Is there such a thing?
On 21 July 2017, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by the title ‘There is No Trump Doctrine, and There Will Never Be One’. It might be correct that Trump has not been successful in forming a grand strategy but it is pertinent to mention here that President Trump has been under severe media war long before his rise to power. How could a president even contemplate about devising and outlining a grand strategy when he is under constant, severe and unprecedented fire or more concisely a war by the media? Perhaps in this war and under the thick and dense ‘fog of war’ – pundits cannot foresee and see the Trump Doctrine. How and why American media, journalists and academicians expect a grand strategy from Trump? Trump, all the way during his campaign, made such claims and assertions which pretty much lacked any traces of a grand strategy. President Trump is a revisionist and apart from his slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’ his focus would remain on internal matters.
Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt Gen McMaster and Gary D. Cohen (Director of the National Economic Council) on 30 May 2017 in The Wall Street Journal article ‘America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone’ outlined or perhaps tried to outline the basic contours of the Trump Doctrine. Both men argued that Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric isn’t isolating America in the world politics but it is in fact the instrument by which America will regain dominance in the world and strengthen relationships and alliances with its allies and partners. One thing that McMaster and Cohen have perhaps acknowledged is that Trump ‘facilitated $110 billion in defence… and nearly $270 billion in agreements with private-sector enterprises’ – and it reflects signs of weakness in American economy. These confessions by McMaster and Cohen also mirror that perhaps China somehow has been able to leave America behind in maximising foreign direct investments and minimising trade deficits as well.
It is clear that American power and influence is declining. The primary reason for this decline is over-stretch of the US military forces around the globe. McMaster and Cohen also tried to answer this by saying that “by asking for more buy-in, we have deepened our relationships. That is not surprising. Alliances based on mutual respect and shared responsibility are strong. And strong alliances bolster American power”. Trump’s asking of more money from Germany for NATO and on withdrawing forces from Afghanistan are also examples of what William C. Martel called ‘strike a balance between its security ends and economic means’. The author of this piece in its previous articles argued that Trump made its best decision in choosing Gen Mattis, Gen Kelly and Lt Gen McMaster as defence secretary, secretary homeland security and national security adviser. It is evident that Lt Gen McMaster has been instrumental in shaping the foundations of the Trump Doctrine.
Constanze Stelzenmüller, in her article for Brookings, revealed one astonishing thing that Lt Gen McMaster and Gary D. Cohen are ‘two men truly are the adult minders in charge of making sure that this administration reverts to the norm, and that the efforts of its most ideological members are contained’. Perhaps she has pointed her fingers at Steve Bannon, Kelly Ann Conway and Sebastian Gorka and other White Nationalist/Supremacist elements within Trump Administration.
William C. Martel was an American professor and in his book ‘Grand Strategy in theory and practice’ (2014) he outlined four approaches towards American Grand Strategy – namely i) through the lens of American history, ii) through the lens of theory, iii) by the product of policy makers and practitioners and iv) dominated by military strategists i.e. through the lens of military strategy. Martel in his 2014 article ‘America’s Grand Strategy Disaster’ argued that America was focusing ‘broad disengagement from world affairs’ and further called it as ‘leading from behind’. McMaster and Cohen in their May 2017 article gave answer to these two basic objections raised by Martel.
One important thing that William C. Martel indicated in his book that grand strategy doesn’t work or perhaps results in a failure if thought process for a grand strategy begins just close of a crisis or impending peril. By keeping in view Martel’s assertion, American nation is facing economic crisis – McMaster and Cohen’s claim of $110 billion in defence… and nearly $270 billion in agreements – can be taken as an example. Also, Trump’s rhetoric of ‘bring jobs back home’ is another example of American economy being in tatters. Trump Doctrine will work but perhaps he would not be in a position to design and implement a grand strategy.
The whole point of the debate is clear that there is no doubt about that America currently lacks any grand strategy; nevertheless, it has a doctrine – The Trump doctrine with realpolitik as its guiding principle. It is completely opposite of the Obama doctrine and intends for an increased American influence on the global level. But it works on the tactical level instead of an operational or strategic one and even on a broader level. In other words, Trump has a tactical doctrine – but it would not be a surprise that Trump may translate his tactical wins into operational and strategic miracles just like he did in the 2016 US presidential elections.