What Trump Must Do on Foreign Policy
After a tumultuous start, President Trump now faces the hard work of resetting America’s national security priorities. We confront a vast array of international threats and challenges, and have little time to waste, particularly in rebuilding our “hollowed out” military.
Unfortunately, everything can’t be done at once, so difficult choices amongst competing issues are required.
Particularly for conservatives, US foreign policy rests on the bedrock principle of safeguarding our constitutional system and our vital worldwide interests from foreign threats and ideologies. Our agenda, therefore, must not be determined by idiosyncratic actions or decisions of individual political leaders, whether in the legislative or executive branches.
With that in mind, consider these suggestions:
Defeating the ideology of radical Islamic terrorism globally will take time, but the top priority must be rapidly destroying the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Speed (which President Obama ignored) is crucial to stop ISIS from recruiting, training and deploying new terrorists in Europe and America, and preventing even more ISIS cadres from escaping to re-establish headquarters in other anarchic spots, such as Libya.
Our objective (as opposed to Obama’s) should be minimizing any benefit to Iran and its allies (the Baghdad regime, Bashar Assad’s Syria and Hezbollah) by working primarily with friendly Arab states, the Kurds and, to the extent possible, the Turks. Bearing in mind Iran’s studied preparation for future regional conflicts, we must put Israel and our Arab friends in stronger positions rather than allowing Iran to take advantage of our anti-ISIS successes. To that end, we should also designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
Countering the Iranian and North Korean nuclear-weapons programs is even more critical than destroying ISIS. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which is in reality a pathway for Iranian nuclear weapons, should be rescinded immediately. The Trump administration has already put Iran “on notice” that its obvious deal-breaking violations have again made it a global pariah.
The Pentagon recently assessed that North Korea will imminently be able to miniaturize nuclear devices, place them on ICBMs and target the western United States, perhaps as soon as next year. And remember, whatever North Korea can do, it is simply a question of setting a price for Iran to acquire those same capabilities instantly. When we see Tehran’s continued financial support for international terrorism, and Pyongyang’s recent assassination of its leader’s half-brother in Malaysia, the threats these nations pose become very clear. If that is their behavior now, imagine what it will be once they possess nuclear weapons.
In longer-range terms, which we must begin addressing now, China is America’s major national-security issue in the 21st century. Beijing’s threatening behavior in East Asian international waters, combined with its extensive military buildup in conventional, strategic and cyberwarfare capabilities, all demonstrate that its politico-military ambitions are growing, and that its potential threat is increasing. Washington’s goals must be preventing China from annexing the South China Sea, squeezing Taiwan into subjugation and gaining a stranglehold over the economies of Japan and others resisting its hegemonic aspirations.
China should be told to back off from territorial expansion and from pressuring Taiwan ( to that end, we should jettison the ambiguous “one China policy”). Only then can we have fruitful discussions on bilateral economic disputes.
Russia is the Trump administration’s hardest political problem because of the furor over alleged relationships between Trump associates and Moscow. For now, therefore, Washington should focus on remedying two disadvantageous bilateral treaties. We should insist that Russia come into compliance with the 1987 INF Treaty (which prohibits short- and intermediate-range nuclear arms) to demonstrate good faith as a basis for negotiating future deals. Otherwise, America should withdraw from the INF treaty, rather than be — as it is today — the only country in the world barred from pursuing short- and intermediate-range nuclear capabilities.
We should also either abrogate Obama’s New START treaty, or substantially renegotiate it, coupled with thoroughly assessing the safety and reliability of our strategic nuclear deterrent.
Finally, we must roll back the progress of “global governance” made under Obama, remembering that the US Constitution is America’s highest authority. Transferring authority from Washington to distant international organizations and treaties impairing our sovereignty, must cease, and Americans must become more aware how this threat to representative government can harm them.
In one year, we can check the administration’s performance against this list of priorities and see how America is doing. Hopefully, we will see our interests advancing — and our adversaries in retreat.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the US permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security. This article was originally published by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.