After it became known that President Trump had aborted a military response to Iran’s downing of an American drone, neoconservatives, establishment conservatives, and hawkish progressives (they apparently still exist) opened the attack on the 45th president. Earlier I wrote about the supposedly “conservative” criticism of Trump’s decision. The main line of attack is that he is supposedly too soft on Iran.
There’s another kind of criticism thrown at Trump nowadays, however. And that’s this one:
"It is folly to try to identify a coherent intellectual framework undergirding Donald Trump's approach to foreign policy." https://t.co/Fi9WO2OErY
— War on the Rocks (@WarOnTheRocks) June 22, 2019
According to this anti-Trumper, the president has no “coherent intellectual framework undergirding” his “approach to foreign policy.” He’s basically doing whatever he wants at the time. If he wants to attack a country today, but not tomorrow, that’s what he’ll do. He makes it up as he goes.
Trump’s critics — especially establishment hawks — will undoubtedly love this criticism. After all, it proves once again that they are so much smarter than he is, and that he really isn’t qualified for the job.
However, there is one minor problem: it’s clear to anyone with even half a brain that there most certainly is a theory shaping Trump’s foreign policy. It’s called “the national interest.” There is no grand plan to remake the world in America’s image, true, but that doesn’t mean there’s no “coherent intellectual framework” on which his foreign policy is based.
When Trump negotiates trade agreements, he isn’t interested in “moral questions” or “spreading the principles of the free market abroad.” For him, it’s all about one simple thing: what deal best serves the nation’s interests? If he concludes that this goal is served by having no tariffs at all, he gets rid of them. And when he believes that it’s best served by more and higher tariffs, that too is what he will do.
The same goes for military operations. The only question he asks himself is: Does it serve America’s interests to attack, in this particular case, Iran? No? Then there will not be an attack. If the facts on the ground change, however, so that a military adventure does serve the nation’s interests, he’ll change his position on the war question.
To pretend that this approach is anti-intellectual is quite simply dishonest. After all, it’s basically what the founding father of modern political theory argued for. I’m referring, of course, to Niccolò Machiavelli.
Trump’s foreign policy is Machiavellian Realism (in the proper sense of the word, not the caricature created by moralists of later ages). That may not be very utopian or idealistic, but that doesn’t make it any less intellectual.