With the elements in the Trump administration pushing our continued intervention in the Middle East and Korea, plus backing away from better relations with Russia, the future was looking grim for America First. America First means keeping our distance from other peoples’ quarrels.
But some recent developments suggest the glass may be half full. On his recent trip abroad, President Trump refused to bow down to the great clay god NATO. The May 29 New York Times reported,
Mr. Trump declined to publicly endorse NATO’s doctrine of collective defense or to agree to common European positions on global trade, dealing with Russian aggressions or mitigating the effects of climate change.
Quelle horreur! It seems America won’t go down for Gdansk.
As the same issue of the Times wrote, President Trump’s approach to NATO worked. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after her meetings with him, “Europe should pay more attention to its own interests ‘and really take our fate into our own hands.'” Hallelujah! This is just what successive American administrations have worked for for fifty years, without success: that Europe provide its own security, as it has the money, people, and technology to do. President Trump has succeeded in doing what President Eisenhower expected and wanted. When NATO was formed, he said, “If we are still in this ten years from now, it will have been a mistake.” American defense of Europe was intended to be only a short-term measure while European countries recovered from the war. That happened a long, long time ago.
There’s more good news from President Trump himself: he has reportedly not signed on the idiot plan, pushed by his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, to send thousands more American troops to Afghanistan in another doomed effort at “nation building”. The president knows sunk costs are no argument to continue what has failed. He wants to get out. He’s right and the war cabal around him is wrong.
Meanwhile, there is good news from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In a speech in mid-May to State Department employees, he broke decisively with Wilsonianism, the notion that we can and should force democracy and “human rights” down the throats of every people on earth, with bayonets if necessary. The Secretary drew an important distinction between our values and our interests. Our values, he said, are “freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated…our values never change.”
Then came the key passage in his remarks, the one that threw off the albatross of Woodrow Wilson’s corpse:
And in some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals or our national security interests.
If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.
In other words, our policies must be based on our interests, just as other nations base their on their interests. This is how the international state system works. It is reality.
That’s the half glass of good wine. But the empty part of the glass is of equal importance. Neither in President Trump’s remarks in Europe nor in Secretary Tillerson’s speech is there even a hint that they get the new strategic context, that is, the threat to the state system itself posed by Fourth Generation war. Both the president and the secretary speak and seem to think of a world where the basic conflict is between states, not between non-state entities (i.e., “terrorists”) and the state system. In a Fourth Generation world, this is a fatal weakness.
It is also a weakness politically, because the American people could and would grasp a need for an alliance with Russia and China, indeed with every other state, as the only way to defeat “terrorism”. By changing the context of international relations, President Trump and his administration could leave Senator John McCain and the rest of the warhawks high and dry on history’s beach, to shine and stink like the rotten mackerel in the moonlight they are (thank you, John Randolph of Roanoke).
President Trump won office by changing the political context. His administration is now floundering because he has allowed the establishment to suck him back into the existing context, which the establishment created and within which it thrives. An understanding of Fourth Generation war and the new international context it has created offers the president a chance to again pull the rug out from under the Establishment and plunge it into a context it cannot handle. That’s how to win.