When Donald Trump first launched his presidential campaign, many feared that his Charles Lindbergh-esque calls for an “America first” foreign policy might serve as a proxy for Ron Paul-style isolationism — and, some of Trump’s most zealous detractors speculated, potentially something much more nefarious.
Those fears have not come to pass. Trump has been fairly trigger-happy in bombing some of Bashar al-Assad’s military assets in Syria, has (incorrectly, in my view) recommitted to a prolonged U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, has been consistently defiant in his hardline opposition to the genocidal mullocracy of Tehran, and has generally been substantively hawkish in dealing with both Russia and China alike. To the extent Trump’s National Security Strategy has promulgated — and to the extent he has acted upon — a foreign policy doctrine that is at odds with the past two to three decades of the bipartisan Wilsonian/neoliberal D.C. Smart Set™️ consensus, Trump has merely placed a greater emphasis on prizing nation-state sovereignty over the interests of sovereignty-undermining inherently leftist transnational institutions. And for that, Trump ought to be praised.
Over the weekend, Yoram Hazony and Ofir Haivry of the Jersualem, Israel-based Herzl Institute think tank, published a deeply incisive op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that builds upon the Trump presidency to-date and articulates what a forward-looking American foreign policy doctrine — which properly and solely prioritizes America’s national security interest above all else — ought to look like. Here is the crux of the authors’ argument:
On paper, America has defense alliances with dozens of countries. But these are the ghosts of a rivalry with the Soviet Union that ended three decades ago, or the result of often reckless policies adopted after 9/11. These so-called allies include Turkey and Pakistan, which share neither America’s values nor its interests, and cooperate with the U.S. only when it serves their purposes. Other “allies” refuse to develop a significant capacity for self-defense, and are thus more accurately regarded as American dependencies or protectorates. …
An American strategic posture aimed at minimizing the danger from rival powers needs to focus [instead] on deterring Russia and China from wars of expansion; weakening China relative to the U.S. and thereby preventing it from attaining dominance over the world economy; and keeping smaller hostile powers such as North Korea and Iran from obtaining the capacity to attack America or other democracies. …
Rather than carelessly accumulate dependencies, the U.S. must ask where it can develop real allies — countries that share its commitment to a world of independent nations, pursue democratic self-determination (although not necessarily liberalism) at home, and are willing to pay the price for freedom by taking primary responsibility for their own defense…
As Hazony and Haivry argue, it is long past time for the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy ruling class to rethink shibboleths to which it has been recalcitrantly tethered. Turkey, which the authors properly highlight, is a prime example of an “ally” gone awry. Turkey was founded as a secular state out of the post-World War I ashes of the Ottoman Empire, and during the Cold War served as a NATO member (which it, unfathomably, still is) and key strategic linchpin against aspirational Soviet hegemony. But under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has become an irredeemably totalitarian, Islamist dictatorship that jails more journalists than any nation in the world and — along with Qatar — has long surpassed the (largely reformed, at least from an Islamist exportation perspective) Saudi monarchy as a top international funder of extremist Sunni madrasas abroad.
Is Turkey an “ally” because it is nominally still a part of NATO, or is it a geopolitical foe because it shills for Hamas, al-Qaeda, and even Islamic State — all whilst generally aligning with the Iran-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood axis that wreaks destabilizing havoc all throughout the Middle East? The question ought to answer itself.
Rather than be dragged down by inherently Western Europe-centric transnational institutions such as NATO and the United Nations, U.S. foreign policy hands must wake up to the reality that, as Hazony and Haivry put it, “China, Russia and hostile Islamist groups” serve as the three largest threats for America this century. In a short tweet thread yesterday, I elaborated on the proper way to assess would-be U.S. alliances, under this analytical framework.
Above all else, conservatives must articulate a hard-headed foreign policy that, if need be, subordinates amorphous “values”-based concerns in favor of much more tangible — and much more legitimate — concerns about prioritizing and maximizing America’s national security. And in so doing, American foreign policy hands ought not to elevate the interests and clout of unaccountable transnational institutions. Nor should America needlessly prolong the deleterious status quo of making satrapies of derelict nations too stingy or otherwise careless to provide for their own defense.
Rather, America ought to ally with self-sufficient nation-states who care about their sovereignty and share our core national security interests in deterring Russian hegemony, Chinese ambitions, and/or Islamist aggression. In Europe, that means focusing more on nations like Viktor Orban’s Hungary than it does on nations like Angela Merkel’s Germany or on institutions like NATO. In Asia, that means focusing more on nations like India and Japan than it does on institutions like the U.N. — and potentially even the exceedingly dovish current government of historic U.S. ally South Korea. And in the Islamic world, that means focusing more on nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates than it does on Islamist-exporting, Muslim Brotherhood-cozy states like Turkey and Qatar.
Hazony and Haivry have outlined a brilliant forward-looking foreign policy doctrine for the United States. With any luck, our bipartisan elites will follow their lead.