The Trump Doctrine

At times I feel like the only person in the country not emotionally invested in the likely death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed, apparently, in quite the gruesome manner in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Instanbul, Turkey.  OK I get it, terrible story, but why exactly does this require a diplomatic response from the United States?  The US government doesn’t get involved in every foreign Coca-Cola employee in the third world who gets dragged away by a death squad.  And the death of a dissident to a despotic regime isn’t exactly breaking news.  It’s fair to say that this happens every day somewhere in the world, without the accompanying MSM hysterics.

The answer of course, is that he was employed as a journalist at The Washington Post, and in an age in which the West has abandoned religion, a new priestly caste has emerged, the MSM journalist.  That’s why the MSM has turned a minor story into a US foreign policy crisis.  This has already occupied the breaking news and top story for a week, and the new rule is if Eugene Robinson and the table at the MSNBC set are outraged, then everyone has to be.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood and someone who was a friend of Osama Bin Ladin, who mourned his death.  You really need to make a much stronger case to me on why his death shouldn’t be cheered, rather than causing spasms of outrage.  If there is a reason for outrage in this story, its how such a person got a green card in the first place?  Let’s investigate that.

Trump’s initial instincts on this seem to have been correct, dismissing it as not that big a deal, before the media blew it up into THE STORY of the week.  No doubt the view that this is THE STORY reflected the view of many of Trump’s advisors.  After all, doesn’t everyone seem to accept the judgement of the Post and other news outlets as to what is news, and what is major news?  It is interesting though that Trump’s default position is quite different from what the current White House line is…

Over at the Lion of the Blogosphere a few months ago, Lion did a post describing the “Trump Doctrine.

“If there is a Trump doctrine, it is that we have to accept foreign countries the way they are, and not turn them into copies of Western democracies. Russia has never had a democratic government like the United States, but the Trump doctrine is that we can still be friends instead of trying to sabotage their government for not being exactly like America or Germany.”

As a working definition, it’s not a bad one.  And why shouldn’t he define it?  It’s not as if Presidential “doctrines” are released as a White Paper or press release.  They are discovered by observing the administration in action.  Most famously the “Bush Doctrine” was ham-handedly used by Charlie Gibson in a rather famous gotcha interview with Sarah Palin in which she described the Bush Doctrine, just not the way Charlie Gibson wanted.  However the actual author (or discoverer) of the Bush Doctrine, the late Charles Krauthammer, defended Palin’s take.

But I had been thinking of this for a while.  Back in 2014, I had started, but never finished, a draft of a post called, “Realpolitik,” to describe what I thought should be the style and direction of US foreign policy.  Inspired, of all people, by neo-con former Wall Street Journal columnist and current New York Times official Never-Trumper Bret Stephens, in a column he wrote for the WSJ called, Relearning Republican Foreign Policy.  With the line, “A policeman is not a priest,” Stephens made the case for a muscular foreign policy without the moralizing and messaging of either George Bush’s freedom agenda or Obama’s “reputation of a faithless friend and feckless foe.”  This line, though, is the killer:

“Someday, maybe, a Republican will be in the White House again. If that’s to happen, Americans will need some reassurance that the GOP knows how to steer a straight course between the temptations of Barack Obama’s strategic timidity and George W. Bush’s idealistic excess.“

In probably the greatest Monkey’s Paw wish of all time, Stephen’s got exactly what he asked for in this 2014 op-ed with the election of President Donald Trump.

Stephens must be exhausted from all of his spinning around and changing positions, since in this week’s NYT post, Khashoggi’s Killing Isn’t a Blunder. It’s a Crime, Stephens is back to his neo-con roots, ready to lead a new moralistic crusade against the Saudi’s.

It’s actually fair to say that a more moralistic foreign policy has a time in place.  It was integral to Reagan’s policy initiatives in fighting the Cold War, but Reagan didn’t shy away with allying with some less than savory folk in order to oppose what he saw as the graeter evil: the Soviet Union.  But we are in a different time and place, and our foreign policy challenges are totally different than the bi-polar cold war steady state which occupied US foreign policy for decades.

In the current era it seems clear to me that not every struggle around the world is our struggle, and not every fight all over the world is our fight.  We have limited resources, not just of military might or money, but time and attention.  Time wasted on this Khashoggi matter is time not spent on other foreign policy issues like trade, or domestic ones, like immigration.  And no outcome in running down every Saudi royal guard is likely to benefit US foreign policy in the slightest.

Trump’s instincts, the “Trump Doctrine,” are Realpolitik; a foreign policy based on US national interests and practical benefits rather than ideology or faux outrage.  If the GOP picks this up as a foreign policy template, that’s yet another Trump “win.”

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Why Is Rubio in the Gang of 8?

Contrary to popular opinion, both in the national press and in the Republican Party, the conservative movement is split on the amnesty issue.  Just cast your mind all the way back to…last year.  During the Republican Primary battles, all of the conservative candidates were in favor of some version of amnesty.  The single hold out?  Mitt Romney, the “moderate.”

English: Former Speaker of the Florida House a...

English: Former Speaker of the Florida House at CPAC in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it’s a confusing battle space that has anti tax activist Grover Norquist on the same side as liberal Senator Chuck Schumer, and moderate, establishment Republican columnist David Frum on the anti amnesty side while traditional conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer is pro amnesty.  On the talk radio side the views are more what you would expect, Rush Limbaugh  and Mark Levin are reliably anti-amnesty, however Sean Hannity switched sides after the election and now supports amnesty (although he is still cagey about it).  Otherwise, things are more what you would expect from a conservative split on immigration.  The neo-cons are pro amnesty (think William Kristol) and the paleo-cons are anti (think Pat Buchanan).

So where does that leave Tea Party darling Marco Rubio?  Square in the middle.

Rubio is a real conservative.  I’ve listened to enough politicians talk to know when they are the real deal and when they are just using the conservative movement to advance their own careers  *cough* Newt Gingrich* cough.

Rubio has long been a supporter of some variation of the Dream Act, which are a series of proposals to legalize illegal aliens brought over as children.  Given that as children they didn’t really have a choice about crossing the border illegally; it’s fairly easy to make the moral case to anti-amnesty conservatives for creating some mechanism for them to stay, after border security.  But it was a shock when he joined in with a group of liberal Senators and pro-amnesty Republicans, the Gang of 8, to craft a comprehensive immigration bill.

First, it was a shock that after the disaster of Obamacare, any Republican Senator would try to make common cause on a bill that intends to be “comprehensive.”  For conservatives, comprehensive is code word for cramming as much crap as possible into a massive bill and hope no one notices what’s in it.  The purpose of comprehensive bills is to slide revolting items through the process that would never pass on their own.  Of course, in the case of the immigration bill, the sole purpose is to get amnesty through.  Everything else in the bill is a sweetener to buy votes for amnesty, even though there are plenty of real, needed issues that need to be worked on.  Instead, nothing is more important than amnesty.  Steve Jobs found this out while trying to convince President Obama to loosen up on the H1-B Visa program.  From the Wall Street Journal:

According to Mr. Isaacson, Jobs “stressed the need for more trained engineers and suggested that any foreign students who earned an engineering degree in the U.S. should be given a visa to stay in the country.” The president reportedly replied that this would have to await broader immigration reform, which he said he was unable to accomplish.

“Jobs found this an annoying example of how politics can lead to paralysis,” Mr. Isaacson writes. “The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done,” Jobs said. “It infuriates me.”

A simple bill to allow graduates of US schools to get a Visa would enjoy large bipartisan support and would pass easily.   So therefore we can’t allow it until we make sure we drag 11 million other people along with them!

So now Rubio is stuck riding this tiger all the way to completion.  Meanwhile, his reputation will be marred by every little crazy line item that is stuck in the bill, such as the one creating a biometric data base of all US adults.  So why would he join in with the Gang of 8?  How could this benefit him?

Just a couple of ideas and I don’t know if any of them are close to the mark:

+             He knows it won’t pass and just wants to build up some “moderate cred” for 2016.

+             He’s inexperienced and doesn’t realize  that Schumer and his gang are taking him for a ride.

+             He’s extremely experienced (a former Speaker of the House in the Florida legislature) and he’s playing the Gang of 8 by trying to “cooperate” up to the point that he can exploit the weaknesses of the bill and then blame the Senate Democrats and the Obama administration for sabotaging the bill with poison pills to keep the bill from passing and keep it as a political issue.

I’m sure there are probably many more possible reasons, but I don’t see any way for this to end well for Rubio’s political future other than at some point he disowns the bill.  If he doesn’t and ends up voting for whatever monstrosity slithers out of the Senate, than Rubio’s reputation will be damaged.  To conservatives, he will be a traitor, and to liberals he’ll be a gullible fool.

Which pill will he choose?  The red or the blue one?

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