Donald Trump Is No Dick Cheney

Republican foreign policy was once defined by clashing world views. Now it’s defined only by loyalty to the president.

At first glance, the recent drone strike ordered by President Trump against an Iranian general would seem to return Republican foreign policy to the George W. Bush era. Several elements of the attack reflected the approach to the world defined by Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney: a belief in the efficacy of military force, the validity of pre-emptive attack and the determination to avoid seeking approval from congressional leaders. But on closer examination, such comparisons fail. In his foreign policy, Mr. Trump represents something wholly new.

The president’s recent actions underscore the fact that the Republican Party has no guiding principles; it has only Mr. Trump, who demands loyalty to himself as its leader. Nor does the party leadership have senior figures with long experience in foreign policy who might challenge Mr. Trump’s thinking. The Republican Party, which once served as home for a variety of clashing philosophies about foreign policy, has lost its moorings.

Consider the party’s history in recent decades and the contrast with where the party stands today. Over the past half-century, the Republicans had been loosely split between two approaches for dealing with the world. One was the traditional, alliance-centered internationalism that had held sway, for example, under President George H.W. Bush. The other was the hawkish unilateralism of the party’s neoconservatives, who had gathered strength during the Reagan administration.

During the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell carried forward, if imperfectly, the ideas of internationalism; Vice President Cheney embraced many of the views of the neoconservatives. These two schools of thought came into acrimonious conflict over Iraq, Israel, North Korea and other issues.

Now, under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party has been transformed in such a way that neither internationalists nor neoconservatives hold influence in the White House. Mr. Trump has weaved, wavered and reversed course on foreign policy based on his views of the moment, and as he has, the Republicans have followed. The factional disputes that characterized the Bush years have been replaced by a single question: Are you loyal to President Trump or not?

There is no one to challenge Mr. Trump now. In contrast, consider the era of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Powell. Those two men were the most durable figures at the top of America’s foreign policy apparatus from 1988 to 2008, encompassing the end of the Cold War and its aftermath.

During those 20 years, Mr. Powell served for nine years under four American presidents as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and secretary of state. Mr. Cheney served for a total of 12 years as secretary of defense and vice president. The Trump administration has nothing comparable; indeed, not one of the senior leaders in the current administration, including the vice president, secretary of state and defense or national security adviser, has been involved at the top ranks in any previous administration.

Even the more experienced officials Mr. Trump initially appointed to senior foreign-policy jobs, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and the former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, had spent less previous time in senior Washington positions than veterans of previous Republican administrations (who also included figures such as Brent Scowcroft and Robert Gates). And even these older hands — the “adults in the room,” as they were often called — left the Trump administration within two years.

Determined, experienced advisers can sometimes deflect a president’s worst instincts and ideas. While doing book research in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, I ran across the astonishing fact that in the fall of 1988, well after the Iran-contra scandal was behind him, President Reagan secretly tried to revive efforts to pay Iran for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and to forge a new relationship with Iran.

“We have billions,” Mr. Reagan told Mr. Powell, his national security adviser. But Mr. Powell was adamantly opposed to the idea and made sure it didn’t happen. (In the early 2000s, he was less strongly opposed to the idea of going to war in Iraq, the venture strongly supported by Mr. Cheney.)

It is tempting for liberals to assume that all their opponents on the political right are alike, or stem from the same source — and that therefore, Dick Cheney somehow led to Donald Trump. But that’s not correct; Mr. Trump’s origins, outlook and style are quite different from those of Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Cheney’s rise to power — indeed, his very persona — was based on a preoccupation with government processes and a familiarity with the national-security bureaucracies (call them the “deep state”) that Mr. Trump so often disdains. Mr. Cheney has at times voiced disapproval of some of the linchpins of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, such as his dealings with Russia and North Korea. John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, represented the last link in the top ranks of the Trump administration to the determinedly hawkish policies advocated by Mr. Cheney.

As for Mr. Powell, it is at this point hard even to recall how or why he identified himself as a Republican. Yet at the time the Cold War was ending, the Democrats were calling for a “peace dividend” that included substantial cuts in the defense budget, and Mr. Powell, working closely with Mr. Cheney, labored hard, and for the most part successfully, to resist those efforts.

Mr. Powell’s eventual alienation from the Republican Party was a result of the same forces and dynamics that would eventually propel the rise of Mr. Trump: nativism and hostility toward immigrants and racial minorities. When Mr. Powell appeared before the Republican National Convention in 1996, he made a plea for diversity and tolerance.

“The Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen yesterday must be as precious as a Mayflower descendant,” he told the delegates then. That speech was greeted by a smattering of boos. In 2008, when Mr. Powell announced he could not support the Republican presidential nominee (even though it was his old friend John McCain), Mr. Powell specifically cited the mood of Republicans who had claimed that Senator McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, was a Muslim.

The Trump Republicans long ago abandoned Mr. Powell and virtually everything he stood for — and while it may seem less obvious right now, they have cut loose from Cheneyism, too. We can see the party’s absence of ideas or strategy in the current policies on the Middle East and North Korea.

The drone strike came alongside Mr. Trump’s purported effort to lessen America’s involvement in the Middle East. His personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Vladimir Putin of Russia might appear to be in line with Mr. Powell’s emphasis on diplomacy — but under Mr. Trump, what has counted so far is only the word “personal,” not the diplomacy. As a result, the Republicans are left with no past and no ideas, merely a single man and his vagaries.

Trump’s Populist Schism Over Syria

His troop-withdrawal plan is politically risky. The Republican base is more hawkish than isolationist.

The most surprising thing about President Trump’s decision to overrule his top advisers and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan isn’t that it was improvised and disruptive. Sudden shifts are part of Mr. Trump’s method, and disconcerting senior officials is one of his favorite management tools.

The surprise is that for the first time, Mr. Trump made a foreign-policy decision that divides the coalition that brought him into the White House and risks his control of the GOP. Mr. Trump has frequently challenged and infuriated his political opponents, but his Syria decision risks alienating allies he can ill afford to lose.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump’s sense of populist America been more important than in foreign policy. As a candidate in 2015-16, he showed that he understood something his establishment rivals in both parties did not: that the post-Cold War consensus no longer commanded the American people’s support.

.. During the Cold War, a large majority of Americans united around the policies that built the international liberal order after World War II. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, a gap opened between those who saw an opportunity to expand America’s world-building activities and those who saw an opportunity for the U.S. to reduce its commitments overseas. The foreign-policy establishment across both parties supported an ambitious global agenda, but increasingly alienated populists preferred to pull back.

For a quarter-century after the Soviet Union collapsed, the establishment consensus for building up the global order dominated American foreign policy, and dissenting voices were shunted aside. By 2016, that was no longer possible. In the Republican Party, Trump’s antiestablishment message led him to victory; on the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign also benefited from opposition to establishment policies on security and trade.

The conservative opposition to conventional American foreign policy is anything but monolithic. One group of critics continues the Jeffersonian tradition of preserving American liberties at home by minimizing American involvement abroad. Figures like Sen. Rand Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, speak to this side of the populist coalition. Jeffersonians are skeptical of international institutions and alliances as well as American interventions to protect human rights abroad. They oppose big defense budgets and extensive military deployments and see no reason for an anti-Russia foreign policy. Many believe that Israel seeks to drag the U.S. into Middle East struggles that Washington would do better to avoid. Sen. Paul was quick to announce his support for President Trump’s Syria decision.

The other, Jacksonian wing of conservative populism shares the Jeffersonian suspicion of multilateralism and humanitarian interventions, but is more supportive of the American military and of maintaining America’s reputation for standing by allies. Jacksonians are hawkish about China, Russia and Iran and favor a strong relationship with Israel. This tendency in American politics is represented by figures like Sen. Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and has criticized Mr. Trump’s Syria decision.

Mr. Trump’s beleaguered presidency needs both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian support to survive, and until the Syria decision, he had managed the tension between the two currents pretty effectively. Both Jacksonians and Jeffersonians supported the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and both hailed the president’s skepticism about humanitarian intervention. Both sides enjoyed the discomfiture of the foreign-policy establishment when Mr. Trump challenged conventional wisdom, and both praised his willingness to pursue a more unilateral course in foreign affairs.

That harmony may soon sour. Mr. Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters and provide a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials.

  • The betrayal of the Kurds, the
  • benefits to Iran of American withdrawal,
  • the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and
  • the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin are all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Of the two wings of the GOP populist movement, the Jacksonians are the stronger and, from a political standpoint, the more essential. The GOP base is more hawkish than isolationist, and from jihadist terrorism to Russian and Chinese revisionism, today’s world is full of threats that alarm Jacksonian populists and lead them to support a strong military and a forward-leaning foreign policy.

Neoconservatives tried and failed to rally GOP foreign-policy hawks against Donald Trump. Should Jacksonians turn against him, they are likely to pose a much more formidable threat.

Nikki Haley says Trump Mideast peace plan is nearly finished

The Trump administration is nearly finished drafting its Mideast peace proposal and will release it soon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday.

.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”

.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”

.. Palestinian leaders have said the Jerusalem decision means the United States can no longer be an honest broker.

.. David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, pressed Haley on whether the United States would propose an independent Palestinian stat

.. “It’s for them to decide,” Haley said

.. Axelrod asked Haley about proposals to cut legal migration “by 40 percent,”

.. She advises Trump directly and is among the most hawkish voices on issues including Iran and Israel, sometimes putting her at odds with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

.. Kissinger, she said, had advised her that negotiations go better when one tries to understand an adversary’s goals and motives. That applies in international affairs and in politics, she told the students.

“You don’t have to agree with them – most times you won’t. But you have to understand where they’re coming from,” Haley said.

“This is a skill that I am afraid is being lost in America today,” along with perspective on political differences, she said.

Can Trumpism Survive a Trump Administration?

From the Bush family to Paul Ryan, the Iraq war to entitlement reform, Trump arrayed himself against the personalities and policies of the Republican Party

.. But his revolution was so sudden and sweeping that it raced ahead of itself, capturing the White House without having any of the plans and personnel and foot soldiers that actually operationalizing Trumpism would require.

.. were the president-elect a shrewd judge of ideology, it might be possible to come up with a foreign policy team — a mix of realist internationalists and war-weary Jacksonians, Jon Huntsmans and Jim Webbs — that matched reasonably well with his overarching vision.

.. But instead Trump is apparently considering Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton for the State Department — the former because of his campaign-trail loyalty, the latter (presumably) because of his connections to the Heritage Foundation, which volunteered itself for the transition process back when that process seemed unlikely to go anywhere. Both men do share a temperament with Trump — combative, adversarial, sometimes bullying. But neither is particularly Trumpist when it comes to the actual details of foreign policy; indeed, both are embodiments of the full-spectrum hawkishness that the businessman-candidate often campaigned against.

.. Bolton, for instance, took to the pages of this newspaper last fall to dismiss Trump’s idea of “an American-Russian coalition against ISIS” as both “undesirable” and “glib.

.. it’s also quite possible that if he appoints conventional full-spectrum hawks to key posts, full-spectrum hawkishness is what we’ll get

.. this is explicitly what a lot of people in the Republican Party are hoping for

.. Perhaps this means there will be a persistent division between rhetoric and policy, in which Trump continues to publicly sell himself as a new sort of nationalist — and his populist allies try to go mainstream and win converts and become the ideological cadres that Trumpism now lacks — even as the gears of government grind in the grooves that Mike Pence and Ryan and the conservative movement prefer.

Why Did Lindsey Graham Run?

Graham always knew that his odds of breaking into the majors were long, and he never had a realistic path to winning his Party’s nomination. His plan, instead, was to use the nomination process to make foreign policy a central issue in the Republican primaries and to make sure that his own hawkish views prevailed with whomever the Party nominated.

.. Graham clearly entered this Presidential race to start a fight with the Paul wing of the Party, but Paulism was in decline. In fact, most of Graham’s serious opponents, especially Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie, were already parroting Graham’s views on Obama’s failures and the need for a more interventionist response to the Islamic State, even if they have been coy about sending ground troops in the numbers that Graham has favored.

.. Unlike all of his rivals, Graham saw climate change as a major threat. When we talked in the summer, he mocked the typical Republican response to the issue. “How many times have you heard a Republican say, ‘I’m not a scientist’?” he said. “Okay, I get that, I’m not a scientist either. What makes you think all the scientists are wrong if you’re not one? If you go to ten doctors, and nine of them say, ‘Hey you’re gonna die if you don’t do this,’ and one of them says you’re fine, why would I listen to the one guy when nine guys say, ‘You need to do something or you’re gonna die’?”

Marco Rubio Casts U.S., and Himself, as Strong Leader

But his hawkish stances could also help endear him to a Republican base that may already be skeptical of Mr. Rubio because of his involvement in a failed attempt to overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

.. During the question-and-answer portion of his remarks, Mr. Rubio said that there was little difference between his view and that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on the threat posed by Iran — except that Mr. Netanyahu “lives a lot closer to them than I do.”