Clausewitz and Trump: An application and assessment of current Foreign policy

While watching and reading the news, and after a brief visit to America, I was constantly drawn back to Clausewitz while reviewing Trump’s current Foreign Policy. The aggression towards the DPRK (which I have also written of in my ‘North Korean Question’ essay), as well as the rhetoric shift by the President of the free world. 

An aside for Clausewitz:

For the bulk of this essay I will use Clausewitz’s model of the Military and Political objectives (which can be polar opposites). In essence (quoting Clausewitz’s ‘On War’) ‘War is a continuation of policy by other means’. For this interpretation we will take ‘war’ in a broader sense, military action.


Rather comically, in the first hundred days of the President’s term he has faced much resistance, a failed bill, an exhaustive use of Executive Orders, allegations and conspiracies and above all, the need to use of the ‘nuclear option’ for his Supreme Court appointment. Many would suggest that Trump is being faced with a harsh reality, wading so far into the swamp he called to be ‘drained’. Some would say then that Trump would be desperate for some muscle to flex, remind the world he so scared that the old lion isn’t that old and that the he is very much outside of Plato’s [political] cave. Here then we see that Trump’s stage is set.

Russo-American relations

Lately, much of the images surrounding Trump and Putin are comical insinuations on their relationship. There was a fear that Trump was very much in the pocket of the Russians after some investigations and linked finances to wealthy oligarchs were uncovered in a very messy, scrutinising light. Were I writing this several days ago I would suggest that the two nations are on good terms and that the cooperation and rhetoric displays a very ‘like-minded’ relationship.

And then Assad gassed his own people like animals in Idlib.

This certainly displayed a volta in the sonnet of Russo-American relations. Putin’s involvement in the war and his loyalty to the Assad regime is now an area of tension. Arguably it would be expected that Trump would stand behind Putin and wave his isolationist card,  stating that ‘it’s not our war’ (while raging one on the working class of America). Instead, Trump has promised action and has already launched a number of attacks on Regime airstrips. This turn in tone against Russia’s interests shows us several interesting  aspects and an evolution of the political reality. Perhaps in some smoke-filled room the ‘world order’ decided that they were making the Putin-Trump puppet show too obvious and so needed to fake a fight so as to fog up the glass and hide the strings. Perhaps Trump took the most entrepreneurial route, the gain to his failing popularity at home was worth the hit internationally. After all, if there is one label Trump does not want to adhere to is the old adage ‘weak at home, strong abroad’.

Applying this development to Clausewitz the military objective of the bombing against the regime is very simple ‘weaken Assad and perhaps depose him’. The political objective, ‘amass good press and good reputation so strength at home builds’. The gauge to which we can measure this against is long-term, the perpetuating of an ugly and Pyrrhic war in Syria against damaging the tense relationship with the Russians for some short gains on the home front. This may not be Trump’s intention but there is a clear cause an effect. As Ibid would suggest that Foreign Policy is ‘generated from within’ [1].

Sino-American relations, movements in Korea

As of  this week, US Navy Cruisers have entered the sea near the Korean Peninsular, Xi Jingping and America are in consensus over the need for ‘action’ (ambiguous label that it is) to be taken. The escalation of conflict is worrying as deescelation will be heavily moderated by China, stopping the two, fine groomed, leaders (Jong-Un and Trump) from scrapping. As relations between the DPRK and China sour, the honourable Kim will be forced into a corner, the result of which I nervously await.

But I  digress, the military objective is to show North Korea that the South China Sea will remain peaceful and pacify any idea of Korean supremacy over Japan or the wider world with the throwing of bombs into the ocean. Drawing from Ibid again, the presence of US naval forces is  a many headed sword, disregard for Russian interests in Korea (with who it imports slave labour [2] show a deepening cut to relations. Common interest in Korea and military might by America show the political objective. Trump ran on an anti-Chinese rhetoric,  threats of a trade war were present even before his election. The military show is to save face back home, ‘this is not for the Chinese , but for you, the Americans’ Said Donald, flexing.


Clausewitz wrote after the Napoleonic war, a savage war. What can we see from the military and political objectives? Trump is effectively utilising the military to show off, both at home (President’s in times of conflict wield much more power) and to the International arena. As Trump moves forward onto new ground, leaving Russian partnership slightly bruised following the Syrian tension of this week, with all the swaggar of school yard bully, so sure. So proud.


Apologies about the shortness of this essay. I will answer any questions or expand on any points quite happily.

[1] Ibid p.222

[2] Devalpo, Alain (08), “North Korean slaves”, Le Monde Diplomatique



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