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A key feature of Donald Trump’s presidency has been his application of business strategy to foreign affairs. The administration has benched the traditional diplomatic operatives of the State Department in favor of a strike force of men and women with lifetimes of experience at securing tough business deals. The president believes that it makes no sense for America’s interests to be negotiated by career bureaucrats from Foggy Bottom while the expertise of American business titans sits untapped.
Throwing out NAFTA after three decades of harm to America’s labor force, taking on China’s predatory trade practices and dependence on slave labor, refusing to subsidize Chinese pollution while handicapping America’s economy with the frivolous and ineffectual Paris Agreement, pursuing bilateral trade deals instead of massive regional deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that allow economic bullies like China to take advantage of the United States — these are the fruits of an American economic policy pursued aggressively by businesspeople, not diplomats.
President Trump has applied this same calculated business approach to foreign conflict zones. Whether it is the recent peace deals between Serbia and Kosovo or between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (and the promise of many more such Middle East deals to come); his unrelenting economic pressure on Iran; his pursuit of trade and foreign policy alliances with India, Japan, and Australia; his expanded partnerships with Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific nations within China’s imperialistic reach; his pursuit of greater economic and cultural ties to Central European countries struggling for self-determination in the shadows of both Russia and the European Union; or his open lines of communication with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un — President Trump’s approach to world affairs has set aside seventy-five years of post-WWII American diplomacy for the strategic tools and outlook of the businessman.
This Trump Era realignment of foreign policy has been startling for naysayers, but it has proved to be effective both in achieving success for America and in producing novel workarounds for decades-long international disputes. Although volumes will be written to describe the Trump Doctrine’s rebalancing of global power, it is worth highlighting some key “tactics” the president consistently applies when pursuing strategic foreign affairs objectives:
(1) When possible, be courteous.
The president is known for being a brawler who will “punch back ten times harder,” but he never criticizes foreign leaders unless America is being directly threatened. Although he has taken assertive positions against Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea, President Trump generally refrains from attacking those countries’ leaders directly. The president’s critics routinely criticize his exchanged pleasantries with foreign dictators, but President Trump consistently demands from foreign adversaries that negotiations — whether over trade or war — begin with common courtesies.
(2) Be clear in your intentions, while guarded in your plan of attack.
When North Korea’s Kim Jong-un threatened Guam with physical destruction, President Trump responded by making clear that the language of war was not only intolerable, but would be “met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” The world worried about nuclear war. Instead, President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim have transitioned from hostile rhetoric to the exchange of warm letters and have taken the historic step of meeting at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. Whether it is Iran, Syria, North Korea, or ISIS, the president does not mix signals when it comes to violence. At the same time, he avoids “red lines” or publicly declared plans of attack. When violence is necessary, he keeps all options open until the moment of decision.
(3) Keep your word.
After Obama’s foolish backtracking from his own “red line” established to deter Syria’s use of chemical weapons, President Trump demonstrated to the world that his promises should be taken lethally seriously. In April of 2017, after Bashar al-Assad conducted a massive chemical attack against civilians in the town of Khan Shaykhun, President Trump launched fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase. Likewise, after repeated harassment of U.S. forces in late 2019 by Iranian elements, and after repeated warnings of retaliation from President Trump, the president directed the assassination of Iran’s Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani. President Trump never bluffs.
(4) There are more tools than diplomacy and war. Use them all.
When our ostensible ally Turkey took up military positions in preparation for attacks against Kurdish forces essential to the United States’ destruction of ISIS, President Trump successfully backed Turkey down by promising to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy should the attack proceed. The president has used economic pressure as a means to persuade hostile nations into releasing unjustly held American prisoners. Likewise, he has used the economic power of sanctions to weaken Iran and Venezuela and tariffs to bring China to the negotiating table. More than any American president since WWII, President Trump has utilized the might of America’s economy as a substitute for military action.
(5) If you must fight, win.
President Obama allowed ISIS to prosper by precipitously pulling troops from Iraq, strengthening Iran militarily and economically, and ignoring the consequent power vacuum left behind in the Middle East. President Trump promised to destroy ISIS and did so.
(6) Every problem presents an opportunity.
President Trump turned Obama’s misguided mission to strengthen Iran into an asset by pursuing military and economic alliances with Iran’s Arab enemies that would concomitantly advance regional peace with Israel. He has turned communist China’s military imperialism into strong military alliances and expansive economic trade deals between the U.S. and India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and Brazil.
(7) Some problems must be made bigger to be solved.
John Kerry and Barack Obama sought peace in the West Bank by worrying about Israel’s borders. President Trump looked beyond the West Bank by making Middle East peace about more than the Palestinians.
(8) The world is divided between freedom and control. Always strengthen individual freedom and free nations.
Whether in his solidarity with Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic against bullying by Russia and the European Union; his vociferous support of regime protesters in Iran, freedom fighters in Venezuela, and independence warriors in Hong Kong and Taiwan; or his continued support of American-owned businesses over multinational conglomerates, President Trump always pushes individual freedom over coercive government and institutions.
(9) Institutions that no longer serve their purpose should be abandoned.
The president has never bowed down to the “cult of internationalism” that has produced a U.N. Human Rights Council run by tyrants and a World Health Organization corrupted by Chinese influence. When international institutions betray their purpose, President Trump disposes of them.
(10) Never stop pursuing the goal, even after victory.
Every day the president looks for another peace deal in the Middle East, another trade deal to empower American manufacturers, another military alliance to weaken Iran and China. Every deal is just one step forward to the next one. His critics despise this transactional approach, but where they have failed in their pursuit of massive international treaties, President Trump has succeeded by accomplishing strategic objectives, a little at a time.
The Trump administration has sent an army of boardroom warriors to represent American interests overseas, and the results have been immediate and substantial successes for the United States in areas long deemed too difficult or too complicated for progress. The ways in which the president chooses to exercise power, sometimes with subtle finesse and sometimes with overwhelming clarity, are strengthening America’s place in the world. President Trump has taken the “art of the deal” and catapulted it into a global playbook.