When President Trump embarked upon a grand tour of Asia last week, he was accompanied by the first lady, a handful of cabinet secretaries, an official traveling party comprised of hundreds of staff from the White House, National Security Council, State Department, Secret Service, and the intelligence community.
However, his most faithful traveling companion was the Trump doctrine, more commonly known as “America First.” The Trump doctrine is a bona fide household name that’s recognized by all and misunderstood by most. The media was rife with speculation about whether or not the president would bring his doctrine overseas, whether he’d invoke “America First” at official public events, and whether that mantra’s invocation, before an audience halfway around the world, would be appropriate.
This is the only way, in President Trump’s worldview, for the global community of nations to collectively reach its maximum potential. It’s the 20th century concept of collective peace and prosperity, reconfigured to meet the new demands of the 21st century.
He has floated this concept before, as the leitmotif in some of his major foreign policy addresses, though it’s never attracted the singular scrutiny it deserves. Nevertheless, the “America First” playbook has some rules of engagement for the international community that warrant elucidation.
First, each and every nation should prioritize the interests of its citizens above all others. Towards this end, the president pledged at the United Nations General Assembly in September to renew what he called “this founding principle of sovereignty” and expressed hope that every one of the world’s almost 200 countries would follow suit.
Second, national leaders for their part should design and implement policy in accordance with the sovereignty principle. During the same address to the General Assembly, President Trump entreated each and every head of state in attendance to help his or her country become its best self, which is a riff on millennial dogma, and to join the United Nations on a parallel quest for self-actualization.
Third, if national governments fail to prioritize their own sovereign interests first and foremost, they leave themselves vulnerable to foreign intervention and exploitation, as it’s no longer reasonable to expect that countries will adhere to international laws and practices.
President Trump made this clear at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, addressing unethical Chinese trade practices when he said, “If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs… I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.”
Had America been putting “America First,” Chinese manipulation wouldn’t have been tolerated, and therefore the United States has only itself to blame. This leads to the fourth ground rule that the successful nations of the international order, the “winners” as the president might say, have already been on board with this approach for decades.
The “America First” doctrine also includes rules of engagement that are specific to the United States, but will invariably have an impact upon global order. Chiefly, America’s days policing the world are over. Should foreign heads of state pursue their own personal enrichment at the expense of their people, a la Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines or Jacob Zuma in South Africa, America is not going to take them to task.
Furthermore, the United States is also getting out of the business of nation building because this has become unaffordable, literally or figuratively. President Trump introduced this new rule on the campaign trail and reaffirmed it in stark terms during his Afghanistan strategy speech in August. This marks a pointed shift away from the foreign policies of his predecessors, most markedly George W. Bush.
Lastly, America should no longer be counted on to export democracy around the world. This is equally applicable to every region, from the Middle East (we’re going to leave the peace process to Arab states), to South America (we’re not going to open up the internet in Cuba), and Europe (we’re not going to finance NATO).
In Vietnam, President Trump told his audience, “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.” The leader of the free world could not have been more succinct. We’ll do America first, and you should do you. We’re going to go it alone, and we suggest you do the same.
Gillian Turner served as an adviser to the National Security Council during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. She is now a Fox News contributor. You can follow her on Twitter @GillianHTurner.