend on it.

Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America.”

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