Judd Gregg: Giving Trump credit where it's due

Judd Gregg: Giving Trump credit where it's due
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Give President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE credit.

He has given a flicker of a sense of a new foreign policy — even if he has not been able to encapsulate it in a specific doctrine.

Like so much else Trump does, he loses the good underlying thoughts and credible ideas in the banality, superficiality and insecurity of his general presentation.

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This is especially true of his approach to positioning America in the world.

Using the term “approach” may be a touch generous, because there are few straight lines in the erratic courses he puts forth.

We, the United States, have spent the better part of the last 70 years at the center of the world, due to the economic and military primacy we established soon after the Second World War.

The responsibility of facing down oppressive states was ours.

The Soviet Union and its client nations sought dominance. Maoist China was an ancillary actor in this confrontation but one that fueled two unfortunate wars, in Korea and Vietnam.

Our economic strength led us to not only reorder the globe’s industrialized structure but to dominate world trade and market activity.

Our purpose was to promote liberty, individual freedom and market-oriented opportunity across much of world.

We did this at considerable cost, both in American lives lost and in actual cost to our taxpayers.

Pursuing this role also produced considerable benefits.

But we are now well into the 21st century, and long past the time where we had to take responsibility for the good order of the world.

The role still exists, but it has changed.

The world has many nations today that are rising, independent of our involvement.

Our activities need to adjust, acknowledging that we are no longer in the post-Second World War or mid-Cold War stage.

Americans see this need for adjustment and so does the rest of the world.

Interestingly, so does Trump. He appears to be the first president to do so — even if he does not articulate the case for a shift with coherence or consistency.

His intuition has been to get us out of the military commitments that were rooted in recent or not-so-recent wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula.

He committed to rebuilding our military’s capability.

He did not make the linkage between those two points as clear as it should be. Specifically, we can only safely disengage from those foreign excursions if we are confident we have built up the forces at home that will protect us from the terrorist attacks that are still a very real threat.

The doctrine he has mumbled into is essentially this: We are not going to engage in distant wars without end, especially when their primary purpose tends to mutate into fundamentally changing the governance of a hostile nation.

No attempt at building western-type democracies in Muslim cultures has worked. Islamic states are inherently antithetical to western values of democracy that separate church and state.

Thus our policy, which Trump has in his own strange way initiated, should be to have a military capability that can respond to terrorist threats, without getting sucked into nation building.

Trump also understands something the left has totally missed in its desire to promote the cause du jour of global warming.

The Middle East simply does not hold the same strategic importance it once did for us, because we are now energy independent.

The president’s commitment to domestic oil and gas production is a major element in keeping us out of the muddle of Middle Eastern politics, which so often leads to wars.

Trump has also, in his abrupt way, made the point that Europe is not our responsibility any longer.

After 70 years of bearing the cost and burden of defending Europe, our role needs adjustment.

Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin nominated for Nobel Peace Prize Navalny released from hospital after suspected poisoning Ex-Trump national security adviser says US leaders 'making it easy for Putin' to meddle MORE is a dictator. But Russia, throughout its history, has known no other type of leadership. Putin is not, however, a serious military threat to greater Europe. He needs Europe to fund his regime by buying Russia’s natural resources.

Our role in Europe should change.

It should acknowledge that we no longer need to commit massive sums to its defense.

Our role should be to keep the European Union together to defend itself and mute the tension of nationalism within it.

We should also acknowledge that, in trade, the European Union is trying to disarm the technological advantage of American companies with arbitrary and capricious tax and regulatory policies.

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Trump sees both of these paradigms. He just has not evolved that insight into clear policy.  

Unfortunately, he has obfuscated it with his incessant need to insult individual leaders and nations.

There is, therefore, confusion as to America’s role in Europe today.

There should not be such uncertainty. If Trump were to put his approaches into a coherent and definable statement of policy, there would not be.

Beyond the issue of Muslim extremist terrorists possibly attacking us again, the most significant issue going forward is the appropriate course to follow with China.

Once again, Trump has set out on a course correction in this relationship.

But he has obscured the message with his personal embrace of the Chinese leadership as if they were potential friends.

Obviously they are not. But they are also not enemies.

The president is now stepping up to the core issues that we must resolve with China. It is a nation of 1.3 billion industrious people. Thus China will be, for the foreseeable future, both our most significant competitor and our most significant market.

The first issue is China’s incessant abuse of trade policy and especially its theft of American technology and knowhow.

This is not an issue that can be resolved with a single treaty or agreement because it is the nature of the Chinese autocracy to not abide by such agreements, especially in this arena.

Constant, ongoing and long-term pressure that takes on the Chinese actions is the only viable course.

Trump seems to have stumbled into this approach after attempting a glad-hand initiative with Xi Jinping that was destined to fail.

The second need is to settle with China what our various spheres of influence are.

This does not require military action. Rather, it requires recognition of each other’s strengths.

The doctrine of Trump relative to China has evolved.

It is an approach of asserting our commercial and strategic needs, while realizing that both nations have an inextricable economic dependence on each other.

It could be called the Trump “eyes wide-open” doctrine regarding China.

Obviously, much of what the president says and does changes with what he sees in the looking glass on any given day. Clarity and consistency are not among his gifts.

This is unfortunate, because he has the right intuition on many of the foreign policy actions we need to pursue as we wander into a different world in the middle of this different century.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.