By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States coincides with a changing world. Challenges abound across the globe with conflict in the Middle East and Europe in crisis.
Similarly, Russia and China are exerting their power in the face of a diminished American leadership. What role will the U.S. play in this changing world?
US Needs a Bipartisan National Security Strategy
Throughout the presidential campaign, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton articulated a foreign policy vision for the United States. Now with the election of a new president, America needs a fresh national security strategy.
A fresh national security strategy should be bipartisan, one that includes a role for Congress and requires looking beyond the crises facing America today. It will require a forward-looking approach that replaces America reacting to events with a strategy that shapes events before they happen.
As Trump begins to shape his foreign policy team, he needs to choose wisely in selecting national security leaders who clearly aren’t tied to an ideology. They must be able to think strategically, without the first option always being a military solution. The nation must utilize all aspects of its national power and incorporate them into a sound strategy.
What Are US Core Values?
Before a strategy or concept can be articulated, the United States must first understand its vital interests. With Trump’s election, the nation needs to understand how the U.S. fits into the global world community.
After World War II, the United States was thrust onto the world stage as the leader of the free world. America’s immense economic and military power set the parameters of our values and liberties for the world community.
But now the U.S. has begun questioning its role in the world. President Obama’s foreign policy of disengagement permitted other nations to assume a greater role in world affairs.
This change in foreign policy left the world rudderless. Nefarious actors have filled the power vacuum left by the United States. One of the most turbulent regions, the Middle East, has felt the aftereffects.
Trump Inherits Massive National Debt
Before any readjustment or recalibration of a national security strategy, America must begin to understand what has made our military power the envy of the world. That military strength has always been rooted in our economic strength.
Far too often, the leaders of both political parties have mortgaged the future of our next generation. When President-elect Trump takes office in January, he inherits a nation in debt to the tune of $20 trillion.
The strategic disarray of the nation’s finances will hamper how the federal government will revamp the U.S. military after more than 15 years of continual conflicts.
The guidance President Dwight Eisenhower left his successors in his 1961 Farewell Address is worth repeating.
“Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for [sic] our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking [sic] the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
Decades later, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, mentioned in an interview that the single greatest threat to the U.S. is our national debt. Since then, the nation’s fiscal crisis has only gotten worse.
The signal issue of the 2016 presidential election was the economy. The angst Americans feel about the economy sent Trump to the White House.
Even Secretary of Defense-designate Ret. General James Mattis mentioned this problem in “A New American Grand Strategy.” Citing President Eisenhower, Mattis said, “the foundation of military strength is our economic strength. In a few short years, paying interest on our debt will be a bigger bill than what we pay for defense. Much of that interest money is destined to leave America for overseas. If we refuse to reduce our debt or pay down our deficit, what is the impact on national security for future generations; who will inherit this irresponsible debt and the taxes to service it? No nation in history has maintained its military power while failing to keep its fiscal house in order.”
A New Middle East Strategy is Necessary
As a new president takes office, now is the time for the U.S. to set a course for a new security strategy for the Middle East. This strategy must be based on sound policy, not on ideology.
A sound Middle East strategy begins by asking fundamental questions. How does the U.S. deal with political Islam? Is it in our strategic interests? If dealing with political Islam goes against our strategic interests, how do we rethink our position toward the opposing forces?
We also need to consider how we deal with terrorists who hide behind Islam and how we define and label threats. We can’t defeat the enemy if we don’t know who we are fighting.
How does the United States rebuild our alliances with the many Arab nations who are left wondering what our strategic goals are or where we stand? Is the United States truly committed to stamping out the jihadist threat to the region?
Iran is one of the most complex problems the U.S. faces and we need to find solutions. How we deal with Iran is a problem that has confounded every U.S. president since the hostage crisis of 1979.
Whatever the policy of the next administration, Trump will have to deal with what he and many others believe is the disastrous Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015. How will Trump deal with an overly aggressive Tehran, which continues to create mayhem across the Middle East?
With an openly aggressive Iran, how do we encourage countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council to work with us? Those nations are left floundering. They are unsure of the U.S. foreign policy goals that are not centered strictly on Iran’s nuclear program.
New Strategy is Required for Russia and China
No national security strategy can be complete without dealing with Russia and China. During the past eight years, Russia and China have been more aggressive in expanding their influence. U.S. allies have grown nervous, because they perceive that America is retreating from the world’s stage.
Often what is said on the campaign trial falls victim to reality. Trump must now realize that as President Trump, he will have to articulate a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Russia in Europe and the Middle East. At the same time, he must also reassure our allies that America will honor our long-standing alliances.
Trump’s choice of General Mattis as his Secretary of Defense sent a strong signal that the new administration’s strategy will be vastly different from that of President Obama. Mattis is a strong believer in maintaining our security alliances.
Dealings with China will also be difficult. Last week, Trump upset a long-held diplomatic agreement with Beijing dating back to 1979 by accepting a call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. The U.S. had agreed to avoid openly speaking with Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province.
China also has been moving aggressively in the South China Sea, worrying our allies in that region. President Obama’s pivot toward Asia has been more rhetorical than an actual strategic rebalancing.
Trump, who was highly critical of China during the campaign, will have to decide what strategy to pursue. The course the U.S. takes will have long-range consequences for the region.
With a new U.S. president, it’s time for a new national strategy based on sound policy.