To: President-elect Donald J. Trump
Subject: Getting Foreign Policy Right
I don’t have to tell you that the world is pretty messy right now. You’ve reportedly received your first Presidential Daily Brief – or PDB – from the CIA so you have a pretty good idea of what I mean.
Your team is going to have its hands full.
I know you’re getting plenty of free advice, but here are some unsolicited, guiding thoughts for you as you think about plans, programs and policies for defending the homeland and protecting and advancing American interests overseas.
Provide leadership: With a few notable exceptions (such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran), the world is aching for American leadership. We should provide it. The unhappy results of “leading from behind” during President Obama’s tenure are obvious.
Taking charge doesn’t mean that America has to do everything. Equitable burden-sharing is important. But the best way to ensure that our interests are preserved and furthered is to proactively set and drive the international agenda.
Accentuate allies: In a street fight – which international politics can most certainly be – it’s comforting to look left, right and behind you and see friends. As such, it’s good to strengthen and deepen our partnerships.
America will be well-served by bolstering our alliance relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, NATO and Israel. Also look for new opportunities to build ties with the likes of India, Finland, Sweden and others.
Test diplomatic intentions, but … : It’s OK to take a new look at powers we now have poor ties with to see if things can be improved for American interests (for example, Russia). But make sure that it’s not all U.S. “give” and little to no U.S. “get” (for example, Russia-again).
Also, when thinking about fixing a bad relationship, be very cautious about doing anything that might strengthen – internally or externally – the hand of a potential adversary (for example, North Korea). Friend to foe can change very quickly.
Deter, dissuade and deny: Russia and China aren’t doing what they’re doing in Ukraine and Syria and in the East and South China seas because they feel constrained by American power. They’re doing it because they feel unconstrained.
Those going against vital American national interests must be discouraged – and prevented, if necessary – from choosing that path based on deep concerns about how America will respond. Weakness often invites provocation.
Get peace through strength: The U.S. military has been through a lot since 9/11. The best chance for peace and stability is recapitalizing our forces so no one thinks they have any chance of winning a fight with it.
Along these lines, we need to reduce our national security vulnerabilities by addressing potential weaknesses in cybersecurity, space operations and missile defenses. These are potentially devastating Achilles’ heels for us.
Of course, each international challenge is going to be different; there’s no “cookie-cutter” approach to foreign policy. Every situation is driven by a distinctive history, geography and culture.
There’s clearly much more to write about foreign and national security policy, but you and your team are already extraordinarily busy with the ongoing transition and taking office.
America and much of the world are looking to you, Mr. President-elect. Godspeed and good luck.