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Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking

Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking
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Washington’s talking heads worked all night and into the morning, discussing the potential damage from the U.S.-Russia summit. Yet, over the long term, there will be no true fallout from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE’s badly chosen words at the end of his press conference with thug-in-chief Vladimir Putin.

While Trump clearly made a colossal mistake, throwing his intelligence agencies under the bus while standing beside the man who ordered an attack on our democracy, he likely will weather the storm — at least this time.

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Luckily for our president, where America stands in the global pecking order is on the rise — and, looked at objectively without a political lens, all thanks to Trump’s policies.

 

For example, NATO remains intact and is getting stronger, thanks to growing military budgets — something for which Trump can take. Russia is a weak, declining power, with nothing more to offer the world than oil and guns. North Korea, for now, has been tamed. The U.S. economy is strong, our military might is slowly being restored and will dominate the battlefield for decades to come. That is all thanks to an administration that clearly has had many challenges to overcome but has, on balance, delivered results at home and abroad.

Trump clearly has the right policies. Yet, as showcased Monday, he can undermine it all with shoot-from-the-hip comments that could prove politically fatal if he is not careful. When he opens his mouth without thinking through his actions, fawns over America’s enemies, or goes on Twitter in a rant-style rage, he chances undoing all of his success — and he must learn a lesson from Helsinki, or else.

Consider this: If you ignored (as I try to do) all of the president’s Twitter and press conference rants, Trump has a standard, even Reagan-like foreign policy outlook, clearly demonstrated in his policies towards America’s greatest geopolitical rivals.

First, consider his policy on Russia, where he has pushed back harder on Moscow’s rogue antics than Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDonald Trump Jr. emerges as GOP fundraising force Trump shows peace through strength works after Obama Wake up, Kanye West MORE ever did. Trump is arming Ukraine, applying additional sanctions on Moscow, and even attacked close Russian ally Syria — even when Moscow threatened repercussions would be forthcoming. If you never read a Trump tweet, turned on the TV or logged on to Twitter, and just looked at policy, you would think Trump was waging a new Cold War on Putin.

Next, there is Trump’s action regarding China, a massive shift from any previous U.S. president since the 1960s. America is slowly shifting its strategy of what was engagement with the so-called Middle Kingdom to a tough, near-containment style doctrine that has cast Beijing as its No. 1 geopolitical foe. Trump has taken on China over trade — something that should have been done 10 years ago and is wildly popular among mainstream Republicans and many sections of America’s working class, and even blue-collar Democrats. When you factor in the administration’s push to warm ties with Taiwan, Vietnam and other nations that have a shared interest in limiting China’s ability to dominate Asia, along with a stronger military presence in the region, it is clear that Trump means business.

The Trump Doctrine, to reemphasize power politics in U.S. foreign policy, is a winning strategy. What Trump must do now might be the hardest part for him, something against all his instincts and against what made him successful: Let the policies do the talking for him.

For example, when he is at a press conference and he is asked about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, he needs to talk about what his administration has done to ensure Moscow has been weakened and pays a price for its actions — and that America will ramp up the pressure if Putin does not learn his lesson. He cannot be triggered by just the mere notion that someone has doubts about his electoral victory. Being the free world’s leader demands that he allow such attacks to roll off his back, or he will be forever punching at ghosts that don’t have to fight back — and only hurting himself in the process.

Next, Trump must stop trying to buddy up to world leaders who want to see America fail. While I understand his strategy — to develop a personal relationship that he can leverage later during negotiations — I can assure you that Russian or Chinese leaders don’t care how nice or fawning he is, and it looks weak. Trump can be as nice as he wishes in person but, when he is at the podium with such leaders, he must project strength yet be respectful. Trump must understand the world is watching his every move — and that the stakes are much higher than any reality TV show. He is performing on the world stage now.

Lastly, Trump needs to use his Twitter feed more strategically. While there likely is no way to get the president off social media, reacting to what he sees on “Fox and Friends” or the latest gossip in the Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE investigation does not help his presidency at all. He should consult with his communications team and develop a solid strategy for social media that works to further his agenda at home and aboard. Trump can still be Trump, but a little coordination and advice could go a long way.

Clearly, Monday’s remarks will set back Trump for the next few weeks but, in today’s age of quick news cycles and trending topics on social media, he will survive. And for now, America and its alliances are strong, the economy is solid, our enemies are off-balance. Yet, Trump must learn this lesson — or his own words and strange fawning over America’s enemies could be his undoing.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.