When Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency he vowed that he was “the most militaristic person ever.” He assured packed rooms full of supporters that he knew more about fighting ISIS than the generals did—and promised to “bomb the sh*t out of them!” If elected president, he swore, that he’d find America’s nastiest generals and put them in charge. Once elected, President Trump went about fulfilling his campaign promises.
Trump appointed former Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis (just don’t call him “Mad Dog”). A man who is known for advising his staff to always have a plan to kill anyone they ever met. He appointed what Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz lovingly calls a “junta” to direct American foreign policy.
For his initial budget request, Trump asked for an increase in the defense budget. Trump proceeded to deploy greater numbers of U.S. forces into its fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and neighboring Syria. At the same time, however, the Trump Administration has been beset by a series of foreign policy crises that would be challenging to Metternich himself. As it stands, the Trump Administration has been handed a series of failing policies from his predecessors (not just Obama, but George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well).
In the near term, the three biggest crises to deal with are the ISIS threat in Syria and Iraq (as well as managing Assad’s genocidal mania in Syria), preventing North Korea from going full Dr. Strangelove, and containing Iranian hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. In the long-term, the Trump Administration must set the stage for healthier, more constructive great power relationships—particularly between the United States, Russia, and China, but also with rising middle powers, such as India.
There are no easy solutions to these problems. But the absolute wrong thing is indecision. For eight years, the Obama Administration vacillated between not doing anything and not doing enough. From Iraq to Afghanistan; Libya to Egypt; North Korea to Iran, Obama had his arms squarely wrapped around indecisiveness.
As America exhibited fecklessness on the world stage, the Obama Administration continually embraced severe budget cuts to America’s armed forces. These two factors, more than anything, emboldened America’s enemies and frightened our allies. For eight years, our friends were looking for strategic reassurance. For eight years, the world’s premiere military power only gave mealy mouthed pieties as solutions to our allies.
With one cruise missile attack against a small target in Syria, the Trump Administration has made U.S. foreign policy great again. No, I am not celebrating as so many Neocons (or, “Democratic Globalists”) were on the evening of the strikes. I am looking at this through the lens of realism. America has always had a firm grasp on the concept of what Henry R. Nau refers to as “Coercive Diplomacy.” This is the fusion of America’s military might with our non-kinetic diplomatic savvy. It is the combination of the carrots and sticks to goad and inspire other states into working with us instead of opposing us.
With its recent cruise missile attack in Syria, the Trump Administration signaled to the world that America was back. American troop morale (after having been denigrated for eight years by the Obama Administration) has spiked. Countries around the world—both friend and foe—have taken notice. In Syria, we have placed limitations on the Assad regime’s use of force. We have also put the pressure on Russia to rein in its Alawite clients in Syria.
Due to this strike, Iran is quietly reassessing how far it can push the U.S. After all, what might happen to them should the mad Mullahs push the Trump Administration too far? Oh, yes, and more importantly, the Trump Administration has signaled to the Chinese that we will use military force against Kim Jong-un unless the Chinese themselves stand up and take care of the situation. The last thing that China wants is a unified Korean peninsula with American troops on its border with Korea.
This has all been accomplished with one, decisive tomahawk-cruise missile strike. Trump has not gone “Neocon.” He’s not talking about invading Syria to change regimes. This wasn’t also a Clinton-esque pinprick strike that ultimately accomplishes nothing. After all, whenever Clinton lobbed cruise missiles into the desert that was the end of the issue for him. For Trump, it would seem, that this is but the beginning. More importantly, this is a strategic realignment away from the Obama era’s design of retrenchment. However, it also eschews the more grandiose aims of the Bush Administration. Trump has yet to vow to rid the world of all tyranny.
This was coercive diplomacy at its finest.
Trump must expand upon this action; he must continue to act decisively whilst engaging in modest military action whenever America needs to push a country to act in ways that it otherwise would not (i.e. getting Russia to reign in Assad or China to rein in North Korea). Rather than being upset, Trump voters should feel reassured.
Yet again, Trump is living up to his campaign promises. Conservatives should be giddy because he has yet again shoved our Leftist friends on their heels (does anyone take seriously the claim that Trump is Putin’s stooge any longer?). Everyone should feel safer because Trump has signaled to the world that America is not going away, but at the same time, we are not going to start trying to remake states in our image. We are simply fighting for a modicum of stability.
Everyone should face it: President Trump just made American foreign policy great again. Give the man some accolades, not scorn. He promised us that we were going to win under his administration. And, with the exception of the healthcare debacle, we are doing a lot of winning.