President Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden on Thursday was remarkable — and deeply disturbing.
On the surface, it was a speech announcing that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. That was bad enough, and the reaction from other countries that are party to the convention and from significant parts of the U.S. business community was significantly negative.
But on a deeper level, the speech marked that Trump’s proclaimed policy of “America First,” aggressively launched in his inaugural address, should in effect be replaced by a policy of “America Alone.” It was the ceremonial launch of the true Trump doctrine.
The speech didn’t really deal with the issue of global climate change and how to cope with it. The speech didn’t address the pros and cons of the different parts of the Paris agreement. In both cases, these certainly deserve discussion.
Implicitly, the central premise of Trump’s speech was that a group of foreign countries is engaged in some sort of conspiracy to prevent the United States from developing according to its abilities and will — and that the United States will now do whatever it wants, without taking the interests of the rest of the world into account.
Trump said that he made the decision in order to fulfill his “solemn duty to protect America and its citizens.” The Paris agreement was described as if it was a kind of mortal threat to the United States, and he stressed that it was supported by “the same nations” whose “trade practices” and “lax contributions” in the military sphere were also undermining and endangering the United States.
The inference was clear: Countries that previously were described as allies of the United States are now seen as a dark threat. The Paris climate agreement was described as just one part of this wider conspiracy against the United States, pursued primarily by countries traditionally seen as allies.
The aim of this conspiracy was described in different ways, but most clearly in terms of allies allegedly preventing the United States from opening new coal mines.
Now, Trump said, it was time for “a reassertion of America’s sovereignty” and to start opening new coal mines already in the next few weeks. It was time to put Pittsburgh “before Paris,” he said, obviously satisfied with the phrase. The mayor of Pittsburgh was, however, less than pleased and immediately announced that he intended to remain with the Paris ambitions.
In his very last tweet, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that “sophisticated US leadership is the sine qua non of a stable world order. However, we lack the former while the latter is getting worse.” Truly wise words by one of the greatest strategic thinkers of our age.
Brzezinski did not live to experience Trump’s Rose Garden speech this week. But as the speech represents the true Trump doctrine, the question is no longer whether U.S. leadership is more or less sophisticated, but rather, how the world should deal with a situation where the U.S. president seems openly antagonistic even to any such ambition. An “America First” doctrine could, in theory, be combined with some sort of leadership. But the “America Alone” doctrine, which seems to see allies more as a threat than as an asset, clearly can’t. And it risks bringing about a very different global order.
Since Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, there has been the hope that the administration would gradually modify its policy approach and that the “adults” would gradually assert themselves. The world has eagerly absorbed more reassuring messages from other key members of the administration. At times, action has matched these messages.
But the Rose Garden speech has given us an insight into the true Trump and his view of the United States and the world. We don’t know whether the Trump doctrine will dominate the policies of the years to come, but we know this: The Rose Garden speech is a window into the thinking of the Oval Office that is even more disturbing than the decision on the issue that the speech ostensibly dealt with.