A new tool for the Trump Doctrine


                  Back in June, I argued that the Trump administration might well use cyber attacks as another tool in the kit of putting pressure on the Iranians to stop exhibiting bad behavior in the Persian Gulf region. This was at a time when the president was being criticized by some on the left as well as the right for not reacting more forcefully to the shoot-down of an American drone.

                  As it turns out, the administration was conducting a cyber attack as I was writing. Although the Pentagon did not announce it at the time, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported a successful cyber attack on Iran’s data base used to target oil tankers. It would appear to confirm speculation that there is a Trump Doctrine in play, and that it is working.

                  For some months now, the has been speculation — including in this newspaper — that there is an unannounced Trump Doctrine. It now appears that the studied ambiguity of the president’s approach to both Iran and China has teeth and that it is using all elements of national power rather than simply employing kinetic means or threatening force. Briefly explained, the Trump Doctrine appears to be aimed at addressing specific bad behaviors by specific bad actors rather than pursuing regime change or blind support for democratization in places where it clearly won’t work anyway.

                  In the case of Iran, President Trump desires stricter guarantees of nuclear non-proliferation and a cessation of Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East. Regarding China, Mr. Trump wants Beijing to cease predatory economic and trade practices, and an end to its bullying behavior in the South China Sea. The Pandora’s Box of a nuclear North Korea is open, but Mr. Trump wants its capability frozen at current levels so Pyongyang does not pose an existential threat to the United States. The president also wants Mexico to limit Central American immigrant pressure on the southern U.S. border.

                  The Obama, Bush (I&amp;II) and Clinton administrations all had similar goals regarding China, Iran and North Korea that remained unmet; the issues with Mexico toward Central American immigration are relatively new, but control of the Mexican border dogged Mr. Trump’s predecessors as well. It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump will succeed where previous presidents have failed, but his approach is certainly unique. Trump critics believe that unique is necessarily bad; time will tell.

Although each case is slightly different, a clear pattern is emerging. First, there is a reliance on economic sanctions designed to lead to negotiations. Second, there is a military component that stresses the American ability to use force if necessary, but not to overreact to relatively minor provocations. Finally, there is a carrot and stick approach, and a clear off ramp from confrontation is available to each party in question. In the case of each of the four nations involved, all elements of national power (diplomatic, information, military and economic) are applied in some manner. In all cases, the Trump administration has signaled a readiness to take a long-term approach rather than use immediate military means excepting egregious provocations. The cyber attack represents merely a new non-kinetic screw to turn in implementing the doctrine of containing specific bad behaviors.

                  If a Trump Doctrine exists, it is a transactional, negotiated and non-ideological approach to specific national security problems. If the Mexicans can reduce Central American pressure on the U.S. southern border combined with a verifiable end to further North Korean nuclear and long-range missile testing, Mr. Trump’s approach will have paid off fairly well. A negotiated end to trade differences and Chinese bullying in the South China Sea would earn the president an “A” in foreign policy. A truly verifiable nonproliferation agreement with Iran would be icing on the cake.

                  Mr. Trump has shown good judgment in not tilting at windmills in situations where he cannot win. Hong Kong is a case in point. The president made it clear that — however sympathetic we may be to the democracy movement — Hong Kong is an internal Chinese issue not tied to trade or the South China Sea. The president has also signaled that, despite providing lethal aid to the Ukraine, he clearly sees no national interest in a new Cold War with Russia.

                  Some past doctrines — notably those of James Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman — have worked while others have not. A successful Trump Doctrine would one-up Barack Obama’s advice to his own country by telling the world’s bad actors to “stop doing stupid stuff.”

                  <em>• Gary Anderson lectures in Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.</em>

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