How Trump could make American foreign policy great again
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It is into an amorphous environment of American confusion, denial and weariness of global leadership that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUPS, FedEx shut down calls to handle mail-in ballots, warn of 'significant' problems: report Controversial GOP Georgia candidate attempts to distance from QAnon Trump orders TikTok parent company to sell US assets within 90 days MORE has surprisingly stormed his way.

This environment is the result of an American foreign policy elite that unwisely believes that the imposing of universal values is more important than confronting the grimy world of reality, where constraints and opportunities compete in an ever-changing calculus of geopolitical necessity. This ossified consensus is wrong and has led America to squander much of its massive margin for error on quixotic campaigns. In the meantime, looming competitors, especially China, press the limits of the entire American-led global security architecture.


Trump is the only major candidate who has dared to challenge thoroughly outdated pillars of U.S. foreign policy. Now that he has effectively secured the GOP nomination, Trump should embrace what this author calls the "Iron Quadrilateral," which consists of four major, and mutually reinforcing, geopolitical imperatives that should be pursued with steely determination.

As Sir Halford Mackinder, a leading British geopolitical thinker in the early 20th century, said, "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World."

That emphasis on the "World Island" of Eurasia lies at the core of U.S. national security in the 21st century, just as much as it did in the 20th century. The Eurasian landmass contains the largest masses of people in the world, the most natural resources, and the most economic potential on a going forward basis. Paramount among all geopolitical challenges is the absolute necessity of avoiding having a hegemonic power, or concert of powers, emerge with the capability of dominating Eurasia militarily or economically. If such a hegemonic power were to arise, it could eventually threaten the U.S. in its own backyard by becoming the only other power to have the capacity to project itself globally. All elements of the Iron Quadrilateral strategy flow from this overarching imperative.

China, not Russia, now appears to be the power with the greatest potential of accomplishing this. China appears to be seeking to push us out of the region economically and setting themselves up as the main arbiters of Eurasia through efforts like the "One Belt, One Road" initiative and a growing naval push.

The Iron Quadrilateral is designed to prevent this from occurring. This is policy is built on foundations of national interest and represents a decisive transition from the present Washington status quo of naively idealistic democratic messianism, whether of the liberal internationalist or neoconservative variant.

Imperative 1: Conduct a "reverse Nixon to China" with Russia

First and foremost, China and Russia should not ally. This would be a geopolitical disaster for the U.S. That it would not happen has been a cornerstone for much of Cold War policy since the Nixon era.

Having the largest country in the world by landmass (that also has the largest nuclear arsenal) working in concert with the second largest (soon to be the largest) economic power in the world to isolate the U.S. is exactly the scenario that Mackinder indicated is imperative to avoid. It is a geopolitical imperative of the highest order to keep Russia as a separate power base, not a little brother to China.

Rather than seeking to confront Russia in a renewed Cold War, it will be necessary to split Russia from China in a way not dissimilar from how President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger worked to exploit the Sino-Soviet split to counterbalance the Soviets.

To accomplish this will require coming to an understanding with Russia that acknowledges that Russia is a great power with interests in its neighborhood. It will also require a reconceptualization of what has been one of, if not the most, successful alliances in world history: NATO.

Trump is right that too many NATO members are getting close to a free ride on the American taxpayer's dime. As part of this "reverse Nixon to China, NATO's mission should be recalibrated for a post-Cold War world. Anti-terrorism, not an anti-Russian posture, should be its new mission. Further, the U.S. should demand that the Europeans contribute more, commensurate with what they anticipate they will receive as a benefit, on pain of the U.S. exiting the alliance if they fail to do so.

If Russia's western frontiers can be managed, the U.S. should actively encourage Russia to shift its focus toward Central Asia, where both Russia and China have competing interests.

Imperative 2: Embrace a "divide and conquer" strategy in the Middle East

The Middle East no longer matters to the U.S. as it did during the Cold War, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo or even the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This author has argued for a policy of "divide and conquer" akin to the strategy employed by Cardinal Richelieu during Europe's Thirty Years' War.

Not only should both sides of the increasingly bloody Sunni-Shiite split be allowed to fight amongst themselves; the fight should be leveraged to U.S. advantage. This requires the United States not taking any side in the rivalry between the two major potential regional hegemonic powers: Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Unlike most administrations since the end of World War II, the Trump administration should finally stop offering a blank check to Saudi Arabia. However, unlike the Obama Administration, which has sought to tilt to Iran, the U.S. under Trump should suffer no illusions nor expend much energy working to bring Iran into some sort of regional security architecture. Better for all sides to weaken each other than use American boots on the ground.

Imperative 3: Strengthen Japan

Under no circumstances can Japan be hung out to dry. This is an area where Trump needs to consider our alliance structure in East Asia.

The U.S. should consummate the "pivot to Asia" started under Obama, which is seriously under-resourced. The U.S should also shift the lion's share of our defense investment in Europe toward East Asia. In a nutshell, if Trump wants to reduce our overseas posture and save money, it should come from NATO and Europe, not East Asia.

Working to bolster Japan's regional relationships represents another facet of assurance that Japan is able to provide a robust counter to an increasingly assertive China.

As for the question of Trump's apparent willingness to countenance Japan potentially going nuclear, no less than the late Kenneth Waltz, the father of the neo-realist school of international relations theory, indicated that such proliferation could be an excellent deterrent to war as far back the 1980s.

Eventually, proliferation is going to happen. As this author has long written, the "Golden Age of Proliferation" is already here. We have to realize others may seek their own insurance, as France and Britain did in the Cold War. The threat of a nuclear-armed Japan, while initially destabilizing, could pay dividends over time. It would force China to carefully consider efforts to threaten outward power projection that harms Japanese interests, and should be left as an option on the table.

Imperative 4: Embrace India

One of the most significant foreign policy successes of the George W. Bush administration was the embrace of India. The civilian nuclear deal of 2005 was a watershed for Indian-U.S. relations and should be built upon.

India is already the world's largest democracy. By the middle of the 21st century, it will likely have the world's largest population.

India has natural tensions with China. Though there has never been a recent conflict as significant as the Sino-Indian War of 1962, incidents like the 2013 Daulat Beg Oldi incident illustrates that tensions continue to exist. Should India fulfill its latent economic potential, these tensions vis a vis China are likely to become increasingly important.

India's latent power portends a potential regional superpower that would force China to take India far more seriously than it has had over the last several decades.


It is time for the U.S. to confront its domestic challenges so that it can emerge stronger on the world stage.

This will prove difficult, if not impossible, if a new superpower in Asia consolidates its position and pushes the U.S. out of the key growth arena of the new century. Preventing this from happening is the most urgent task of American foreign policy and should be pursued without illusions and by limiting distractions.

Japan and the U.S. can contain China's naval ambitions eastward. India, with U.S. support, can contain China's influence towards the south. A Russia not focused on perceived Western encroachment can compete with China for regional dominance throughout Central Asia. Cumulatively, this avoids any power dominating Eurasia and threatening the U.S. position at the apex of global power.

If Donald Trump embraces the Iron Quadrilateral, he will have a foreign policy that can truly "make America great again."

Lawson is a contributing analyst at Wikistrat.