Despite Democrats and their media mouthpieces setting their hair ablaze to spout their crazed notion that President Trump was blundering the United States into World War III with Iran, it’s now clear that his decision to kill General Qasem Soleimani was a foreign policy masterstroke. We’ve taken out Iran’s terrorist mastermind, a man who killed over 600 American troops in Iraq and caused unspeakable bloodshed across the region while making clear that killing American citizens will be met with disproportionate force. Iran’s response, in which they warned the Iraqis (who then warned us) of incoming missiles, was essentially retaliation in name only, thankfully killing no one, and served to satiate the domestic need to save face while making clear they could not stomach further escalation.
By showing that he will act forcefully and unpredictably when American lives are lost or in jeopardy, Trump clearly rattled the Iranian regime and re-established a level of deterrence in the US-Iranian relationship not seen since they released our hostages to President Reagan in 1981. More tellingly, the Iran saga has further crystallized what the Trump Doctrine is: leverage asymmetric power to maximize gains for America’s interest at minimum cost. Thus far, the Trump Doctrine has worked to great effect in America’s economic conflicts; this week, we learned it can be applied as successfully to military affairs.
The simple fact is that America is the lone indispensable nation on the planet. We have the largest, most diverse economy, strongest military, most innovative technology companies, a Navy that ensures global freedom of navigation, and unparalleled humanitarian and charitable endeavors. There is no bilateral economic relationship or military alliance in which the United States is not the most critical partner. NATO is powerful because each nation enjoys America’s Article 5 protections not because of Germany’s membership, for example. For decades, American Presidents have not leveraged this power, accepting trade agreements that gave other nations more access to our market than we gained to theirs or making our military fight with one arm tied behind their back. The results were 5 million lost manufacturing jobs, a ballooning trade deficit, an ascendant Russia and China, and never-ending Middle East quagmires. An era of national decline.
Perhaps, it took a businessman like Trump to recognize the folly of this approach. Big companies succeed because they leverage asymmetric negotiating power to achieve their aims. Wal-Mart uses its unparalleled size to force consumer product suppliers to give it lower prices as most brands cannot succeed without shelf space at its stores. It uses this cost advantage to undercut competitors on price, gain market share, and boost profits. Wal-Mart executives don’t think “let’s take it easy on our suppliers and give up our cost advantages because if we are nice to everyone, maybe they will like us more.” Wal-Mart doesn’t prioritize the needs of its competitors; it puts its own interests first and uses every lever it has to achieve those interests. That’s also how German, Canadian, Mexican, and Japanese leaders have thought, which is why they’ve all managed to get one-sided military and trade agreements with the US.
Indeed, recognizing the incredible impact asymmetric power has in economics, we have well-defined antitrust laws to block monopolies from forming, but Presidents since the fall of the Soviet Union have behaved as though there are antitrust laws in international policy. As the shrewd businessman he is, Trump saw the incredible asset—America’s power—we refused to use to advance our own interests and removed these restraints. Simply put, Trump is able to achieve 'America First' wins because he is unleashing all of America’s power.
For years, we tolerated Mexico permitting migrants to flow through its country and across our porous border, but their economy is dependent on exports to ours. So, Trump threatened tariffs that would decimate their economy. Suddenly, Mexico began patrolling the border and agreed to a “Remain in Mexico” policy that has been an incredible success in stopping asylum abuse. Similarly, the simple, credible threat of leaving NAFTA led Canada and Mexico to accept major concessions in auto and agriculture trade while also functionally agreeing to never sign a trade deal with China.
When you have an asymmetric power advantage, you are actually less likely to engage in conflict because the other side can see inevitable defeat. Here is where the Trump Doctrine is rooted in a similar principle as Reagan’s “peace through strength” worldview, though Trump expanded its purview beyond military power to include trade and immigration issues.
Of course, for this doctrine to work, counterparts must view threats as credible. And Trump has shown just that. China called Trump’s bluff and in response faced $360 billion of tariffs, unleashing serious economic pain that has manufacturers leaving for good and auto sales set to fall for an unprecedented third year, while our economy is the strongest in the world. While some of us may wish Trump was even tougher on China, the fact they agreed to buy more American goods than ever before even though we are retaining 90% of the tariffs speaks to the asymmetric power advantage we hold given the trade imbalance and our economy’s size.
And now this doctrine has been deployed against Iran. After months of restraint, Trump showcased America’s unmatched military prowess, taking out Soleimani with a clear message: kill Americans and no one is safe or out of reach. His threat to respond to further Iranian aggression with attacks on any of 52 targets was immediately credible, and so Iran chose the off-ramp.
Equally important, we can be certain rogue regimes in North Korea, Venezuela, and elsewhere took note. While we do not seek foreign adventurism, we will use all the tools at our disposal to protect our interests and citizens.
In Trump, we have a President who leverages the entire extent of America’s asymmetric power to further our interests. Fortunately, with credible warnings, we rarely have to use the fullness of our power. The Trump Doctrine is winning for the American people and should continue to be the model of American international security and economic policy.