The Basis of the Trump Doctrine: James S. Robbins

The president’s speech in Poland laid the groundwork for his security strategy.

Donald Trump spoke Thursday in Warsaw, Poland, to an enthusiastic crowd in historic Krasinski Square. He discussed the longstanding history of the U.S./Poland relationship, and the heroism of the Polish people during the 1944 Warsaw uprising against Nazism. He also laid the groundwork for what might be an emerging Trump doctrine of U.S. and European national security.

Nationalism was a key concept in Trump’s speech. He spoke at length about the Polish nation and spirit, which had survived historic challenges, most recently overcoming conquest by Hitler’s Germany and the imposition of communist tyranny by Stalin’s Soviet Union. “The story of Poland,” he said, “is the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken, and who have never, ever forgotten who they are.” In Trump’s worldview, national stories define a people, and are a source of strength.

Trump also spoke of the shared Western values of “individual freedom and sovereignty,” the “bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.” Like Pericles’ famous oration in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, he listed the ways in which these values have been given expression: “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs. … We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence. … And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.”

The president also emphasized the value of religious faith, to an extent not seen from contemporary American leaders since Ronald Reagan. He noted how belief in the power of God sustained the Poles through the period of communist domination, and how Polish Pope John Paul II inspired the nation to acts of religious civil disobedience. And even today, when the challenge of official atheism has been replaced by that of creeping secularism, “The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out ‘We want God.'”

Trump then identified the three critical threats to this vision of Western identity. The first and gravest is the threat of radical Islam, an “oppressive ideology” that “seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe.” The second threat comes from conventional state actors, including Russia, that “seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests” using “new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare.” He invited Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes – including Syria and Iran – and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”

The third challenge is the threat from within, “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.” Like Reagan, Trump has a skeptical view of the power and influence of government, which he sees as often being a damper on human achievement. “The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations,” he said, a clear swipe at Eurocrats and American bog-government liberals, “but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.” He added that “we put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.”

To meet these challenges, Trump stressed the importance of collective security and military strength. In a seeming answer to critics who believe he is soft on NATO, Trump said that “Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.” He praised NATO as a “strong alliance of free nations in the West that defied tyranny,” and said that despite the naysayers “the transatlantic bond between the United States and Europe is as strong as ever and maybe, in many ways, even stronger.”

The president also gave a nod to the idea of territorial integrity; not just maintaining physical borders but preserving the essential national characters of Western countries under pressure from refugees and immigrants who seek to undermine the host culture rather than assimilate. “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people,” he said, “our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.”

Ultimately, Trump said, the answer to these challenges was to refuse to allow the forces assailing Western civilization to win. He noted that these adversaries “are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can’t be beaten.” Maintaining the security of Europe and the United States is at base an act of self-belief. “Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together,” he said, “only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values.” This self-belief goes beyond budgets and bureaucracies. It is “not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will.” He said that “the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful.”

Trump summed up “the fundamental question of our time” as “whether the West has the will to survive.” The external threats of hostile ideologies and rogue states cannot be met by a Western culture that celebrates blame, guilt and self-doubt. This weakness of spirit, not a lack of weapons, is what ultimately destroys civilizations. Trump challenged the audience: “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” Because lacking this will, and the strong families and values to sustain it, the Western nations “will be weak and we will not survive.”

The basis of the Trump Doctrine is the recognition that the “fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield – it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls.” He concluded that “our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.” He counseled a return to a belief in family, freedom, country and God as a means of restoring and sustaining national greatness. And he expressed confidence that “the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”

James S. Robbins is senior fellow for national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council.

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