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Reich writes: "What's the 'Trump Doctrine' of foreign policy? At first glance, foreign policy under Trump seems inconsistent, arbitrary, and devoid of principle."

Former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich. (photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star)
Former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich. (photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

The Trump Doctrine

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

16 April 17


hat’s the “Trump Doctrine” of foreign policy? At first glance, foreign policy under Trump seems inconsistent, arbitrary, and devoid of principle.

A few weeks ago, even before the airstrike on Syria, Trump communications director Mike Dubke told Trump’s assembled aides that international affairs presented a messaging challenge because the Trump administration lacks a coherent foreign policy. “There is no Trump doctrine,” Dubke declared. 

I think Dubke is being grossly unfair. Of course there’s a Trump Doctrine. You just have to know where to look for it. 

The Trump Doctrine began to emerge when Trump issued his travel bans (both the first and second) on predominantly Muslim countries.

But he notably excluded predominately Muslim countries where Trump has business interests.

So under what might be called the First Principle of the Trump Doctrine, people living in a predominantly Muslim country have a chance of entering the United States only if their country contains an edifice with Trump’s name on it.

The Second Principle follows logically from the first. Countries that are potential markets for Trump’s business – nominally run by his two sons, but still filling his pockets – may be eligible for special favors if they allow Trump to make money there.  

For example, Trump’s business currently has 157 trademark applications pending in 36 nations, according to the New York Times.

Registered trademarks are giant financial assets for a business like Trump’s, which in recent years has made big money by selling his name rather than by building or making anything.

Soon after he was sworn into office – but only after Trump backed off of his brief flirtation with a “two China” policy – the Chinese government granted Trump preliminary approval of 38 trademarks of his name.

“It was a gift,” said Peter J. Riebling, a trademark lawyer in Washington, of China’s decision. “Getting the exclusive right to use that brand in China against everyone else in the world? It’s like waving a magic wand.”

One potential obstacle for the Second Principle is the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which bars U.S. government officials from receiving gifts from foreign powers.

No matter. Apparently the Trump Doctrine, well, trumps the Constitution.

A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) joined by several prominent law professors, is suing Trump over this.  

But the United States – through the U.S. Department of Justice – argues in a legal brief, expected to be filed this month, that the framers of the Constitution meant only to rule out gifts that compensate presidents or other office holders for services they might do for a foreign power, not for public policies they advance that benefit a foreign power. 

Interpretations of the U.S. Constitution by the Department of Justice aren’t like the musings of any random defense attorney. They carry special weight. They represent the views and interests of the United States.

Which makes this one official U.S. government policy – and thereby, confirms it as the Second Principle of the Trump Doctrine. 

The Third Principle comes down hard on countries that kill their own children with poison gas. They will be bombed.

You may recall Trump had long been opposed to bombing Syria. But, as he recently explained, Syrian dictator Basha al-Assad’s “attack on children … had a big impact on me,“ adding that "my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” The bombing ensued. 

This doesn’t mean endangered children will be given refuge in the United States, though. Recall the First Principle: Nobody gains entrance to the United States from a predominantly Muslim nations unless their country contains a Trump hotel, spa, or golf course.  

Which brings us to the Fourth Principle.

Not long after the Syrian bombing, Trump authorized the Pentagon to drop a 22,000-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on people described as “Islamic State forces” in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.

It was the first time the bomb – nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” and one of the largest air-dropped munitions in the U.S. military’s inventory – had ever been used in a combat.

Trump’s rationale? The group was allegedly connected to ISIS.

So under the Fourth Principle of the Trump Doctrine, the United States reserves the right to drop a mother of a bomb on any group seemingly connected with ISIS.

This applies even if the group is not fighting to gain or hold territory claimed by the Islamic State. The group could be thousands of miles away from the Islamic State, anywhere around the world. 

Could a mother of a bomb be dropped on such a group if it’s located in a country containing a Trump hotel, or considering a Trump trademark application? 

Frankly, I don’t know. That pesky detail hasn’t been worked out yet. 

But this one uncertainty doesn’t undermine the overall consistency or clarity of the Trump Doctrine of foreign policy. It’s four major principles are firmly rooted either in making money for Trump, or stopping bad people from doing bad things.

If Mike Dubke had a clearer grasp of Donald Trump’s worldview, he’d surely see this – as would everyone else. your social media marketing partner


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+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-04-16 12:32
What appears to be a random and inconsistent policy is only the fact that Trump entered the white house with near zero knowledge of US foreign policy. He used ordinary common sense to arrive at his campaign promises: 1. better relations with Russia, 2. work with Russia to defeat ISIS, 3. stay out of no-win permanent wars, 4. no more regime change, 5. and lots more.

Then when he was sworn in, someone schooled him and his top advisors. They told him what US foreign policy would be and it would be exactly consistent with policy from the end of WW II. Trump learned. He changed 180 degrees. Now he is just where Obama, Bush, Hillary and all the establishment front people have been.

It is curious to try to imagine how Trump was schooled and exactly who did it. The same speculations were around when Obama or Clinton were inaugurated. It must have been a small group from the Pentagon or CIA who met with Trump privately somewhere and explained things. These are the fronts for the Deep State. They would have said, 1. ISIS is ours, we created them, we run them, and we won't allow them to be defeated. 2. Russia is a permanent enemy. It will never be allowed to compete for super power status again. 3. China and North Korea are the future focus of military action.

At some point, they must have mentioned the risks of being president. You can either do what we tell you or you can go out just like JFK or Nixon did. It is up to you. We own the game. We make the rules.
-23 # jackdresser 2017-04-16 14:22
Yes, numerous writers have observed that Trump's sensible foreign policy intentions were immediately blocked and co-opted by the neocons and others comprising the deep state.
+7 # dbrize 2017-04-16 17:09
I note from the red votes to these two posts that it still escapes many that the elephant in the room since WWII has been the evolving, insatiable demands of the national security state. It has become a mestastacized cancer devouring whatever gets in its way.

When a national budget spends more on defense than the next eight nations combined and over 50% federal discretionary spending is on national defense, those assuming merely changing deckhands will suffice, are existing in a bubble of enchantment.

Nothing will change until the national security state is brought under civilian control. Otherwise we await a total descent into dictatorship, an economic collapse or WWIII. Perhaps all three.

There is a ten percent chance Trump is playing cat and mouse with the deep state, giving temporary ground to gain time to identify where and when to strike them and ninety percent chance he has been quickly brought to heel like his predecessors.

Not good odds but it's early and one can create their own enchantment.
+4 # Emmanuel Goldstein 2017-04-16 14:56
Don't forget Iran, the third member of Bush's "Axis of Evil." Because Iran is Israel's biggest enemy, the Israel-affiliat ed neocons who dominate the deep state have long been pushing for a US invasion of that country. It's just a matter of time.
+3 # jackdresser 2017-04-16 15:19
While serving in Clinton's cabinet, Reich apparently turned a blind eye to Clinton's secret support of Paul Kagame's 1994 invasion of Rwanda, the subsequent 100-day genocide when he refused the UN permission to intervene, Kagame's later invasions of Zaire for US control of the rare mineral resources that killed 6-7 million Africans, Clinton's denial of generic HIV drugs to Nelson Mandela for 3 million South African AIDS victims (John Podesta was a Big Pharma lobbyist), Iraq sanctions that killed a half-million children, NAFTA, 3-strikes mandatory sentencing, destruction of AFDC, dismantling Glass-Steagall leading to the 2008 crash, and later, Hillary's guiding hand behind the Zelaya coup plunging Honduras into chaos, the wanton destruction of secular, socialist, well-developed Libya and launch of our proxy war in Syria using Gaddafi's looted arsenals, and the Clinton Foundation's monstrous abuses and flagrant corruption in Haiti and elsewhere.

Reich continues to obliviously bleat approval of Hillary and the DNC/deep state demonization of Assad, the Russians and anyone else in the neoliberal empire's crosshairs. I remain unsure whether Reich is a paid propagandist or simply an innocent soul unable to face what Thomas Merton called "the unspeakable." I lean toward the latter. He seems like a nice man, temperamentally incapable of recognizing non-Republican evil. Perhaps his long association with the Clintons from college and law school accounts for his purblind views.
+3 # tgemberl 2017-04-16 15:32
We could have stopped the Rwandan genocide in 1994 without taking over the Rwandan government. Maybe that's "regime change" in a sense, but it would mainly have been about saving lives.

The fear I have is that Trump may not have the sense to avoid trying to "help" the North Korean people. Since getting into wars can improve a president's approval ratings, he may be tempted to do something like that, which would have catastrophic effects on that entire part of the world. I think we can assume the North Korean government wouldn't go down without a hard fight.

Contrary to what you're saying, I actually believe the Pentagon would try to discourage him from doing that. But he is the Commander in Chief.
+9 # Jim Rocket 2017-04-16 16:10
I would usually agree on Trump's zero knowledge of foreign policy but after reading this article it makes me wonder if his Taiwan "blunder" was to get a bargaining chip with China to get his trademark applications through. I also doubt the so-called Deep State had any trouble convincing him to change any of his viewpoints because he really isn't there to do any work. He's happy to dump off the decisions to whomever while he goes golfing. We know he doesn't care about anything but himself.
+6 # Observer 47 2017-04-16 16:16
Imho, anyone who doesn't see the reality of your statements hasn't been paying attention to the history of the last 70-odd years.
+56 # LionMousePudding 2017-04-16 13:45
3 and 4 are far too kind.

He doesn't care about most murdered children. He does it himself with impunity. And he knew the gas munitions building was going to be bombed, 24 hours before.

That was to look tough on Russia.

Plus, the media in the country swooned for him. Killing people is Presidential.

And he let off the MOAB because the military wanted to and he thought it would make his male member seem large.

His doctrine is far, far, far simpler than you state.

His doctrine is do everything he thinks he will profit personally, politically, or financially from.

And avoid what will harm him.
+6 # Cassandra2012 2017-04-16 15:14
Yes, he's a consummate hypocrite--- 'all those beautiful babies' (puke!) as though he even cared for his own when they were babies.
And he certainly doesn't care for 'other people's babies' .... especially those that are browner than his lot. If he really gave a 'rat's a$$', he would let those suffering Syrian kids (and their mothers) in as refugees.
Someone should have vetted his granpappy more thoroughly - you know -- the one who owned hotels with brothels in them...(The Germans would not let him back in...).
He needs to take a trip to the Statue of Liberty, and read (or have someone read to him?) the engraved poem by Emma Lazarus there--- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these , the homeless tempest-tossed. to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-1 # jackdresser 2017-04-16 15:22
Have you seen that Moab bomb? Where does he find a condom that big?
+1 # lfeuille 2017-04-16 18:48
You got it. Trump's campaign rhetoric about avoiding regime change and better relations with Russia as well as his opposition to trade deals were not the result of a common sense approach to foreign policy. He is a con man. As such he was able to spot the holes in the corporatist Democratic appeal to anti-war progressives and the working class and exploit them to peel away enough Dem support to eke out an electoral victory. It didn't represent any coherent policy.
+1 # tomtom 2017-04-16 17:05
I'm puzzled; using poison gas to kill people is a very bad thing, when California and a few other states have no qualms on using it to kill prisoners on death row. In God we trust?
+4 # norman markowitz 2017-04-16 17:20
The "Trump Doctrine" continues the Truman Dotrine which Henry Wallace famously called a world Monroe Doctrne and combines it with the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East ( sending marines into Lebanon to fight "Communism" when Communists had nothing to do with the issue) and the Reagan Doctrine sans Kings Row and Bedtime for Bonzo but with what we might call the John Wayne /Sylvester Stallone Doctrine, from the Sands of Ieon Jima to Rambo parts one, two and three

All of this adds up to something like what Van Wyck Brooks,an American man of letters, but not tweets, ago called Perpetual War for Pepetual Peace.

But I'm not sure if Trump even gets the perpetual peace part. War is too much fun when other people fight it and it is very good for ratings and making money

That is the only doctrine Trump has ever known.
+6 # ericlipps 2017-04-17 05:01
But the United States – through the U.S. Department of Justice – argues in a legal brief, expected to be filed this month, that the framers of the Constitution meant only to rule out gifts that compensate presidents or other office holders for services they might do for a foreign power, not for public policies they advance that benefit a foreign power.
Surely this is a distinction without a difference. When a president decrees a policy which directly benefits a foreign power in exchange for some financial reward, he is doing that country a "service" even if the payoff coms merely as favorable treatment for his business interests rather than as sacks of cash.
-1 # JoaquinWalking 2017-04-18 10:38
Gosh Robert, Trump is following Hillary Clinton's foreign policy regarding Syria. Hillary (your good friend) wants a war with Russia (China sure to join in) and now so does Trump. I thought you'd be happy.

Hey folks check out this video:

Take a look at the first one listed.

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