Small Wars Journal

From Trump to Biden: The Way Forward for U.S. National Security

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 1:12pm

From the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The monograph can be accessed online here.

The monograph can be accessed in PDF here.

Edited by

David Adesnik
Senior Fellow and Director of Research

John Hannah
Senior Counselor


By FDD Senior Management

On January 6, 2021, a mob of American rioters stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC. The ensuing melee led to the killing of a Capitol Police officer and the death of four rioters. The episode was a national disgrace. It was an assault on Congress. It was an attempt to forcibly overturn the results of a democratic election. It was a gift to foreign enemies whose main goal is to see American power and leadership laid low, riven by internal division and chaos. And it would not have happened without the encouragement of the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

The abortive insurrection was launched just as this edited volume on Trump’s national security legacy was about to go to publication. Indeed, FDD’s scholars had the unenviable task of having completed our foreign policy assessments of the most controversial president in modern memory at the very moment the most shocking events of his presidency were unfolding.

Trump’s term in office will forever be defined by the terrible events of January 6. Nothing will change that. To a lesser extent, it will be defined by his mercurial decision-making style. Trump was a “post-policy” president who vexed allies and enemies alike. And as we can attest, he vexed think tankers, too.

Yet there are foreign policy lessons to be learned from the Trump presidency. Whether challenging the Chinese Communist Party after years of accommodation and even obsequiousness, applying maximum pressure on the regime in Iran, or forging peace between Israel and no fewer than four Arab states, there are important wins to process. And even where Trump stumbled, such as by insulting NATO allies; flattering dictators such as Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin; pressuring Ukraine to advance his own re-election; attempting to help Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan avoid accountability for a massive sanctions-busting scheme; making a bad “peace” deal with the Taliban; or suddenly withdrawing troops from Syria, there are lessons to be learned. We cannot simply dismiss four years of policymaking because Trump’s legacy is now indelibly stained.

America must learn from these last four years. Given the political climate and the toxic ideologies and divisions that will persist well after Trump is gone, that will not be easy. But FDD remains committed to playing a role in the foreign policy and national security debates that are sure to come. Our hope is that those debates remain substantive and respectful and ultimately serve to defend America’s democracy. To be sure, that democracy has emerged bruised and battered after these four years, if not longer. But it still stands tall. And we have every intention of joining with our fellow Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike – in helping to keep it that way and opposing all adversaries that would threaten our nation’s constitutional order and national security.