How Don­ald Trump can shape his for­eign pol­icy

The pres­i­dent-elect should main­tain a sur­plus of power over com­mit­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By An­gelo M. Codev­illa

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s ap­proach to for­eign af­fairs comes down to this: put Amer­ica first, and de­liver vic­to­ries rather than de­feats. What might this mean in prac­tice? From Woodrow Wil­son to Barack Obama, pres­i­dents have imag­ined that, as Eliot A. Co­hen re­cently wrote, the no­tion of “vi­tal­ter­ests is al­most in­fin­itely elas­tic,” and hence that “any­thing — from a loss of Amer­i­can pres­tige to the pro­tec­tion of Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens, from at­tempts to de­ter ag­gres­sion to even min­i­mal ef­forts to ful­fill our treaty com­mit­ments — can be de­fined as vi­tal ei­ther to us or to our al­lies.” Mr. Trump should re­ject that, and hew to the Con­sti­tu­tion’s pro­vi­sions which make sure that these dis­tinc­tions and choices ul­ti­mately are the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s busi­ness.

U.S. pol­icy has also suf­fered from a sur­plus of com­mit­ments over the power to ful­fill them. Com­mit­ting to China’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity in 1921 while re­duc­ing the U.S Navy and re­nounc­ing the for­ti­fi­ca­tion of our Pa­cific bases helped bring on WW II. The 1994 com­mit­ment to Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, cou­pled with en­cour­age­ment to give its nu­clear weapons to Rus­sia, made pos­si­ble Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea and the Don­bass.

To­day, U.S. pol­icy is help­less in the face of Chi­nese and Rus­sian as­sertive­ness, and as Is­lamist ex­trem­ists in­spire Amer­i­cans to kill Amer­i­cans in Amer­ica.

To trans­late Amer­ica’s pow­ers into vic­to­ries, Mr. Trump will have to main­tain a sur­plus of power over com­mit­ments, em­brac­ing the pre-Pro­gres­sive Era states­man­ship of pres­i­dents from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton to Theodore Roo­sevelt and, since then, only of Ron­ald Rea­gan, whose for­eign pol­icy motto was “we win, they lose.”

Keep­ing the United States at peace — the def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs — de­pends on the coun­try be­ing will­ing and able to win at all lev­els of war­fare, es­pe­cially the high­est: nu­clear war. This means, as Her­man Kahn wrote long ago, “co­her­ent and plau­si­ble poli­cies for the use of nu­clear weapons.” As nu­clear weapons and de­liv­ery sys­tems pro­lif­er­ate, it is in­cum­bent on U.S. nu­clear pol­icy to re­verse our for­lorn at­tempt to strip them from U.S. armed forces’ rou­tine op­er­a­tions. Above all, this means pro­tect­ing Amer­i­cans against bal­lis­tic mis­siles from Rus­sia and China.

Mr. Trump should also re­think U.S. de­ploy­ments over­seas. Ex­cept for units fight­ing the Afghan Tal­iban and the Is­lamic State (ISIS), U.S. forces are spread out to project po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and to act as “trip wires.” rather than in strength to fight and win. Cur­rent plans call for de­ploy­ing more ‘trip wires,” to de­ter Rus­sia’s fur­ther ex­pan­sion in East­ern Europe. But fruit­less de­bate over what to do once these “wires” are “tripped” ex­poses such de­ploy­ments as pro­jec­tions of weak­ness rather than strength.

Sim­i­larly, the value of far­away naval bases as well as of ships and planes op­er­at­ing close to po­ten­tially hos­tile shores de­pends on the ca­pac­ity to de­fend them. But in fact, main­tain­ing U.S bases in the West­ern Pa­cific or merely se­cur­ing ac­cess to the ship­ping lanes there in the face of de­ter­mined Chi­nese op­po­si­tion would take our en­tire naval power. Tak­ing ac­count of such an even­tu­al­ity re­quires not putting the fleet in harm’s way piece­meal.

Rec­og­niz­ing that the Mus­lim world’s war­fare is its busi­ness, Mr. Trump should not in­ter­fere with its ex­haust­ing course, re­duc­ing hu­man con­tact with it is as with ar­eas in­fested with Ebola or Zika. End­ing state or neo-state spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism will re­quire hold­ing the po­ten­tates in any given place re­spon­si­ble with their lives for any­thing in­ju­ri­ous to us from whence they hold sway, while guard­ing Amer­i­can lives by pri­or­i­tiz­ing fire­power. This is the op­po­site of send­ing Amer­i­cans to search for in­di­vid­ual en­e­mies by kick­ing down doors and driv­ing around re­plen­ished mine­fields.

Wash­ing­ton can­not ex­pel Rus­sia from Ukraine’s Rus­sian-speak­ing re­gions. But be­cause Rus­sia in pos­ses­sion of Ukraine can be a world power ca­pa­ble of over­aw­ing Europe and threat­en­ing Amer­ica, Mr. Trump should make clear that the United States is pre­pared to sup­port the in­de­pen­dence of West­ern Ukraine (and the Baltics) with sub­stan­tial military aid, backed in the last re­sort by U.S. power to dev­as­tate Rus­sia eco­nom­i­cally.

China un­der­stands that its ex­pan­sion has lim­its. Re­sis­tance sets those lim­its. China is pro­ject­ing power through deeds — mis­siles, planes, and ships to con­trol the nearby seas, ex­tended east­ward by a net­work of ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands bristling with sen­sors, equipped to sup­port military forces. Mr. Trump will have to an­swer with deeds of cor­re­spond­ing se­ri­ous­ness — de­fend­ing Amer­ica as well as Guam and Ja­pan against any and all of China’s bal­lis­tic mis­siles and show­ing China that, in the case of war, a well­pro­tected United States would tar­get each and ev­ery one of its bases be­yond its ca­pac­ity to de­fend. Then, per­haps, China might lis­ten to a prom­ise that, in ex­change for dis­man­tling its ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, Mr. Trump would for­bear for­ti­fy­ing Tai­wan. That is an of­fer China could not refuse.

An­gelo M. Codev­illa is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Bos­ton Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion’s work­ing group on military his­tory. His lat­est book is “To Make and Keep Peace Among Our­selves and with All Na­tions” (Hoover In­sti­tu­tion Press, 2014).


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