The Trump Doctrine calls for a revitalized military so America has the strength to meet any threat. It asserts the preeminence of American interests. It suggests forbearance to provocations in order to avoid escalation of conflicts that might draw us into war. It attempts to use sanctions and other non-military responses to prevent military confrontations. It advocates for disengagement from foreign theaters in which no specific American interest is at stake.
All of these principles aim to keep our nation safe and bring more of our men and women in uniform home.
One example of the Trump Doctrine in action is the recent response to Iranian provocations. Over the last year especially, Iran and its proxies have attempted to test U.S. resolve by attacking Saudi oil fields, seizing commercial ships, carrying out drone strikes, and other goading.
President Trump has repeatedly exercised patience, even calling back at least one drone strike on Iranian targets that might have resulted in civilian deaths. This is a leader who understands that the ramifications of war are devastating and must be avoided where possible.
Some of the pro-intervention, pro-war crowd have called this patience a sign of weakness. In reality, it is evidence of a strong leader. Trump recognized that none of the baiting by Iran had taken American lives or threatened American sovereignty, and thus a military response was unwarranted.
However, the strategic situation changed when Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi partner, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, coordinated demonstrations against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and engaged in other provocations that ultimately killed an American citizen. Soleimani was a notorious terrorist—so designated not just by our own country, but also by the E.U. and U.N.—and he was plotting further attacks with Al-Muhandis when both men were killed by a Trump-ordered airstrike on Jan. 3.
This airstrike was fully justified by Article II of the Constitution, which grants the president, in his role as “Commander in Chief,” the authority to respond to imminent threats.
Additionally, the president’s action can be justified by an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) granted by Congress in 2002 – but Congress must now revisit and reform this nearly twenty-year-old AUMF, as well as a second anti-terrorism AUMF dating to 2001.
While the Constitution allows the president to respond to imminent or exigent threats—such as the Soleimani threat—it also mandates that Congress, not the executive branch, should lead on matters of war. However, Congress effectively abrogated this responsibility nearly two decades ago by giving the executive vague, overly expansive military authority without outlining clear targets, objectives, or end goals – basically, the opposite of what our current president wants.
As commander in chief, the president can and should always project U.S. force to protect American lives and sovereignty. But Congress also must play its own war-powers role by passing a new AUMF that reflects clear, limited priorities in the Middle East, not more endless war.
It is likely that this return to constitutional order may take some time, but it will strengthen the Trump Doctrine. In the coming weeks, we will be spearheading this effort by introducing a more clearly-defined AUMF that includes mechanisms to combat terrorism, a guarantee that Israel will be defended, and a limited time horizon to ensure continual congressional oversight.
Trump wants to move away from the tired foreign policy paradigms of the past, and we intend to help him achieve this aim.
Biggs represents Arizona’s 5th District and is a member of the Judiciary Committee. Buck represents Colorado’s 4th District and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and founder of the Article I Caucus.