White House press secretary Sean Spicer laid out the Trump Doctrine on Monday, and it doesn't sound particularly narrow or doctrinaire.
In fact, it sounds a lot like the justification for the Iraq War.
Some have suggested that Trump doesn't actually have a doctrine (i.e. guiding principles on foreign policy and the use of military force). So Spicer was asked to define it. And he pitched it as being pretty narrow and noninterventionist — in keeping with Trump's promises to avoid Middle East entanglements.
Here's how he first defined the doctrine:
The Trump Doctrine is something that he articulated throughout the campaign, which is that America's first. We're going to make sure that our national interests are protected, that we do what we can to make sure that our interests both economically and national security are at the forefront. We're not just going to become the world's policeman running around the world, but that we have to have a clear and defined national interest wherever we act, and that it's our national security, first and foremost, that has to deal with how we act.
But Syria wouldn't really seem to fit into that emphasis on “America first” and only doing things that clearly have an impact on the United States' national interest. It was retaliation, after all, for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly using chemical weapons on his own people. And that's how Trump himself pitched the military action: He didn't really say it was because Syria was a threat to the homeland.
When an apparently skeptical reporter nodded at this seeming contradiction, Spicer took that narrow Trump Doctrine and opened it up — quite a bit.
“I think if you recognize the threat that our country and our people face if there is a growth of use or spread of chemical weapons of mass destruction — the proliferation of those, the spread to other groups is clear danger to our country and to our people,” Spicer said.
That is, almost word for word, a justification that could be applied to the Iraq War that Trump has so roundly criticized. Just take out “chemical,” and it works almost perfectly: “I think if you recognize the threat that our country and our people face if there is a growth of use or spread of weapons of mass destruction — the proliferation of those, the spread to other groups is clear danger to our country and to our people.”
Here's how this part of the Bush Doctrine was described by the Bush administration:
But new deadly challenges have emerged from rogue states and terrorists. None of these contemporary threats rival the sheer destructive power that was arrayed against us by the Soviet Union. However, the nature and motivations of these new adversaries, their determination to obtain destructive powers hitherto available only to the world’s strongest states, and the greater likelihood that they will use weapons of mass destruction against us, make today’s security environment more complex and dangerous.
And if Syria using chemical weapons is contrary to the U.S. national interest, the proliferation of terrorism in the Middle East would also seem to meet the requirement for action under the Trump Doctrine. That's not to say Trump will take action — just that his newly defined doctrine would appear to allow for it.
We'll see how the administration squares this circle going forward. But if this is its argument that striking Syria fits in with an “America First” Trump Doctrine, then “America First” is defined extremely broadly.