Article: The Trump Doctrine and the End of Strategic Patience (Leading from Behind)
by Tom Mullings
The era of strategic patience is over.
—Vice President, Mike Pence
The election of 1980 is still fresh in my mind as if it occurred last November instead of over 36 years ago. The reason this is so is because of the unforgettable impression made by Ronald Reagan on those of us who voted for him. The Gipper was more than just a fresh breeze blowing in on the American political scene. He was an answer to our prayers for a white knight in shining armor, fully equipped to right the listing U.S. ship of state after a decade of decline and foundering in dangerous troubled waters both here and abroad.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate, a new breed of socialist-minded leftists had gained control of the Democrat Party and were leading the country off the cliff in terms of domestic policy, with all economic indicators in negative free fall. But nowhere was the decline more apparent than in the foreign policy of the United States where, ominously, our great nemesis, the Soviet Union, was on the march, seemingly spreading its power and influence everywhere in the world at America’s expense. Presiding over this cowardly American retreat as the world’s leading totalitarian power threatened our West European and Asian allies with its growing military might and supported “wars of liberation” in Africa, Asia and South America, was our decent, but submissive and naïve President Jimmy Carter, who spent most of his foreign policy capital on inventing new red lines as fast as our enemies abroad would cross the old ones.
Enter Ronald Reagan as a candidate for president in the election of 1980. Although for the life of me I can’t figure out why now, in the early days of that election I was for Senator Howard Baker from Tennessee. Then I heard Ronald Reagan speak for the first time and I was hooked. His prescriptions for our domestic woes were eminently sensible, but it was in the foreign policy sphere where the man first got my attention. Unlike any other candidate for president on either side of the aisle in memory, he called for “rolling back” communism (Soviet power), and had it put in the Republican Party platform at the convention that summer. In the next eight years he proceeded to do just that, winning the Cold War, precipitating the breakup of the USSR, and ushering in a new uni-polar era of relative peace and prosperity.
They say that history repeats itself, and the last eight years proves it.
President Obama, using all his formidable Harvard University intellectual gifts, came up with the brilliant strategy abroad of “strategic patience,” which he kindly translated for us less-enlightened folks as “don’t do stupid stuff.” After eight years of this Obama doctrine, it has become apparent that not doing “stupid stuff” actually means doing stupid stuff, like drawing meaningless red lines at an even faster pace than Jimmy Carter had.
That completes part of the analogy between the Reagan and Obama eras. To get to the remaining part—someone comparable to Ronald Reagan—requires the passage of time to see how things turn out in the next four to eight years. But President Donald Trump, while no Reagan in terms of his language (which he seems to mangle on a regular basis), does remind one of The Gipper with regard to his actions, which is most encouraging since actions speak so much louder than words.
The president’s recent trip abroad, meeting with NATO and Sunni Arab allies was a tour de force. Brilliant in conception and preparation, it sent an unmistakable signal to friends and foes alike that a new day has dawned in American foreign policy that leaves the rudderless, Carteresque retreat from traditional leadership role of the past eight years on the “ashbin of history” where it belongs. Demonstrating remarkable strategic acumen in his first foreign trip, President Trump swiftly took advantage of circumstances in the Middle East that has created the heady possibility of unprecedented cooperation between Jewish, Christian, and Muslum allies of the United States by sucessfully laying the foundation for a dynamic new alliance to “roll back” Islamist terrorism and mounting Russian, and Iranian regional domination. This is something that never occurred to his strategically-challenged predessor whose steadfast withdrawal from a traditional American leadership role has caused so much consternation in the capitals of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
To reinforce this reassertion of United States authority, the president began by making it clear that red lines will now be strictly enforced, by ordering measured airstrikes against a Syrian airbase used for chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians. He also sent a carrier battle group and patrolling warships into the South China Sea as a warning to both North Korea and China that America is once again prepared to defend against nuclear saber rattling as well as blatant challenges to freedom of the seas in international waters. In addition, Trump sent military assets to Eastern Europe and the Black Sea to reassure jittery NATO allies and Ukraine of America’s new-found resolve to resist Russian bullying and threats.
Mr. Trump is making it abundantly clear that the days of American leaders going abroad, bowing, scraping and endlessly apologizing for imagined wrongs is over. In Riyadh, without bowing to anyone, he addressed 55 Muslim and Arab leaders, urging them to instruct their religious masses to reject Islamic terrorism. “This is not a battle between different faiths or different civilizations,” he told them. “This is a battle between those who seek to obliterate human life and those who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory. Piety to evil will bring you no dignity.” A powerful message, especially when compared to Obama’s pathetic speech at Cairo University in 2009 when he said, “I consider it my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
Following eight years of Obama’s idiotic “Lead from behind” strategy that in reality was a cowardly abdication of much-needed U.S. leadership and resolve, “America is back.” Thanks to President Trump, savvy deal making, alliance building, and willingness to engage threats head on instead of issuing bluffs about crossing lines in the sand is once again the order of the day.
With regard to the emerging “Trump Doctrine” in America’s foreign policy, perhaps former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it best when he said, “You have the President of the United States surrounded by the largest alliance we’ve ever seen in the Muslim word, talking and articulating about a practical and realistic idealism they are going to move forward together to create a better world. Just as Reagan set a key moment in the defeat of the Soviet empire, Trump is now setting the key moment in the defeat of terrorism.”
There’s a new leader of the free world and this one has got backbone, has surrounded himself with a sterling team of foreign policy talent, and his first venture onto the world stage could not have been more admirable and encouraging. I’ve got a feeling that somewhere, the Gipper is smiling, confident that the American ship of state is once again in capable hands and back on the proper course.
Reprinted from the Newsletter of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, June 2017.