Editor’s Note: Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a former panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
Rogan: Making America Great Again will be ill-served by a theater-level war
International audiences may yet breath a sigh of relief
Last night Republicans nationwide celebrated an important electoral victory: a win in not just the Senate, but the House, securing two more years of congressional control for the GOP.
Some Republicans also celebrated a second electoral victory: Donald Trump’s election to the White House. Seizing the traditional Democratic Party strongholds of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump won the night.
Of course, other Republicans – in addition to many Democrats and independents – are distraught, as they fear President-elect Trump’s temperament and policy viewpoints will prove downright dangerous when he is given free reign. This concern is most pronounced when it comes to foreign policy, and thus war and peace.
These concerned Americans are not alone. Today, all around the world, billions of people are worried about what a Trump presidency will mean. My international friends have been calling, texting, emailing and using every available means of social media communication. They have two questions. Is this a dream? And will Trump – metaphorically or literally – blow up the world?
No, it’s not a dream. Secretary Clinton lost (here’s why). But neither is this the beginning of the end of the world. There are good reasons to believe that Trump’s foreign policy will be far more stable than is assumed.
First, Trump’s priorities have changed. Until now, his comparative ignorance of international affairs has been reflexive and easy. He has been running for President and has had little political motivation to read up. Many of his supporters didn’t care about his global knowledge.
But now that dynamic has flipped. Trump knows that the weight of the free world will soon rest on his shoulders. And he knows that if he fails in office, he’ll be forever stained in the history books. In this sense, Trump’s self-obsession is actually a positive. For himself as much as for the world, he has good reason to get knowledgeable quickly. And as he gets knowledgeable, he will crave stability.
Because there’s a second issue at play here.
After all, Trump is about to get a lantern-guided tour of the foreign policy shadows – namely, highly sensitive intelligence briefings. Although Trump was briefed by the US intelligence community upon becoming the Republican nominee, it’s only now that he’ll receive the really deep-dive briefings. Just as President George W. Bush did for Sen. Barack Obama, President Obama will ensure that Trump gets fully up to speed before he enters the Oval Office.
That means the President-elect will be availed with similar briefings to those the President receives. And Trump is about to be shocked. He may be informed of top secret covert action programs and the sources and methods by which the US government gets its intelligence.
More important, however, Trump is about to find out the true, darker nature of U.S. adversaries such as Iran, ISIS, China and Russia.
On Russia, in particular, Trump is likely to leave his briefings with a more skeptical eye toward Putin’s pleasantries. The Russians want to play Trump. And Trump is going to realize it. Expect tougher words from Trump toward Russia and Syria in the coming days.
Additionally, on the Iran nuclear deal (which Trump has said he’ll shred), expect a toughened enforcement regime rather than military action. Making America Great Again will be ill-served by a theater-level war. If Trump can restrain Iranian ballistic missile research, he’ll have every reason to say he’s changed the deal for the better and intends to stick to it
But that’s not all. Trump is also likely to learn about the officers and agents who take great risks to gather intelligence for the United States. In his book, Getting to Know the President, John Helgerson notes that then-Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George H.W. Bush, presented President-elect Jimmy Carter and Vice-President-elect Walter Mondale with “samples of reporting from sensitive sources, underscoring that the lives of CIA assets were literally at stake.” This is important. Trump will learn that his office holds immense consequence, and that those who he has previously derided – the intelligence community and U.S. military – serve the nation well. When President-elect Obama left his first briefing, he was stone-faced.
Views on Election 2016
Finally, there’s the system of US government. Functionally, Trump cannot become a dictator. Nor can he, like the General Jack D. Ripper psychopath in Dr. Strangelove, blow up the world.
Under the uniform code of military justice and the US constitution, US military personnel must follow only lawful orders. The constitutional processes that involve presidential power defer toward executive discretion and the Office of the President, but they are tempered by law. Those surrounding the President would not stand idle if Trump pursued a crazed act.
Let’s be specific here. Some worry that Trump might spark a nuclear war. But unless there was an existential threat to the nation, he could not. That’s because the US national command authority is defined by multi-layered checks and balances and the two-person rule. In the worst case, if Trump lost his mind, the Cabinet would employ the 25th amendment and remove him from office.
To be sure, Trump’s foreign policy is likely to be highly unpredictable. As I noted during the campaign, some of his proposals were singularly absurd. Yet that was candidate Trump. Today’s President-elect Trump has very different objectives. And there are signs for optimism. News reports suggest that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is under consideration to become Trump’s chief of staff. Priebus is a rational man, well-respected across the party and in Washington. That Trump apparently wants him as his right-hand man is a good sign.
It’s true, while international audiences normally see the inauguration of a US President as an exciting spectacle, for many today, January 20, 2017, seems more like a specter. But come that day, watch President Trump’s speech. You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Or at the very least, to breathe a sigh of relief.