As presidencies approach their midpoints, pundits begin the inevitable search for that elusive creature: the doctrine. It’s often a quixotic quest, since presidents rarely boil down their foreign-policy visions—if they even have them—to some pithy essence. Then there’s Donald Trump.
Conjuring up the current president’s foreign-policy doctrine is like arguing that the Teletubbies have a theology. After all, this president approaches global affairs the way a teenager with attention-deficit disorder might tackle War and Peace. To call Trump scattershot in his approach would be generous. He doesn’t even have sufficient command of the relevant vocabulary to formulate a doctrine. His linguistic universe, with its “covfefe,” big-league malapropisms, and contradictory pronouncements, often seems to come straight out of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky.”
Yet punditry abhors a vacuum, so the search for some sort of policy coherence never ends. Many observers have suggested that the Trump doctrine, stripped to its musculature, is simply a reassertion of American power in the crudest form. In The Atlantic, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg canvassed Trump administration officials for their take on the president’s doctrine and concluded that the most succinct formulation for it was: “We’re America, bitch.” Another possibility: Forget the doctrine; Trump is merely asserting his own authority in an increasingly empowered executive branch to do whatever comes into his head. In other words, we’re not talking unilateralism but unileaderism.
A third possibility: that Trump is defining himself and his policies entirely in opposition to his predecessor. The Obama Doctrine, according to administration insiders, boiled down to don’t do stupid shit. In his eagerness to reverse everything his predecessor ever did, Trump seems to have turned his doctrine inside out as well. His recent trip to Europe, with its falsehoods and gratuitous insults, not to speak of the near sundering of transatlantic relations, suggests that the administration continues to come up with new and creative ways of doing stupid shit on a daily basis.