When President Trump was in Davos recently “selling America” and engaging with world business leaders, his Secretary of Defense was in Asia engaging with former foes in an effort to now work together on a common interest — the South China Sea.
While much of the media has been focused on the tabloid issue of the day throughout his first year in office, President Trump has been doing something consistently in terms of foreign policy that is starting to bear fruit. In short, his personal style of engagement and one-on-one diplomacy is beginning to forge alliances and recruit allies at a time when we need them to confront various national security challenges.
North Korea is presenting America its greatest nuclear threat since the Cold War. The “Russian Bear” is back and up to its old shenanigans as it attempts to reconstitute the Soviet Union. China is challenging the free world economically, with increased military spending and cyber-attacks. Syria is in a civil war, Palestine refuses to even sit down and discuss peace, and Iran is as repressive as ever.
Enter a new American President facing the most complex foreign policy and national security situation ever faced by a Commander-in-Chief. He embarks on a new doctrine, the Trump Doctrine, of putting “America first,” much to the scorn of media elites. But after one year in office, the Trump Doctrine is working, and yes, we are strengthening alliances with existing allies and forging relationships with new ones.
As the president has said, “America first does not mean America alone.” Each sovereign nation has its own individual interests which it should rightfully put first. However, there is that common interest of peace and security for our families in an increasingly dangerous world. It is this “common interest” where President Trump has been methodically focused in his foreign policy and is achieving results.
Secretary Mattis says we need “to strengthen alliances as we build new partnerships,” and the Trump Administration is doing exactly that. As China has continued its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, keeping old allies like the Philippines and establishing new ones like Vietnam are critical. Secretary Mattis’ recent meetings with Vietnam leadership resulted in the fact that a U.S. aircraft carrier will soon visit Vietnam and President Trump’s personal engagement with Philippine President Duterte has helped with America’s old ally.
Likewise, President Trump has met several times with Jordan’s King Abdullah and at a joint White House press conference the King talked of the “special bond between our two nations.” President Trump has also reached out to other world leaders who have never met one-on-one with a U.S. President. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg had met President Obama at a widely attended Nordic Summit, but President Trump actually invited her to the White House for one-on-one meetings. Later, she called the United States “Norway’s most important ally.”
President Trump’s style of personal diplomacy has also strengthened the U.S.’s relationship with Japan at a time when we need more allies in the region to confront North Korea. The President has developed a special bond with Prime Minister Abe and received him and his wife as guests at Mar-a-Lago.
President Trump’s one-on-one style of diplomacy could also make a real difference with other key world leaders. Names that come to mind include King Mohammed VI of Morocco who has shown a real willingness to work with America in fighting radical Islamic terrorism and Prime Minister Razak of Malaysia. Malaysia has historically enjoyed good relations with the United States, but in 2015 began conducting joint military exercises with China.
President Trump’s foreign policy is best served when he surrounds himself with people who actually believe in his policies and in the Trump Doctrine. At Davos, we saw what happens when Trump loyalists are actually part of the “Trump Team.” Two such figures who were prominent there included U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen and Director of the U.N. World Food Program David Beasley. McMullen, a businessman with savvy political judgement, has emerged as one of Trump’s best ambassadorial picks, while Beasley has used the World Food Program to fight terrorism in a number of hotspots.
President Trump’s style of one-on-one engagement with the world’s leaders is working. He actually hosted at least 16 heads of state for one-on-one visits at the White House last year, not counting those he hosted at Mar-a-Lago.
Many of our great past presidents adopted a similar approach of really getting to know our allies on a personal level. President Roosevelt hosted a number of world leaders individually at the White House, Hyde Park, and the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. President Truman loved his presidential yacht, the USS Williamsburg. Guests included British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and both men would stay up half the night discussing issues, such as the Marshall Plan and NATO. President Eisenhower loved Camp David and hosted a number of world leaders there including, President De Gaulle of France.
Yes, the Trump Doctrine is working and the president’s style of one-on-one engagement, as used by great presidents of the past, is strengthening relationships with old allies while making new ones at a time when we need them.
Van Hipp is chairman of American Defense International, Inc. (ADI), a Washington, D.C. consulting firm. He is former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and served on the Presidential Electoral College in 1988. He is the author of "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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