President Trump just headed to the Mideast, kicking-off his first trip abroad as commander in chief with a public speculating wildly about his foreign policy plans.
Donald Trump has demonstrated his intention to deliver on his campaign promises. As a candidate, he made two clear commitments: to put America first and to rebuild American credibility. Since entering office, President Trump has indeed put these principles into play in ways that seem to confound his critics.
He has confronted Russia, made deals with China, and responded decisively to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. He has also taken a hard line against North Korea.
Is a theme emerging? Is there room for a president widely viewed as more transactional than ideological to propound a Trump doctrine? The answer is yes. The key is stability.
The early 21st century has been a period of rising instability. Over the past two decades, Europe has shifted its focus increasingly inward, while Russia, China, and Iran have looked increasingly outward. The decline of one great power and the rise of others typically leads to instability and warfare. The rise of Islamism and other non-state actors compounds the problem.
American policy has only exacerbated the volatility. Bill Clinton expanded American influence around the globe, primarily but not exclusively through soft power. George W. Bush promised a humbler foreign policy, but post-9/11, pursued a global hard-power campaign.
Barack Obama whipsawed from his two interventionist predecessors, withdrew wherever possible, sought to appease the world’s worst actors, and prepared the world for a post-American era. It's hard to imagine a surer formula for global instability than a power vacuum, a rotation in great-power alignment, and the rise of a significant revolutionary ideology. Yet that is precisely the global stage onto which President Trump strides.
For his opening act, he has chosen a long-simmering cauldron of instability. He arrives in the Mideast facing the collapse of the Iraqi and Syrian states; rising Islamism punctuated by a resurgent Muslim Brotherhood and a rising Islamic State; a nuclear-threshold Islamic Republic of Iran; a multi-front Sunni/Shiite war; Iranian expansionism; an entrenched Russian presence; and of course, the Arab/Israeli conflict.
Though his critics will undoubtedly deride the president’s efforts when these problems persist past Memorial Day, Trump has shown a fierce independence and an unwillingness to be cowed. Even if he were a man of lesser self-confidence, the indiscriminate hysteria of his critics has rendered them more white noise than challenge.
To draw an analogy to the president’s experience as a developer, following the demolition of the Obama years, a new American Mideast policy must rest upon a solid foundation. This trip is a site-visit before pouring the concrete; the naysayers critique the decor planned for a not-yet-existent penthouse.
There is only one plausible foundation for any positive development in that turbulent region — stability. A Trump doctrine pulling together the promises of his campaign and his actions since assuming office is thus possible. Build the regional alliances necessary to promote stability, all other considerations are secondary.
The Mideast is the perfect place to start. An unstable Mideast will harm American allies, threaten international commerce, multiply human rights abuses, increase the risks of American involvement in bloody wars, and flood the world with refugees. "Solutions" to any of the region’s clear problems put forward in such an environment will inevitably prove temporary, at best. Stability is a prerequisite for durable problem-solving.
A focus on stability provides clarity on two key tasks — Increasing cooperation with and among regional allies; and putting distance between warring factions living on top of each other. No previous administration has emphasized either of these tasks.
For nearly 70 years, the U.S. has maintained excellent foreign policy and security relationships with two regional players — Israel and Saudi Arabia. In a region beset by crises, Israeli and Saudi strategic interests have never fallen on opposite sides.
Yet, the U.S. has never pushed for an Israeli/Saudi rapprochement. The American foreign policy establishment has simply accepted the Saudis’ deep hatred of Jews as a given, allowing it to stand in the way of a dialog that would clearly serve American interests.
Opportune moments for elevating this dialog have been few and far between — and none have been as good as the present. President Trump has a rare opportunity to forge a broad pro-U.S. regional alliance of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
That development can arise only at the state level. On the ground, much of the regional tension is fed by wars among neighbors. Events of the past 15 years have demonstrated that few Middle Easterners identify with the national labels the West has assigned them —Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian, etc. Instead, they identify with the faith, culture, or ethnic group to which their families have belonged for generations — Sunni Arab, Shiite, Kurd, Druze, Jew, Christian, Yazidi, etc.
History created a region with numerous minority groups living in the midst of a dominant Sunni Arab majority. Given the uniform collapse of the region’s attempted multi-ethnic states, stability appears impossible in the absence of distinct ethnonational states. The various proposals for ethnic safe havens would represent promising moves in that direction.
All told, President Trump heads abroad with intimations of a foreign policy in formation. It is hard to think of a better ideological foundation for a world leader who personifies "The Art of the Deal" than a focus on stabilizing regional alliances.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, Chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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