President elect Trump asked for guidance and help during his acceptance speech to aid him in working together for the good of the country. In light of Veteran’s Day we asked Marc LiVecche, Managing editor of “Providence Journal,” to offer some lead thoughts for the next administration on the foreign policy terrain up ahead.
The president-elect’s victory speech early Wednesday morning touched in various ways on the foreign policy terrain that spreads out before him. We look eagerly for its elaboration and expansion in the near-term. The key to President Trump’s success in this realm will be in his ability—and willingness—to listen to those who have made it their business to know more about the international landscape and to harness more wisdom in this area than anyone else. Will he be open to information and evaluation from the intelligence and military professionals when their input challenges whatever pre-conceived notions he may already have? I hope so.
Of course, the first hope is that many of those professionals—who believe in the needs and limits of an exceptional America’s exceptional power, who understand that peace can only be approximated where there is justice and order, and who believe that it is in American interests to punish evil, requite injustice, and protect the innocent—will be invited to help the president do his job with wisdom and probity—to the benefit of America and the global liberal order. “I am reaching out to your guidance and your help,” Trump pledged, “so that we can work together and unite our great country.”
President Trump will need help keeping America a great country, and more help keeping it good. I hope these folks, many of them Providence-friends, will be willing to pitch in—and equally willing to seldom give in. To our international neighbors, Trump promised that America “will get along with all other nations, that want to get along with us.” So long as getting along with us means fidelity to the conditions required for all people to enjoy justice, order, and peace then Trump’s pledge sounds about right. It helps that Trump’s pledge reminds us of the Marine Corps promise that in the Corps the world has no better friend and no worse enemy. Perhaps it’s a good sign that Trump sounds like a Marine in the week the Corps celebrates its birthday—happy 241 to the ever faithful.
This is a good moment to revisit an old concern. I think Trump displays a deep and instinctual respect for those who protect us: whether the Secret Service, the police, those in the intelligence community, or those in various branches of the U.S. military. He sometimes gets its expression wrong, but I believe Trump admires martial toughness, he esteems those who stand on walls between victims and their prey. This admiration is well placed. As already suggested, Trump can manifest this respect by listening to those who have made a career out of protecting us, by considering their advice, and by being willing to allow them to challenge what he thinks he already knows.
But he can show his respect in another, perhaps more important, manner. Trump, it has been made abundantly clear, is a brawler, he obviously fights to win. But it does us no good if we fight to win in ways that we lose the souls of those who fought to give us that win. Trump must respect the laws of armed conflict and of conscience by not directing our warfighters to intentionally do those things that ought never to be done: such as intentionally targeting non-combatants, or getting to terrorists by getting to their families. This doesn’t mean that Trump cannot reevaluate (with military help) the rules of engagement that unnecessarily shackle our warfighters. But it does mean that he must remember that warfighters are deeply affected by what they do, and that some rules of engagement protect not only non-combatants but the warfighters who pay the conscience costs of misapplied violence. Trump, as Commander in Chief, must be the first to model what fighting to win within the limits of conscience and moral law looks like.
Meanwhile, outfits like tothesource and Providence have a share in the labor ahead. Our Republic, and the great revolution that inaugurated it, takes work. It requires citizens willing to pledge to support our President where we believe he is right, to critique and offer counterpoints where we believe he is wrong, and to help in whatever way we might to make—that is, to keep—America both great and good. tothesource and Providence share a commitment to helping to shape a community of thinkers, eager to see how the resources of the Christian intellectual tradition, drawing on reason and revelation, help to sustain a Republic that endorses a politics of foreign relations defined by responsibility and limits.
May God bless that Republic and, wow, may God bless President-elect Donald Trump.