Abstract: Many believe that President Donald J. Trump lacks a coherent worldview informing his foreign policy decisions. Critics of the Trump administration's foreign policy point to the president's erratic behavior, early-morning tweets, and bluster as proof of underlying incoherence in Trump's approach to the world. But this sells Trump short. Whether one approves of Trump's foreign policy or not, it is not driven by pure instinct. Rather, it is rooted in deeply held views about the world, including an obsession with the security of the homeland, beliefs about the threats posed by terrorism, immigration, and unfair trade, and a conviction that the alliances and international institutions that the United States helped construct after World War II are fundamentally rigged against American interests. Trump has subscribed to many of these ideas for three decades.
The paper discusses the concept of grand strategy, outlines the core ideas defining Trump's worldview and situates them within longstanding traditions in American foreign policy. It then assesses how Trump’s grand strategic beliefs have shaped his foreign policy as president.
Speaker bio: Colin H. Kahl is co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, the inaugural Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and a Professor, by courtesy, in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. He is also a Strategic Consultant to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
From October 2014 to January 2017, he was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President. In that position, he served as a senior advisor to President Obama and Vice President Biden on all matters related to U.S. foreign policy and national security affairs, and represented the Office of the Vice President as a standing member of the National Security Council Deputies’ Committee. From February 2009 to December 2011, Dr. Kahl was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East at the Pentagon. In this capacity, he served as the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and six other countries in the Levant and Persian Gulf region. In June 2011, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Secretary Robert Gates.
From 2007 to 2017 (when not serving in the U.S. government), Dr. Kahl was an assistant and associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. From 2007 to 2009 and 2012 to 2014, he was also a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a nonpartisan Washington, DC-based think tank. From 2000 to 2007, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. In 2005-2006, Dr. Kahl took leave from the University of Minnesota to serve as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he worked on issues related to counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and responses to failed states. In 1997-1998, he was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
Current research projects include a book analyzing American grand strategy in the Middle East in the post-9/11 era. A second research project focuses on the implications of emerging technologies on strategic stability.
He has published numerous articles on international security and U.S. foreign and defense policy in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Policy, the National Interest, the New Republic, the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post, and the Washington Quarterly, as well as several reports for CNAS.
His previous research analyzed the causes and consequences of violent civil and ethnic conflict in developing countries, focusing particular attention on the demographic and natural resource dimensions of these conflicts. His book on the subject, States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World, was published by Princeton University Press in 2006, and related articles and chapters have appeared in International Security, the Journal of International Affairs, and various edited volumes.
Dr. Kahl received his B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan (1993) and his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University (2000).