Donald Trump’s contentious and narcissistic speech at the Ronald Reagan Center in Washington D.C. on Monday night detracted from the seriousness with which America’s new national security strategy should be examined, but it is also an indication of its Achilles’ heel. Whether Trump conceived the rather revolutionary new policy that he sought to present, participated in its formulation or simply succeeded in reading it from start to finish, his one-dimensional, egotistical, capricious and pugnacious personality is the biggest obstacle to achieving its objective, which is to make America recover whatever greatness Trump thinks his predecessors lost.
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Trump and his aides were undeterred by the protests that met his election-campaign use of the “America First” slogan, which associates to pre-World War II Nazi sympathizers in the U.S., and now they have enshrined as the title of Trump’s new national security policies. At its core, the America First strategy is based on a worldview that would have received widespread support in Europe in the 1930’s, by which all nation-states are fighting to better their position at the expense of others. Integration, globalization and multilateral cooperation agreements pursued by those who preceded Trump were signs of naiveté, weakness and loss of self-confidence. Trump’s America, on the other hand, will always look out for number one. It will promote beneficial bilateral alliances at the expense of multilateral accords, expand and strengthen its army so it can intervene in self-defense wherever it deems fit and use capitalism and trade to make friends and defeat enemies. American may inspire the world and serve as a role model but it will stop trying to reconstruct devastated nations or to press for human rights in countries with oppressive regimes.
Although early Israeli headlines focused on Trump’s assertion that Middle East regimes no longer view Israel as the crux of the region’s problems, the more significant news on Monday concerns Iran. Alongside Trump’s familiar complaints about the terrible nuclear deal signed by Barack Obama, the new American paper elevates Iran to a North Korea level of direct threat. Iran is depicted not only as a danger to America’s national security around the world but as a threat to the homeland itself. Like Pyongyang, Tehran is said to be developing ballistic missiles in order to threaten and perhaps bomb the United States with unconventional weapons. The document strengthens doubts about Trump’s willingness to adhere to the nuclear deal for much longer. It also justifies apprehension - in Jerusalem, the better word might be hopes - that the road to a direct military confrontation between Iran and the U.S. is already paved.
On the other hand, it’s clear that there is a great gap between the new strategy’s resolute determinations about America’s enemies, including China and Russia, and the way Trump has conducted himself since his inauguration.
In theory, Russia is a strategic foe that seeks to weaken America and erode its ties to Europe, in practice Trump has personally damaged U.S.-European ties more than Vladimir Putin could have dreamed of. In theory, the U.S. deplores a Russia that “interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world”, as the new policy states. But in practice, Trump denies the most blatant case of such Russian intervention, describing it as a conspiracy hatched by frustrated liberals with the assistance of double agents and other traitors in the administration, especially the justice apparatus. In theory, Trump should have been standing up forcefully to Putin, in practice he once again looked like an eager poodle wagging his tail on Monday night when he described Putin’s recent phone call in which he thanked Trump for intelligence that led to foiling a terror plot.
The new American doctrine is bound to draw wide support in the nationalistic American right as well as among its adherents and allies in the Israeli government and beyond. An America that puts Iran and radical Islam squarely in its gun sights, that seeks to impose its will through its fortified army and thriving economy, that shrugs off any presumption to fix the world or to protect its poor and oppressed and who is indifferent to European wishes or the emotions of world/Muslim opinion - as shown in Monday’s lopsided 14-1 Security Council vote on Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem - this is the stuff of which Netanyahu’s dreams are made. If there is any hope for those who wish to prefer to see such a pessimistic and egocentric policy fail, it lies in the fact that fate has chosen Donald Trump to implement it.