In future years, those who go down to the literary sea in scholarly ships will write of the Barack Obama presidency, and as they write will recall the curious era we know as the interwar period. This was an era which fell between two continental crises: the first and second world wars. And though the men and women who lived through those years did not then know it, the world was undergoing a mammoth transition from the old to the new; and the statesmen of the time sought desperately to devise policies to ensure their nations would not be at sea amidst the new world order.
On April 16, 1947 that world order was given a name: the Cold War. It gave pithy identity to a global paradigm that had been set in motion following the surrender of the Axis states, and the newly-cemented Soviet- and American-led blocs. It visualized a world order quite different from the older, Bismarckian scale. Where previous generations of statesmen envisioned and refined a stage composed of neutral actors and competing empires carefully balanced by each other, the post-1945 era was dominated by two continental powers and their respective supporters. Where Bismarck’s model held national interest to be the main focus of these players’ policies, the Cold War was an ideological struggle between diametrically-opposed forces. Negotiations over territory and spheres of influence was simply off the table in this new order.
The death of the Soviet Union obliterated that era. Without a global challenger to justify itself, the American foreign policy paradigm shook under its own weight. In the years since, American foreign policy has taken a backseat to domestic issues, the military has shrunk year after year, and the nation has been forced to ask itself plainly: what kind of role should the United States play in the world? What kind of foreign policy should we have? Does America have a national interest beyond our own borders?
Many in the 1990s believed that they had solved those questions for all time. War, conflict, and petty questions over territory would all be solved by economic growth and the export of Western values; soon, they held, there would be little value in engaging in war, since a supranational paradise on Earth would render all disputes resolved, and wealth would bring global peace and happiness.
That soma-induced illusion lasted until September 11th, 2001; and since then, the American people have been made to grapple with the tough questions concerning their country’s role in global affairs.
A smart policymaker would strive to see America outwit, outmaneuver, and outgun its rivals. Thus, it must recognize that the world stage is composed, yet again, of many powers; and among these powers exist peculiar alliances, tensions, and rivalries.
With Donald Trump on the brink of entering office, I would like to lay out the broad beginnings of a new American foreign policy — the kind only a Republican president, aided by a conservative Congress, can enact and see through. No foreign policy paradigm should be made with the assumption that it will stand the test of time; they are devised for the time to which they belong. The Trump Doctrine, whatever form it will eventually take, must be suited for the conflict-ridden and chaotic world of the early 21st century — not the dream of leftist ideologues like Barack Obama and his ilk, nor pacifist utopians.
Consider these five points the foundation for a successful, conservative doctrine. This new paradigm must be:
Knowing this, it seeks to solve insecurities facing the American people in a way that will inspire them to live up to the best in their national character, as enshrined in the Declaration of American Independence.
This doctrine does not shy away from declaring America’s unmatched value in the world, and so places America’s interest and well-being first in all things. Yet it does not declare war on all the world for failing to live up to our highest standards. Instead, it seeks wisdom in classical, biblical values of temperance and prudence in decision-making.
It recognizes the departure from the bipolar nature of the Cold War, and seeks to build a framework that reflects this reality in order to better sustain the country for the inevitable trials and conflicts it will face this century. And, knowing this, it necessarily avoids the mistakes of ideology — which blind men and nations in hubris, ignorance, and visions of an eternity they can never attain.
Finally, it is a doctrine which is well-read, and thoughtful. It seeks not the silly efforts of academics to can foreign policies in so-called ‘schools of thought,’ but rather respects the insights of George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, King Solomon, and the god-fearing Qoheleth. It is conscious of wars lost and won long ago, and the limits of diplomacy. It eschews utopia.
Thus armed with a keen understanding of humanity and America’s place in the world, a conservative foreign policy plumbs its own limits — and carves out a glorious future for our beloved republic.
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