Reality-based Pragmatism – a rational approach to a rapidly deteriorating world
During his campaign for the White House, Donald Trump made a series of hard line promises and took a series of extreme positions, particularly on national security and foreign policy.
Now, as President of the United States, many on the political left and right are claiming President Trump is having to reconcile his stances with the international situations in which he finds himself. To that end a number of pundits and so-called experts suggest that has meant some significant course corrections, to put things politely. And then there are the critics on the left and right, who prefer the term “flip-flop,” to use a less generous term. By a number of accounts, both sides are claiming Mr. Trump has made at least several major about-faces in the 13 weeks since his Inauguration. But as those political pundits and the proclaimed experts focus on the ‘traditional expectations’ of a typical new presidency, Donald Trump’s strategic paradigm is more methodical, deliberative and process-based. So as a result, the ideological litmus test the mainstream politicos use to evaluate, categorize and determine a new President's political stance and approach to international problem solving is really irrelevant, and in fact obsolete.
As many react to President Trump’s responses and political, economic, diplomatic and military positions with regard to national security and foreign policy, there are those political pundits and media types calling his moves into question. For the most part, all of them are totally missing the mark as to what is actually going on, and what President Trump is actually doing. In fact, they are not even in the same ball park. More surprising is the commentary coming from the community of seasoned national security and foreign policy experts who are calling into question their much touted expertise, and yet still fail to recognize the emerging Trump Doctrine so to speak. Further, their criticism in fact reveals their own antiquated “ideological mindset” and inadequacies in falsely describing Trump’s calculated, rational, and unorthodox approach to developing doctrine, strategy and policy. Again, as noted we’ve heard their remarks using the typical uninformed and sophomoric comments like he has “flip-flopped,” or he has “changed his position” from what he stated during the campaign. In fact, such rancorous pontifications are not the issue, nor analytically-based at all, but for the most part purely politically-based criticism and are solely an effort to render a “gotcha” or a “he lied” headlines. Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth, and in reality only shows to highlight the President’s opponents and political detractor’s anti-Trump bias, a failure to grasp and try to understand Trump’s approach, or to even go so far as to try to actually investigate to better understand the Commander in Chief’s modus operandi.
Meanwhile, President Trump is maintaining, and continues to maintain the unusual appreciation which again is perhaps key to an evolving Trump Doctrine that is driving his critics and naysayers up the wall. Further, by continuing to keep their ideological blinders on, the mainstream media, the political-left, the Establishment, and the anti-Trumpers , we in turn, continue to read the same rhetorical commentary over and over, indicating that President Trump’s stated policy preferences increasingly resemble those of the ordinary GOP establishmentarians of the past. To their chagrin, after deferring to the views of the Washington foreign policy “blob” from attacking Syria, followed by his new praise for NATO, and backing off his pledge to name China a currency manipulator — it is in fact quite obvious to the observant eye and the thinking mind to realize and understand the unconventional and extremely effective approach Trump and his senior leadership is taking in dealing with the “real world.”
Multi-level, Multi-Dimensional Chess
Referencing my previous points, Trump’s strategy is more or less the adaptation and a change-up of the approaches to what existed before, but removing the “ideology DNA” that most tend to use to label any president’s approaches, methods, and actions, from a political perspective. Most of those watching from the sidelines have notionally expected and anticipated the typical conventional processes and methods they expect to see in implementing and achieving the specific promises and positions Donald Trump campaigned on. That is however where the Trump change-up is most apparent, adapting a more focused reality-based Pragmatism – a rational approach to rapidly deteriorating situations around the world. This approach and methodology resembles multi-level, multi-dimensional chessboards to strategize, plan, and execute international policy that has three dimensional effects at multiple levels, tactically, operationally and strategically.
Typical ideologically focused purveyors of nation security strategy and policy, either from the political left or right, as well as moderates, and the unorthodox varying political persuasions; the alts, never-Trumpers, and other political loons, only see and approach the world from their ideological positions of “how they believe the world should be from their single perspective utopian view.” Whereas those, like Trump, have a more rational and realistic grasp of the world, myself included — we tend to view and approach the world based on the way it is – taking steps, developing strategy, and executing processes and methods based on “REALITY”. It is imperative that solutions be reality-based, rather than ideologically-based. Reality-based solutions must be focused on addressing a situation based on cause and effect, rather than the ideological practitioner’s view or vision that is based on the notion that in a perfect world — this is how it should be, and that by seeking utopian-driven solutions to such will result in a perfect situation to occur.
Much of such thinking is unfortunately based on unbridled emotion and misdirected compassion. As an example; such is the thinking of the political ideologists in the case of a drowning person. The realistic and rational effort should be focused on doing whatever it takes and quickly as possible to save the person from drowning — period. Vice versa, that of the political-left’s ideological and emotional thinking is that we must do something because the person is suffering and struggling, to include standing there to video the horrific event in order to make sure it makes the 6 o’clock news, so even more can experience it and show their compassion while sitting at home watching it later.
Complex Thinking, Pragmatic Solutions
So what is Mr. Trump’s approach and how does he see the world, how does he look for solutions? From what I can discern so far from a combination of factors which certainly can be derived from; his upbringing, the trajectory of his career, his international business acumen in which he prizes his business astuteness, shrewdness, acuity, sharpness, and a “killer” instinct for managing affairs, and the profiles of those who he has gathered in his inner circle, will drive and support his efforts. His thinking is totally unconventional from the politically-based ideological approaches we have experienced in the post-WWII period until now. Conventional wisdom from either side of the political aisle is no longer a measure of success or outcome, certainly not in Donald Trump’s multi-dimensional world. Certainly, his recent interview with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhart provided a glimpse in to his complex thinking and pragmatic intuition he has implemented in his recent dealings with Russia, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, and other international situations in his striving to solve the current crises at hand.
In fact, insanity has reached the point that we are reading and hearing that the pivot is already setting off alarm bells among the political-left as of course would be expected, but is also raising concerns of the paleo-Conservatives who were hoping for a revolutionary strongman, as well as reform-minded Republicans who worry that President Trump and his White House team may be drifting to the left and pursuing bad policies. And of course, Liberals and others are largely using the opportunity to attack President Trump as a hypocrite and a flip-flopper who isn’t or hasn’t been good on his word at all. all of this again is politically driven by all those who despise, hate and do not recognize Donald Trump as President. Unfortunately, it is in many cases, a corroborated attempt to delegitimize him, obstruct his efforts, and build the case for his removal, rather than supporting, providing constructive and cooperative input for solutions for America and its citizen’s safety, security and prosperity.
The Art of the Deal Methodology
Neither is his approach to strategic planning, the methodologies used, the processes initiated, conventional or ideologically-based. Trump tends to apply the “art of the deal” as an additional measure of capability, which incorporates broader and more unorthodox and unconventional avenues to attain a solution, while keeping in mind a focused process necessary for achieving the intended and or desired outcome. Meaning, while President Trump surveys multiple-level and multiple-dimensional aspects to multiple problems to engage, he continues to maintain a desired end-state, keeping an eye on the prize that he expects to attain, i.e.; win. Further, Trump continues to remind his critics and the world his intent and policy of keeping his strategy close to the vest. In military and national security parlance; Operational Security or OPSEC. Essentially, not telegraphing our adversaries what we are going to do, nor what to expect — the strategy being to protect how success or victory is/was achieved, while also ensuring it may be totally unexpected and unconventional. President Trump’s sees the ultimate result, the end-state and outcomes that he said he wanted to achieve and what he campaigned on are based on principle, not the processes by which to achieve them. He continues to stress such desired outcomes as the principled markers for his promises, policies and eventual legacy for America.
Of course on the other hand and in fact, nearly all of the pundits and critics on all sides have bashed Mr. Trump for his unpredictability and his failure to maintain Conservative principles in the negotiation process, as well as his overall approach to solving the situation at hand. The other concerning factor is their continued effort to remind both Mr. Trump and the public of the political promises or positions he made during the campaign and that they have all been ignored, or appeared to now be no longer acceptable in his approach to a solution and outcome being sought.
Outcomes Define Principle, Not Processes
Again, while President Trump’s strategy, requirements, methods, and processes don’t fit the anticipated and expected practices that define the typical ideological approaches – it is quite obvious, in the President’s approach, all options are at play and critical in an effort to achieve the desired, acceptable and principled outcome. Thus, liberals and Conservatives, and of course most others are hysterical, and in fact going insane claiming that Mr. Trump is distancing himself from both his campaign promises and positions, that he exhibited. But once again, I must note that in Trump’s strategic vision, outcomes define principle, not processes.
Additionally, it is necessary to look at the processes at hand, another critical factor in determining how Trump implements and executes his strategic planning, diplomatic and negotiating efforts, and strategy development process to support his national security, look at the team he has put together. For one, he has enough corporate firepower in his Cabinet to fill the next Forbes’ or Fortune list of top ranked who’s who. First, by picking Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State, Mr. Trump has demonstrated his belief that tough deal-making and identifying sources of leverage, and demonstrating a willingness to use them — is the secret to both running and protecting the country, while presiding over the international system. At the same time, Donald Trump has integrated a number of highly regarded and highly capable former military General officers to help implement and lead the nation’s security process and apparatus. While Trump does not see the U.S. as being the world’s policeman, he sees America as the sole superpower, and a force to be reckoned with, and once again, a force of good in the world.
To that end, as a side note; we also must be reminded that President Trump is working from a deficit unlike most previous President’s Republican or Democrat in that most of the key political senior cabinet staff and key government agencies requiring Congressional confirmation are well behind — particularly in the national security realm. Much from the impact in Congress, from both sides of the aisle – where there are those who still can’t accept the fact that Mr. Trump is POTUS. They remain disingenuous, obstructive, and an obstacle while maintaining the false premise and narrative that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians, or they just plain hate him.
Further, President Trump does not fear the label of national or nationalism; he sees it as the natural and rightful path for every state, the United States included, to pursue in protecting America’s interests. In fact, he wears it as an American badge of courage. He also seems to have internalized the idea that the United States is losing its competitiveness and that “internationalist and globalist” foreign policy is to blame. Finally, President Trump apparently believes that U.S. foreign policy has become too predictable and overwrought with diplomatic formality. Better to say it like it is and call out institutions and conventions that have outlived their usefulness. He believes that using unconventional non-ideological mechanisms and processes and adapting them to his strategy of dealing with international political, economic diplomatic and military situations and events, will still achieve the desired results of the promises and or policies he campaigned on.
Foundational Principles of a Trump Doctrine
In my final analysis of how the evolving Trump Doctrine is promulgated, it is important to consider the foundational principles of a Trump Doctrine – these provide a fundamental vision and guidance to achieving the outcomes that he is seeking. Looking at and viewing the world from the standpoint of “reality” — the way it is, not the way you think it should be. Taking a “rational” and realistic approach to “reality” of the world and the critically situations and events that affect current conditions, will be the impetus for realistic long term solutions.
Approaching situations, crises, based on realistic and reality-based fundamentals of who, what, where, and why, prevents us from trying to approach and deal with situations based on false notional perspectives. We must never go back to the standpoint of trying to solve problems based on the notion of; how they should be, how they ought to be, or how we think they should be.
Over the past three weeks, the U.S. made a number of strong military moves. Two of which were the U.S. airstrikes in Syria and the dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs” on an ISIS target in Afghanistan. Both were strategic warnings aimed at multiple players on the world stage. They were what we in the national security arena call FDOs or flexible Deterrent options – which are shows of force operations that usually involve the deployment or buildup of military forces, an increase in the readiness status and level of activity of designated forces, or a demonstration of operational capabilities by forces in the region. President Trump, to make a point and maintain the campaign promise in which he said; “… he would bomb the shit out of ISIS” … and so he did — executing the MOAB strike near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. While many suggest that President Trump has not yet offered up a national security strategy, no President, particularly during a change of office from an eight year-term of one party to another, has offered a new national security strategy, let alone a “doctrine” within the first one hundred days. Likewise, certainly none in recent years has at this point demonstrated and conducted diplomatic and military activities and operations at the level and extent seen in recent weeks, on multiple stages and in multiple geographical theaters. However, it is a gross understatement to say there is no strategy or doctrine.
Perhaps White House Communications Director Mike Dubke made an important qualifier in his recent comment in a response to a press office question that; “There Is No ‘Trump Doctrine,’ and That’s Okay.” I believe he is correct to say exactly what he did, perhaps for now at least. Just as the President said he would not telegraph his strategy and intentions publically, so as not to tip the hand of our adversaries and their sympathizers — that is an important aspect to be cognitive of, going forward. The development of both a new National Security Strategy, and a subsequent Trump Doctrine must reflect the nature of the threats we face, the overall global situation(s), which include the dynamics of collapsing regional conditions, all of which are affected to some degree by – economic, political, cultural, informational, diplomatic, asymmetrical, and militarily conflict.
Further, such a Strategy and Doctrine must present a major pendulum swing and a significant paradigm shift that drives the future direction of the real world, not just to exist and survive within it. Certainly, any semblance or resemblance of the previous will only continue to fuel the fire. Likewise, our next national security policy must not be a remnant of the past disaster of apologies, defense sequestration, failure to identify our enemies, and the lunacy of the Strategic Pause. By any means, strategic engagement and solution-based pragmatic diplomacy processes must be resurrected and be a critical foundation of a new 21st Century strategy that is necessary and fundamentally important to meet the strategic challenges of our time.
Finally, a Trump Doctrine must be linked to the construct and concept that America must be “America First.” America’s nationalism is Americanism, meaning it has and is our own identity, not an ideology and it must be universally guided by law and the Constitutional. President Trump’s Conservative principles-driven outcomes and end-state-based objectives for dealing with the critical situations we face, and his pragmatic negotiating and strategic engagement process will establish and evolve over the coming year into what I believe will be an optimistic and visionary Trump Doctrine