Two First Quarter Cheers For Trump’s Principled Realism


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Poster Collection, US 05889, Hoover Institution Archives.

The content and trajectory of Donald Trump’s foreign policy have defied the expectations of many of his supporters as well as his critics across the political spectrum. The President has moved a long way from his campaign positions of denigrating the value of America’s democratic alliances and renouncing America’s role as the world’s default power essential to deterring hegemonic threats in vital geopolitical regions. The President has fired Steve Bannon, the paladin of a sizable segment of Trump’s core constituency clamoring for American strategic retrenchment different in rationale, but similar in outcome to Obama’s Dangerous Doctrine that weakened America. Instead, Trump’s core national security team—Secretary of Defense James Mattis, UN Ambassador Nicki Haley, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster—consider America’s military, political, and economic power indispensable to deterring and defeating global threats menacing to America’s enlightened self-interest.

What Trump calls “Principled Realism rooted in shared values” has not crystallized into a doctrine. Moreover, the president’s volatility and unpredictability—partially cultivated but also intrinsic—make any prognostications about President Trump an endeavor marinating in conditions and caveats. Yet Trump’s actions speak louder and more favorably about the substance of his national security policy than his often contradictory and confrontational words on the subject. Several core premises suffuse Trump’s principle realism.

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