Trump Doctrine Seeks to Compensate for Obama's Middle East AWOL Doctrine


During our 240-year history, several presidents have undertaken U.S. foreign policy initiatives that today bear their names.

This process began with our fifth president, James Monroe. The 1823 doctrine bearing his name gave notice to European powers not to interfere in the affairs of sovereign states in the Americas.

Since then, ten other presidents set forth their own doctrines, all of which were assertive, until Barack Obama. His "less assertive" policy perhaps most closely mimicked President Theodore Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick" doctrine - only without the threatening big stick. It left certain regions of world, such as the Middle East, in turmoil as America proved unwilling to step in, leaving those with interests adverse to ours to do so.

During his May 20th trip to Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump sought to brand a new doctrine in his own name, one resurrecting an assertive U.S. foreign policy in the region. It also seeks to do something Obama refused to do for eight years: call Iran out as the sole instigator of instability.

Starting with the Iran call-out, the key components of the Trump Doctrine include the following four major elements:

First, while Obama went out of his way to downplay Iran's role as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and its use of the terrorist group Hezbollah as a proxy, Trump called a spade a spade. He noted Tehran's mullahs were "responsible for so much instability in the region," giving terrorists "safe harbor, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment." Trump made it clear there will be no more soft-pedaling Iranian involvement and not only are more sanctions warranted on its missile program, but so too are real inspections of their nuclear program, especially the facilities at Parchin.

Second, rejecting Obama's role as a sideline observer in the region, the U.S. will embark upon a new policy. This will require involving itself with the coalition of Sunni Arab regional states known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to oppose radical Islamic terrorism. This, however, will not be a relationship in which the U.S. takes the lead in the fight. While that role would fall to Riyadh, each of the other GCC members would adopt a policy of "sovereign responsibility." This would demand that each pull its own weight within the coalition to achieve the ultimate goal, but with U.S. support. Saudi Arabia has already taken the lead on this by recently making a massive, $110 billion U.S. defense equipment purchase. Whether Riyadh is the conduit for future buys as well or not, it is imperative the entire coalition acquire compatible equipment and training. This initial Saudi purchase was not limited to hardware alone, but training and intelligence-gathering programs, as well.

Third, while the immediate threat to regional stability is Iran and, thus, requires preparing for a military challenge, Trump also recognizes a long-term mutual U.S. and Saudi objective is to reduce young people's attraction to radicalism by improving the Saudis' economic environment. Commercial deals underpin Trump's belief trade and commerce with the Arabs will lead to such prosperity. Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Salman has already taken the lead on this. Hopefully, other coalition states will follow suit, eventually leading to youth-majority Muslim societies accepting modernization. Imperative in this effort, however, is that Arab governments take the initiative to sideline radical clerics. The push must be to allow "good jobs, television and rock concerts to talk, while making radical preachers opposed to modernization walk.

"Fourth, also imperative is that Arab governments target sources funding radicalism. The Saudis have finally recognized this and have moved to shut down both individual and charitable donors sending money to "devout Muslims" of the ISIS ilk. Among the Arab states most guilty of this is Qatar, recently leading Riyadh and other coalition members in the aftermath of Trump's visit to break off diplomatic relations until it gets its act together in identifying and interdicting such funding sources.

Interestingly, as Qatar imports most its food via land routes through Saudi Arabia, routes now closed due to the diplomatic row, Iran has joined the ongoing geopolitical, regional chess match. It has offered to supply Qatar food by sea. Painful as this rupture is for Qatar, President Trump has said it is a "hard, but necessary action.

"To further manage this initiative, the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center has been established. Necessary as well is that coalition members implement a protocol to stop funding radical madrassas, mosques, and organizations promoting extremist doctrine both at home and abroad.

While Trump's critics complain he failed to do enough to pressure Riyadh on human rights or open the country up to houses of worship other than Islam, realities must be recognized.

To begin with, critics hoping such pressure will lead to a new "Arab Spring" in Saudi Arabia fail to understand that, among all the Arab states, the Kingdom is perhaps the least likely to experience one. This is based on the size of the royal family and its pervasive influence in all aspects of daily life. It is estimated the family has at least 15,000 princes, making it much more difficult for an Arab Spring movement to get off the ground.

Secondarily, we no longer are in a position to demand other nations improve human rights, absent a will from within those countries to do so. We must accept the fact other nations will move at their own pace as per the will of their people, providing behind-the-scenes assistance when feasible.

As far as meeting the Iranian challenge in the Middle East and stabilizing the situation there, the U.S. has been AWOL for eight years. The Trump Doctrine now seeks to make up for those lost years by increasing U.S. support for our allies while putting primary responsibility upon them to check Tehran's advance. Short of direct involvement by the U.S., there is simply no other tenable option.    

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Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

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