In the pages of daily newspapers and scholarly journals, there is a kind of shadow war being fought over Donald Trump’s legacy. Journalists, scholars, and politicos across the ideological spectrum are trying to piece together the president’s sometimes ambiguous, seemingly contradictory policy instincts.
The president doesn’t fit into the typical boxes of traditional conservative or a progressive leftist. This leads many pundits and bureaucrats to believe that it must be that the president is confused.
But that analysis assumes that the Washington establishment’s traditional left-right divide actually reflects the policy views of the American people. Donald Trump’s nomination and election in 2016 were just the latest proof that that assumption was wrong. It’s Washington that is confused and President Trump who often sees through the one-dimensional partisan fight the media believes defines American politics.
A perfect example of this is the president’s recent foreign policy triumphs in the Middle East.
When President Trump ordered American troops out of Syria this month, both parties in Washington saw the move through the lens of America’s post-9/11 playbook. For 18 years now, Washington Republicans have supported George W. Bush’s policy that we should fight the terrorists “over there” — even in open-ended, unclear military missions all over the map — so that we don’t have to fight them “over here.” Meanwhile, Democrats, blinded by their hatred of the president, see his every foreign policy move as some kind of conspiracy involving Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to these narrow views, the withdrawal of American troops from Syria was, to hawkish Republicans, a humiliating surrender and a betrayal of our Kurdish allies. To Democrats, it was more proof that Trump was undermining American interests by handing over hard won ground to Putin, whose troops and diplomats are all over the Syrian civil war.
But President Trump is not a Bush Doctrine hawk, thank goodness. Nor is he an insecure amateur allowing Putin to bait his administration into a new Cold War against a brittle, weak Russia. That is, he’s not running a confused form of George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s beltway-establishment foreign policy. He’s running a coherent “America first” foreign policy. And it’s working.
There is no vital American interest in either the Syrian civil war or the growing conflict between Turkey and Syria. Because of the conflicts’ proximity to Russia, Trump’s strategic withdrawal from what he has called “the bloody sandbox” has left Putin with a world of trouble on his hands, and no American foil to blame.
President Trump has ordered our troops back to Syria’s oil-rich areas, which are of actual value to us. American intelligence and special forces assets remain in the region. And they remain lethal, as the successful operation to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last weekend shows. Our strongest alliances in the region — especially Israel — remain strategic American interests, and those iron-clad relationships remain checks on Russia’s troublemaking in the region.
Which is just as well, as Putin will have his hands full with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the various post-ISIS terror networks vying for preeminence after Baghdadi’s death. Any military escalation by any of the above will likely blow up in Putin’s face, destabilizing a region Russia is bragging about taking over. Any attempt to paper over the mess by manufacturing another migration crisis from the region may only spur Europe to finally get serious about border control. Putin’s newly gained “power” in the region could soon degenerate from a burden to an albatross.
Meanwhile, President Trump will have signaled to allies and rivals across the region that American foreign policy will be directed by American interests and no one else’s. In Syria this month, the United States killed her enemies, defended her vital interests, secured valuable assets, gained tactical flexibility, and hung Vladimir Putin up like a punching bag in the middle of a distant dispute the American people wanted no part of in the first place.
Donald Trump’s foreign policy isn’t confused: the Washington establishment is. “America first” has come to the War on Terror.
Jim DeMint (@JimDeMint) served South Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 2005-2013. He is now chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a nonprofit group advocating for limited government.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.