President Trump’s first foreign trip was path-breaking. Remarkably, he created buy-in from Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders for a unified front against an “evil” that threatens every religion, radical Islamic terrorism. The moment was akin to Ronald Reagan’s 1983 identification of Soviet Communism as “evil,” delegitimized it and setting in motion his “roll-back” doctrine.
Spoiler alert: It worked. Reagan’s blunt, principled approach — enlisting the world to defeat evil — called out courage from all quarters. Reagan rallied the world behind America’s moral, economic and military leadership. He cut the feet out from under those who propagated evil. Soviet Communism is no more.
Fast-forward to now. On one hand, Mr. Trump’s trip reset the geopolitical chess board, as Reagan’s calm and confidence did, unifying allies, deterring adversaries, delegitimizing those who support evil. Manchester’s tragedy punctuated the depth of his message, and timeliness of delivery.
But this trip confirmed something else: A genuine Trump Doctrine is emerging.
The Reagan Doctrine, in essence, replaced “containment” and “detente” with a commitment to roll back Soviet evil, restoring moral order. In effect, America would not negotiate, accommodate, tolerate or converge with evil — full stop.
The Reagan shift was sudden and compelling. Others were soon drawn into his slipstream, including Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Germany’s Helmut Kohl, Pope John Paul II and an array of newly empowered and consistently supported allies. The Reagan Doctrine involved deep faith in American idealism, democracy and capitalism — and in individual liberty.
As Reagan said in 1982, Soviet totalitarianism “runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity.” He implored the world to understand that “freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.” That meant freedom from totalitarianism — and terror.
Today, Mr. Trump cuts his own swath through world events. He engages relentlessly, often with such speed and candor that observers are left several frames back. But there is a pattern emerging. The president clearly has a coherent worldview, as the German’s say, a “weltanshauung.”
The Trump Doctrine amounts to relentless engagement in pursuit of greater global predictability, including improved security and economic accountability. At first, this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, Mr. Trump has upended multilateral accords, pressed members of NATO to spend on common defense, and put a carrier battle group in the South China Sea to deter North Korean aggression.
But there are feints within feints. Four elements would appear to underpin the emerging Trump Doctrine of pressing for increased global predictability. First, his administration favors bilateral over multilateral trade agreements. There is logic to that move. As the world’s strongest economy, negotiating one on one — rather than in large groups — assures that America’s economic advantages, our own labor, capital, infrastructure and abilities, are not diluted. No one can double, triple or quadruple-team us.
Second, the president is making clear that America’s word is again good when it comes to using kinetic or military force for moral ends. He is being measured, proportionate and predictable. No more use of sarin gas; jet fighters were destroyed that delivered it. No more Syrian assaults on allied positions; a convoy was destroyed that approached them.
In the South China Sea, North Korea is on notice with repositioned carrier battle group options, and international waters are transited by American destroyers. No provocations, but no more backing away. No more bluffs, no more “lines in the sand.”
Third, American economic advantage — by nature longer term, incrementally gained and lost, not life and death — will be traded for concrete, sustained and verifiable security advantage, which can be sudden and game-changing. Thus, China will not be declared a currency manipulator for now, in exchange for Chinese pressure on North Korea, which is occurring. Saudi Arabia will get a major, bilateral trade deal in exchange for new commitments to regional security.
Finally, adopting a chess strategy, the Trump Doctrine comprehends that re-establishing predictability at a moment of high unpredictability requires surprise. Beyond moving men fast to board center, putting new pieces in play, and making old pieces do more — there is castling. Through an unexpected strategic move, another player is forced to reassess everything. Mr. Trump seems acutely aware of how this reshapes the board.
The trip from which the president returns was path-breaking, and recalls a similar inflection point in the Reagan era. But it also points up something else — there is an emerging, consistent, coherent push for global predictability, including improved security and economic accountability. Call it the Trump Doctrine, a reassertion of American economic, military and moral authority. The world is disorderly. The president is putting those who foment disorder on notice — this will not stand.
• Robert B. Charles is a former assistant secretary of State under President George W. Bush, a former Naval intelligence officer, and a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush White House staffer.