Opinion: Trump gave his underlings a new Cold War doctrine

Opinion: Trump gave his underlings a new Cold War doctrine

Donald Trump’s national security strategy is an attempt to bring some coherence to his world view.

It doesn’t always succeed.

Released on Monday, the 68-page document is meant to set out the security challenges facing the U.S. president and explain how he intends to meet them.

It continues a tradition that goes back to the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president.

This particular document appears to reflect the foreign affairs logic of one wing of the Republican Party. But it doesn’t always reflect the stated views of Trump.

Whether it ends up guiding the foreign affairs policy of the U.S. administration remains an open question.

The strategy begins with Trump’s dystopian view of America as a nation that has fallen behind. The reason (and again this is pure Trump) is that feckless U.S. presidents, such as Barack Obama and George W. Bush, allowed other nations to take advantage of Washington.

The fundamental mistake these presidents made was to forget that, although the Cold War was over, America still faced rivals.

Who are these rivals? When campaigning for president, Trump liked to blast Iran and China. The anonymous authors of his security strategy add in Russia and North Korea.

Iran and North Korea are treated in the document as dangerous rogue states that must be dealt with harshly. But at some level, Russia and China are even more dangerous since, as “revisionist” competitors, they threaten U.S. primacy worldwide.

The document suggests that Russia and China pose a greater threat to the U.S. than even terrorism.

But all are involved in “fundamental contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce unanimity.”

This is language reminiscent of the Cold War. It is also language that Trump does not usually apply to Russia and China.

Indeed, at times Trump has actively praised both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

His beef with China is more economic than political. And while Trump’s ministers routinely decry Russian intentions in eastern Europe, he himself usually does not.

The document does pick up on and expand Trump’s economic themes. It claims that the president is not a protectionist, who would destroy the post-1945 regime of international economic institutions.

Rather, it says, those institutions were “distorted and undermined” by the decision to expand the liberal trading system to countries that “did not share our values,” a thinly disguised reference to China.

Completely missing from the document is Trump’s campaign pledge to avoid unnecessary military adventures. In fact, the security strategy says that the dog-eat-dog nature of foreign relations requires America to be willing to confront China and Russia everywhere.

“China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests,” it says.

Trump has been reluctant to accept allegations from his own spy agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The security strategy is not as shy.

While not naming the U.S. as a target, it flatly accuses “actors such as Russia” of using “information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies” and otherwise interfere in the domestic politics of “countries around the world.”

What does this all mean? In terms of the big decisions, the answer may be: not much. If Trump attacks North Korea, for instance, it will not be because of something written in the national security strategy.

Nor is the existence of this strategy likely to prevent Trump from issuing confusing and contradictory tweets about foreign affairs.

But on day-to-day issues, Trump’s underlings now have their new Cold War marching orders. In key areas, this document might not have much to do with the platform Trump was elected on – or even what he thinks now.

But it is the closest thing to a Trump doctrine that we have.

Thomas Walkom is a national affairs columnist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta ‘not in a position’ to send health-care workers to Ontario: premier’s office

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Westerner Days could be in line to have patrons in attendance this summer as the province teased reducing COVID-19 capacity limits on outdoor events. File photo by ADVOCATE staff
Province provides hope for attendance at summer events

The province has given a positive update to organizations that hold summer… Continue reading

A commercial building, housing two businesses, in Stettler was completed destroyed by a fire Thursday. (Photo courtesy Stettler Regional Fire Department)
Fire destroys commercial building in Stettler

A commercial building just outside of Stettler was destroyed by a fire… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

In this May 26, 2018, file photo, people listen to Michael Franti perform at the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival in Napa, Calif. Canadian music festival organizers hoped this summer would mark a return to concerts, but as COVID-19 cases rage on many have already dropped off the calendar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Eric Risberg
Facing the music: Summer concert festival organizers see no path ahead in pandemic

Facing the music: Summer concert festival organizers see no path ahead in pandemic

FILE - Ali Stroker accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for her performance in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!" at the 73rd annual Tony Awards in New York on June 9, 2019. Stroker teamed up with middle grade author Stacy Davidowitz for a new children's book "The Chance to Fly," published this week. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
Singer with disability shines in Ali Stroker’s new kids book

Singer with disability shines in Ali Stroker’s new kids book

Retired Ohio sheriff and tiny K-9 partner die the same day

Retired Ohio sheriff and tiny K-9 partner die the same day

Musicians play Sikh hymns during Vaisakhi celebrations at Guru Nanak Darbar of Long Island, Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in Hicksville, N.Y. Sikhs across the United States are holding toned-down Vaisakhi celebrations this week, joining people of other faiths in observing major holidays cautiously this spring as COVID-19 keeps an uneven hold on the country. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Sikhs mark toned-down holiday amid continuing virus concerns

Sikhs mark toned-down holiday amid continuing virus concerns

Have an opinion you'd like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
Letter: MLAs who are against tougher restrictions have no plan for consequences

The group of UCP MLAs pushing to end lockdowns are exacerbating what… Continue reading

Former Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair leaves the police station after being charged with two counts of sexual assault dating back to 2014, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Preliminary inquiry in September for ex-PQ leader Boisclair charged with sex assault

MONTREAL — Former Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair will have a preliminary… Continue reading

Three vials of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine are pictured in a new coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccination center at the Velodrome-Stadium in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Sohn, pool
Trudeau sending help to Ontario as Pfizer vaccine supply bolstered by 8 million doses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says more doses of COVID-19 vaccines are coming… Continue reading

Teachers demonstrate outside a school during a morning walk out in Longueuil, Que., Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Around 73,000 Quebec teachers say they will walk off the job for several hours on April 27. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
73,000 Quebec teachers plan to walk off the job for more than two hours April 27

MONTREAL — Around 73,000 Quebec teachers say they will walk off the… Continue reading

Most Read