The World According to Trump

While foreign policy seldom decides American elections, it really should this year.

Going back as far as I’ve paid attention to such things—which is going on four decades at this point—Foreign Affairs has published essays from the top foreign policy advisors to the two major party presidential nominees a few months before the election. Yesterday, they published an essay by former President Donald Trump’s last and possibly future National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien under the title “The Return of Peace Through Strength: Making the Case for Trump’s Foreign Policy.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s not confidence-inspiring.

Distinguished Professor Dan Drezner pronounces it a “constant river of horseshit” and takes issue with O’Brien’s rosy assessment of Trump’s first (and one hopes last) term. Retired nuclear scientist and occasional OTB commenter Cheryl Rofer dubs the parts of the essay touching on her expertise “bluster rather than strength.”

The piece that most caught my attention, though, was this:

The navy should also move one of its aircraft carriers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the Pentagon should consider deploying the entire Marine Corps to the Pacific, relieving it in particular of missions in the Middle East and North Africa. U.S. bases in the Pacific often lack adequate missile defenses and fighter jet protection—a scandalous deficiency that the Defense Department should fix by quickly shifting resources from elsewhere. [Emphasis mine]

This is all O’Brien says about this idea but it makes no damn sense. At all.

It’s arguable, I suppose, that we should move American troops, period, out of the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve ostensibly been “pivoting to Asia” since 2011 and three successive presidential administrations have dubbed China our “pacing challenge” and the last two have acknowledged Russia as an “acute threat.” But MENA has become an economy of force mission mostly conducted by special operations forces. The Marine Corps’ contributions are really small, so taking it off their plate doesn’t return much in the way of combat power.

Regardless, it’s not at all clear what O’Brien would have the Marine Corps do in the region. The emerging Force Design concept has returned them to a maritime force enabling Navy operations with stand-in forces. But that’s for a future fight, not steady-state deterrence.

Further, if we are to take “the entire Marine Corps” even figuratively rather than literally (presumably, O’Brien would allow Marines to continue going to school, performing recruiting duty, staffing the Pentagon and other Combatant Commands, and similar essential missions elsewhere), stationing the entire Fleet Marine Force in INDOPACOM would crush retention. It’s one thing to deploy to combat or to a float every few years, it’s quite another to be assigned to a hardship station permanently.

Leaving aside the logistics of where we’re going to base and house these people, are these going to be accompanied (i.e., with family) tours? If not, that’s a deal-breaker in that it’s near impossible to sustain a family if permanently separated. If so, it’s also probably still a deal-breaker because most spouses will not be interested in living in Okinawa or some other place far from home for 20-30 years.

The half-assedness of the essay brings home a point that Drezner mentions in his post and that those of us in the national security space have been emphasizing since at least 2016: Trump has no foreign policy bench. The #NeverTrump moment, which I date to a March 2016 open letter at War on the Rocks, was anchored by the Republican foreign policy establishment. As such, most of those with expertise and experience had disqualified themselves from serving well before the election. Trump tried to make do with a bunch of retired (and, in the case of H.R. McMaster, active duty) general officers, CEOs like Rex Tillerson who were way in over their head, and his idiot son-in-law. There were relative bright spots (Secretary of Defense Mark Esper comes to mind) but most were just third-rate yahoos.

Granted, since Trump famously skips his intelligence briefs and eschews expert advice, anyway, it might not matter all that much. But an erratic mind getting advice from those who don’t know what the hell they’re doing is not the ideal way to run a global supervisor.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Modulo Myself says:

    The thing about Trump supporters is that love they his logic when it’s applied to everything but the one area they know something about. A bunch of officers who support Trump are going to think his views on military logistics are dumb, but the same views applied to the CDC and the Deep State and trans people are just what the country needs. And if somebody thinks he’s wrong, well then they’re part of the problem. Except for one specific case.

  2. Tony W says:

    An excellent example of one of Trump’s biggest liabilities – nobody competent wants to be associated with him or any Trump administration.

    We also see it in the fact that 40 of Trump’s 44 cabinet members do not endorse him (or whatever the number is).

    This concept should be a major campaign focus for the Ds.

    Biden has an excellent ability to bring good people to the table to lead the various agencies and departments. This is a very important distinction between the candidates.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Trump will never stand up to any serious foreign threat. He’ll order your occasional targeted anti-terror missions, and if he can find an opportunity to bully some small, weak country, he will. So he may do something stupid like sending US forces in against Mexican cartels. But he’s a narcissist, a coward and a psychopath. He is incapable of caring about anything that does not star him, that is not primarily about him. He is incapable of taking on real risks to his wealth or to his needy amour propre. He has no reluctance whatsoever to hurt people, cruelty is
    core character to a psychopath. But he will never take a stand against people who could hurt him back.

    So, he will promptly abandon Ukraine, Taiwan and the Philippines. He’ll weaken if not destroy NATO. There is zero chance that he would honor Article 5. None. If he’s elected, get the hell out of Lithuania. He’ll give Putin and Netanyahu whatever they want, so Russia will have Moldova and Georgia, and Israel will ethnically cleanse the West Bank and whatever is left of Gaza.

    He’ll push back on China in the area of trade, but only in scattershot form with no follow-through, but he will back down if there’s a serious threat of war. His total ignorance of foreign policy or military matters may well tempt him into attacking Iran because his thinking won’t go any deeper than, ‘Us big and rich and white, them small and poor and brown.’ But if Putin stepped in to back Iran, Trump would slink away.

    Trump can only care about Trump. If it’s not about Trump, it doesn’t matter in the least. Offer Trump enough money and he’d order the Navy to hand over nuclear submarines to the Chinese. If you think I’m exaggerating, you don’t understand this loathsome man.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    It’s astounding how gullible so many people are to a blowhard like Trump. Whenever he’s confronted by a thug he rolls over and shows his belly, but his loud talk and delight in kicking someone weaker makes the average voter assume he’s some kind of tough guy. He’s not and he never was. Being an asshole is not the same as being tough. Perhaps the most absurd manifestation of this is his cultists parroting his assurance that this or that world leader wouldn’t have dared taken some action if he had been President. We should all remember that as he unrolled Obama and previous administrations hard won policies in North America, Mideast and Asia he replaced them with weakened and haphazard substitutions or, more often, absolutely nothing. The prime example is Iran. As Kevin Drum points out:

    The Washington Post reports that Iran is expanding uranium enrichment at its Fordow nuclear facility:

    Fordow had ceased making enriched uranium entirely under the terms of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Iran resumed making the nuclear fuel there shortly after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018.

    Is anyone ever going to hold Trump to account over this? Trump canceled the nuclear deal for no better reason than his juvenile desire to undo anything that Obama had put in place. The result was a resumption of Iran’s uranium processing and its probable ability to build a nuclear weapon in a few months.

    Trump bloviated and puffed up his chest, and then his (and his sychophant’s) attention wandered and Iran was left to do whatever the hell they wanted.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    The good news is the same as the bad news — Trump would never actually do any of these things. He reaps the benefits of saying things his idiot supporters want to hear, without ever having to follow through on any of them. He then claims that he did them, and they were beautiful.

    This is a struggle over information, not over policy. Reality is losing.

  6. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s every omega’s dog dream to become the alpha dog’s bitch.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Granted, since Trump famously skips his intelligence briefs and eschews expert advice, anyway, it might not matter all that much. But an erratic mind getting advice from those who don’t know what the hell they’re doing is not the ideal way to run a global supervisor.

    I think James, you misread trump’s intentions. Should he be elected he will do whatever Putin tells him to do. Mad Vlad is the only advisor he will ever listen to.

  8. CSK says:


    Putin’s probably the only slightly younger and much shorter man to whom Trump has publicly groveled.

  9. Gustopher says:

    These are not serious people. They should not have serious responsibility.

    What if we were to set up a real life Truman show where they think they are in control of everything, but actually are just in a little village populated by extras and getting video feeds of fake news?

    They aren’t dealing with reality now, but their actions have consequences in reality. Remove the consequences and let them live a comfortable, simulated life.

    I don’t know whether Robert C. O’Brian is a grifter who is just trying to tell Trump what he wants to hear, in hopes of getting a job, or whether he’s a true believer. That would just change whether he’s an inmate or a guard.

    Give them a reverse Ender’s Game — they think they’re running their wars, but it’s all a simulation. We should also drop the shower scenes with young boys the book has. Perhaps we can tell them that Q has pulled them suddenly to a small island where the real government is, and they can spend their days fighting a globalist pedophile ring, and watching Fox News and Alex Jones.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Dude, that’s a book or better, a screenplay. You should write it. Seriously.

    ETA: Yeah, the showering boys. While we’re at it maybe look at Pullman’s showering girl? Just don’t be conjuring images of naked minors.

  11. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: And serious voters wouldn’t elect Trump, so there we are.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: There was an episode of “Muthic Quest: Raven’s Banquet”, a show about the development team for a massively multiplayer online game where neo-Nazis started to take over the game. The money guy (Danny Pudi) won’t let them evict them, so they end up figuring out how to identify them and dedicating a server so they can kill each other while spewing mindless racist trumperhate to their hearts content without being visible to decent human beings.

  13. CSK says:


    No Fox News for MAGAs. It’s far too left-wing.

  14. Ken_L says:

    O’Brien criticised the president for not having a plan to end the Ukraine War. Quite why it’s up to the US President to end a war between two distant nations he didn’t say. But naturally he assured us Mr Trump has a plan:

    “Trump’s approach would be to continue to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, financed by European countries, while keeping the door open to diplomacy with Russia—and keeping Moscow off balance with a degree of unpredictability.”

    I’m sure President Zelenskyy feels much safer now.

  15. JohnSF says:

    “Trump’s approach would be to continue to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, financed by European countries…”

    Perhaps ignoring the part where Europe is spending billions on increasing munition output, and may be little inclined to buy American
    Speaking as a citizen of a European country, I’d personally be fine with us taking on the all the financing of Ukraine.
    Just so long as when any call for support comes in re China, the US doesn’t mind the response: “AUKUS? Who, us?”

  16. TheRyGuy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This is perhaps the best example of how Trump has utterly deranged people who at least pretended to be sensible once upon a time. It’s a bunch of insane predictions that have no connection whatsoever to how Trump actually behaved as President, topped off with character assassination that says more about the person launching it than it does Trump.

    And what makes it worse is that if Trump is re-elected and has to deal with the legion of Biden foreign policy fiascos, the peanut gallery around here will act like Trump is serving his third term.

  17. JohnSF says:

    Trumps repeated statements on Ukraine, if implemented as policy, will terminate the Atlantic Alliance.

  18. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I agree with your diagnosis of his disorders, but the thing that Trump craves above all else is adulation. So, IMO (WAG?), a decision to either engage or not would be based all but entirely on how he perceives it would affect his popularity.