Trump has a foreign-policy doctrine, all right. He’s been advancing it with remarkable speed, skill, and consistency. Its effect can be summed up in one neat slogan: Make America Weak Again.
America’s preeminence on the world stage rests on five essential sources of power: neighbors, allies, markets, values, and military might. The Trump Doctrine is weakening all of them except the military.
To be fair, America’s military might is a biggie in global politics, and Trump deserves high marks for rebuilding America’s fighting forces after years of decline in the face of growing threats. The February 2018 budget deal allowed for a $61 billion increase in military spending in 2018 with another $18 billion increase in 2019, making it the largest defense budget in U.S. history and reversing crippling defense sequestration caps from 2013—a deal designed to be so bad, Congress thought it would bring everyone to their senses but didn’t. Trump isn’t just spending more; he’s modernizing and innovating more, too. The Trump administration is committed to modernizing America’s aging nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and has called for additional research spending for cyber, electronic warfare, artificial intelligence, and space—all key areas where the U.S. is increasingly vulnerable and the country’s innovation edge is narrowing. Trump’s defense-spending policies have received overwhelming bipartisan support, a rare feat in Washington. In a complicated global landscape with Russia seeking to stretch its territorial reach and China undergoing a massive 20-year military buildup, a recommitment to investing in military strength is both welcome and necessary.
But it won’t be enough. In today’s threat environment, military power can’t go it alone. The other four sources of American power are more important now than ever. And under Trump, they are growing weaker by the day.
Friendly neighbors are underrated as a source of global power. The United States was born with good geography and successive presidents have made the most of it. For centuries, the empires and nation-states of Europe and the Middle East have lived in tough neighborhoods, with hostile powers nursing historical grievances and vying for advantages through brutal territorial conquest. By contrast, the United States has prospered in no small measure because it has been flanked by two vast oceans and two friendly neighbors that have provided a level of security other states would envy. The last time American and Canadian soldiers fought one another was in 1815. The Mexican–American War ended in 1848, and the last U.S. president to order troops into Mexican territory was Woodrow Wilson, who did so a century ago. Europe’s latest territorial aggression occurred in 2014 (when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea). Wars are so prevalent in the Middle East, it’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t one.
The Trump Doctrine, however, sees dangerous threats massing along America’s borders and calls for a sharp departure from the past. The Trump administration’s policies and pronouncements have sent Canadian–U.S. and Mexican–U.S. relations into tailspins, threatening longstanding ties and close cooperation on everything from defense to drug interdiction to trade. Relations in the ’hood haven’t been this bad in a century. From imposing tariffs on Canadian goods because they’re “national-security threats,” to all those comments about Mexican “rapists” and “bad hombres” flooding into U.S. cities, to the border wall, to vows to jettison the North American Free Trade Agreement that has been pivotal to economic growth across the continent, it’s little wonder the neighbors aren’t feeling so neighborly anymore. Mexican voters just elected an anti-Trump, radical leftist president in a landslide election. Canadian officials have imposed retaliatory tariffs and are now talking about how to protect their nation from the United States. It takes a special kind of stupid to make enemies out of Canadians.