31 Oct The Trump Doctrine
Donald Trump’s foreign policy is an unexpected anomaly; totally unclassifiable among all the ideological traditions of American history. Or isn’t it? Notions such as “The Withdrawal Doctrine” or “leaving from behind” try to explain the seemingly chaotic and unpredictable foreign approach of the President of the United States. But experts such as Walter Russell Mead have spent years analyzing the History of America’s main ideologies in international relations, and these can help clarify the policy being pursued today. Mead classifies these traditions into four streams: Jeffersonianism, Hamiltonianism, Wilsonianism, and Jacksonianism The latter is named after Andrew Jackson, president between 1829 and 1837, whose portrait is hanging on a prominent place in the Oval Office since January 20, 2017, the day Donald J. Trump took office.
According to Mead, the Jacksonian approach has always been very influential in public opinion creation in the United States and, although it has hardly been represented in the media or academia, Congress and even the White House have been under its influence at times: Truman, Nixon or Reagan connected well with those ideas. It is a popular rather than an intellectual trend, and comes from the experiences of the first British Protestant settlers, especially Scots, who first moved and started a new life in the colonies of the Midwest and the South. Now theoretically less demanding on the racial issue, they have been characterized in the past by their nativist and anti-immigration views. Suspicious of the elites and federal power, they consider that their longing for freedom is not guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution (freedom of expression, press, religion) but by the second (right to bear arms), essential for a life of constant risk at the frontier. The concept of honor plays a key role in their daily life, while they hold high respect for symbols. Supporters of generous spending on credit and debt, they tend to support loose monetary policy. Finally, Mead explains, they show fervent support for their armed forces. Some of these ideas resonate in recent events such as the presidential campaign against NFL protests over alleged racial violence by federal police, the disagreements with Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve, or the appointment of military personnel to key government posts such as Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, or National Security Adviser, which traditionally were held by civilians.
In foreign policy, Jacksonianism interprets reality under the prism of national interest. Apparently isolationist, it is in fact in favor of pre-emptive wars and unlimited attacks if those were deemed necessary in order to defend the national interest: “we would totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said recently before the UN General Assembly. The national interest to be defended includes, according to Mead, the exploitation of natural resources: This idea fits with the President’s observation that “We should have kept the oil from Iraq” at the CIA headquarters on January 21 of this year. However, Jacksonianism feels international cooperation or multilateralism is a waste. In line with the early settlers’ worldview, it is pessimistic about human nature and the material world, and therefore does not back working or investing in an integrated global economy or a just international order. It seeks privileges for its own exports, but intends to restrict American purchases from abroad with a different set of rules. All these ideas are back today with President Trump’s position on issues such as the Paris Climate Agreement, the reduction of the Department of State’s budget, the complaining anout contributions to the UN budget or NATO, the photograph taken with Nigel Farage in November 2016, the lack of support for the nuclear deal with Iran, or the growing limits to NAFTA renegotiations.
According to Mead, Jacksonians are pre-millenarists. They think history will end in catastrophe, and they fear an apocalyptic appearance of a misterious political figure who might seem to support peace, but actually may lead an international conspiracy to end liberties in America; in this respect it is worth remembering Trump’s electoral campaign’s last video. Given their inclination to look for geographical specific locations in which to place the “sources of Evil” in a dual Universe, Mead would perhaps agree that, having initially located them in the Vatican and later in Moscow, they currently place them in Tehran or Mecca, with a subsidiary in Pyongyang. There does not seem to be improvisation or unpredictability. Quite the contrary, Donald Trump is faithfully following Andrew Jackson’s old script.
Manuel López-Linares holds a PhD in Economics and International Relations, and he is the author of Pax Americana.
SOURCE: Expansión -print edition-. Spain’s leading business newspaper. On October 31, 2017.