U.S Politics, United States — July 5, 2019 at 11:23 PM

The Trump doctrine

It had all the trappings of a Hollywood movie scene. A U.S spy drone on mission is downed while its escort returns to base unassailed. Tension is high, as a result, and Washington expectedly prepares to launch a retaliatory attack. The reprisal response is routine as no nation has ever launched an unprovoked attack on the United States or any of its assets without a decisively deterrent show of force. “Iran made a very big mistake!” President Trump said on Twitter Thursday, June 20, thereby setting the stage for a showdown.

U.S strike force in the Persian Gulf waited for the green light from Commander-in-chief Donald Trump, but it never came to the surprise of Americans and the rest of the world. The President later explained that he changed his mind ten minutes before the time for him to give the much anticipated “go” order because he was concerned for potential casualties. By that decision, the mystery of what a Trump doctrine looks like deepened, and rightfully so.

A president’s doctrine essentially is the president’s foreign policy type. With respect to war, a president is either a dove or a hawk. In the U.S, Democratic presidents are traditionally doves while their Republican counterparts are deemed hawks. Doves are reluctant to engage in wars. Hawks, on the other hand, don’t shy away from warfare; in fact, sometimes they provoke it.

As a Republican president, Trump naturally is deemed a hawk although he has not engaged in acts that will solidify him as one. Matter of fact, in the early days of his presidency he ordered a hit on President Assad of Syria for using chemical weapon in Syria’s civil war, and scholars and foreign policy observers made no qualms about it because they figured as a Republican president he must be a hawk and the hit was expected. They have since found out that their assumption was wrong.

Recall also that no sooner had Trump assumed office than he and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, went at each other with fiery words of hostility. So, intense was the war of words from both leaders that the world thought war was imminent between both nations. Suddenly, Trump reversed himself and started a peaceful relationship with the North Korean dictator. Kim Jong Un accepted Trump’s olive branch. Now there is no more exchange of tough talks between both leaders. As a result, Pyongyang has stopped firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) tests and rocket launches, which were routine in the era of a verbal enmity between both leaders.

In fact, as if he is not indecipherable enough, President Trump as he prepared to depart the just concluded 2019 G20 Osaka, Japan summit for a South Korea visit tweeted that he would not mind meeting Kim Jong Un in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Critics judged this move bizarre and rightfully pointed out that it would amount to a snub from the North Korean dictator if he refused to accept the goodwill gesture from Trump. Pronto, news of the proposed meeting spread fast like a Northern Nigeria harmattan brush fire. In the end, both leaders met in the DMZ, but no one is quite sure what the outcome will be on a fragile U.S-North Korea relationship. You do not need to be a foreign relations expert to see that President Trump used a charm offensive to butter Kim Jong Un to the DMZ with the hope that it will lead to another major summit between both leaders, especially since their last meeting in Singapore unpredictably ended in no deal. Will the President’s strategy work? Only time will tell.

So, in the wake of Iran shooting down a U.S spy drone coupled with the fact that President Trump spoke in ways which suggested that a retaliatory attack was imminent, scholars and foreign policy observers alike are shocked at the President’s about-face on a punitive response. Observers are scratching their heads and seem to be asking this rhetorical question: “What is he doing?” Meaning in plain English that they are confused and unable to figure out what a Trump doctrine is, if there is one.

Two years into President Trump’s tenure there is rightfully an endemic confusion about his administration’s foreign policy style. Many critics blame this confusion on what they state as a purported inarticulateness on the part of the president. I disagree. Just because the critics are unable to straight-jacket his foreign policy style into a strictly Republican or Democratic classification does not mean the president has no foreign policy direction. Maybe his style is no style. In other words, he does not strictly adhere to a particular political dogma but, instead, borrows from a series of different political creeds to get the job done. I call it common sense foreign policy.

A good reason for the confusion is because the president’s foreign policy does not yet have a widely accepted name. Let me explain. Names help us to categorize things or ideas. For example, if you are in a conversation with someone and a name is thrown out by the other party, your brain quickly associates the name with a thing, idea or phenomenon, which had previously been archived away in the brain.  The inverse of this scenario is also true. In other words, if you observe a certain thing, characteristic, idea or phenomenon your brain will automatically fetch a name that is associated with it.

So, names are useful in sorting and cataloging to avoid unnecessary explanation of things or ideas which everyone is familiar with. Philosophically, a name is actually not the thing or idea, it is a mere reference to the actual thing or idea. The underlying phenomenon, thing or idea for which the name refers to is what matters. Yet, in the U.S and elsewhere in the world, foreign policy bodies, international relations professors, columnists, and opinion leaders use names as if it is the real thing that is referenced by the names. The implication is that these individuals treat names as revered categories and as a result, they cannot process things not yet named.

You see, President Trump is not a neoconservative or a paleoconservative, and he is neither a traditional realist nor a liberal internationalist. He is neither a dove nor a hawk. He is a nonconformist, period. He will not go along with something just because someone else is doing it or has done it. So when he tackles an issue, he does so with common sense and refuses to blindly follow political party ideologies. I am not stating he is right all the time; no one is.

The reason why the pundits dislike him is that they can’t seem to stereotype him into established political classifications, but ironically this is the same reason his supporters love him and voted for him in the last presidential election. He has no inborn leaning to isolationism or interventionism, as advanced by some of his critics. He is a non-conventionalist. These are the characteristics responsible for the confusion about his doctrine.

The thing to take away is that Trump’s foreign policy does not fit into any of the traditionally accepted foreign policy categories, although it draws from all of them. Eventually, a name will emerge to associate it with. Until then the confusion continues.

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