The urge within the commentariat to describe every president’s foreign policy in terms of some clearly defined doctrine is as strong as ever, but Donald Trump presents would-be doctrine-definers with perhaps their toughest challenge yet.
This observation is not by itself a criticism of Trump’s policies. Doctrine is overrated. Given the complexities of America’s relationship with the world and the multiplicity of U.S. interests involved, any set of policies that fits neatly into a simply defined doctrine is apt to be too simple to uphold those interests effectively. But Trump’s policies are shaping America’s relationship with the world in major ways even if those policies don’t exhibit the sort of consistent strategy worthy of the lofty term “doctrine”.
One recent attempt to define a Trump Doctrine was reported by Jeffrey Goldberg, who quotes a “senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking” as saying that there definitely is a Trump Doctrine, which is, “We’re America, Bitch”. That remark has some validity in that it reflects an attitude that many of Trump’s policies have exhibited. The remark is a crude synonym for assertive nationalism, a label that clearly applies to much of what Trump has said and done and which analysts of an earlier administration applied in more genteel form to the likes of Richard Cheney.
But as a broad description of Trump’s overall approach to the world, the concept falls short in not only precision but also direction.
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