Trump’s Reactive Engagement

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The United States and indeed the Western world face four quite different challenges on the horizon: China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. All these threats were analyzed at length in the 68-page U.S. National Security Strategy assessment of December 2017, written by then–national-security adviser H. R. McMaster and his staff.

The encompassing theme of that blueprint was dubbed “strategic realism.” In popular parlance it may have been better known as a new “Jacksonianism” — defined loosely as something like the self-composed epitaph of the Roman strongman Sulla found in Plutarch’s life of the general (“No friend had ever surpassed him in doing kindness, and no enemy in doing harm” [οὔτε τῶν φίλων τις αὐτὸν εὖ ποιῶν οὔτε τῶν ἐχθρῶν κακῶς ὑπερεβάλετο]), or perhaps the reactive principle enshrined in the motto of the Stuart dynasty of Scotland, Nemo me impune lacessit — “No one provokes me with impunity.”

One overarching goal of the NSS white paper was to synthesize U.S. and allied interests while isolating enemies and winning over neutrals — and all in the context of a new domestic paradigm of enhancing the economy of the American interior while securing the nation’s borders. That assessment of continued, though recalibrated, engagement abroad explains the considerable increases in U.S. defense spending, the preservation of some 800 military bases and installations, the steady deployment of 170,000 active military personnel overseas, and the assignment of 30,000 State Department officials outside the U.S. Isolationist powers simply do not commit such massive resources outside their borders; declining nations “in retreat” do not allot such forces to protect the interests of so many allies. The aims of restoring economic vitality in the U.S. interior, pressuring China for reciprocal trade, and establishing a secure southern border and energy independence are not just campaign props, but foreign-policy assets that allow America to extend its strategic reach, if need be, well beyond its borders and on its own terms.

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