America is Safer Because of Donald Trump's America-First Leadership | Opinion

During a speech at the Center for the National Interest (where I serve as Senior Director) in April 2016—his first major national security address—then-candidate Donald J. Trump vowed to change how America conducted itself overseas. With "America First" as his rallying cry, Trump promised to take on challenges abroad that were only in our national interest, to push allies to provide financially for our collective defense while working to end the "forever wars" of the past.

That's why President Trump should easily beat Joe Biden at tomorrow's presidential debate, when national security is the topic. Trump has never wavered from the vision he laid out four years ago. That's why he will have my vote come November 3, and it is a big reason I believe he will be reelected.

The facts speak for themselves. Far from the lazy trope of isolationism that some of his critics like to tar and feather him with, Trump has successfully aligned U.S. national security strategy with our national interests—the most important foreign policy goal any administration should aspire to. Contrast that with the disastrous eight years of Obama-Biden, where leading from behind—or not leading at all—was the rule of the day. Trump has made critical changes in our national security strategy that will make America more secure for decades to come. That not only helped America become great again, but also safe again.

While there are countless examples one could raise to showcase the power of America First, we should start at the foundation of Trump's vision: rebuilding the U.S. military. Under President Obama and Joe Biden, the U.S. military was savagely cut back thanks to sequestration. Such cuts, done in the most haphazard and non-strategic of ways, hampered our readiness to take on America's enemies across the world, giving them a green light to pursue their strategic objectives. Trump's quest to rebuild the U.S. military, ensuring it had the funding, equipment, training and staffing it needed laid the groundwork for what was to come—and the president should be commended for it.

With the rebuilding of the U.S. military underway, Trump decided to take on the greatest challenge to America's national security, one that President Obama and Joe Biden promised to address and fell far short: China. While it would have been easy to listen to the Wall Street fat cats and so-called titans of industry's pleas to stay the course, allowing business as usual to continue, China's rise, built on the back of outsourced U.S. jobs and the theft of our precious intellectual property and military technology, could not simply continue.

Trump declared in no uncertain terms that China is the greatest national security threat we have faced since the Soviet Union, and worked to make sure the American people understand not only the threat we face, but what must be done to mitigate it. That meant tough tariffs to ensure the Chinese won't be rewarded for their mercantilist ways, enhancing our military power in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening ties with allies like Japan and South Korea and building partnerships with Vietnam and even Taiwan. Through all of this, Trump is ensuring that China cannot overturn the status quo in Asia or push America out of a vital region.

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at North Coast Air aeronautical services at Erie International Airport on October 20, 2020 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Jeff Swensen/Getty

Sticking with Asia for a moment, we can see another place where Trump did not take the easy path and look away from a problem, but instead took it on, in North Korea. President Trump confronted the Kim regime, a nuclear hot potato passed from administration to administration, at a time when Pyongyang was determined to showcase long-range missiles and bigger nuclear weapons. The administration organized a worldwide coalition to enforce sanctions on North Korea, while at the same time extending a hand to try and find a diplomatic solution.

Here is where history was made. Trump's strategy not only eased tensions with Pyongyang but ushered in three bilateral meetings between the president and Chairman Kim Jong-un. And while we can't say North Korea is nuclear weapons free, we can say that the biggest part of its military modernization—testing long-range missiles that can hit the U.S. homeland—has been frozen and not brought to completion. While the threat has not been eliminated, it has been mitigated, and that is something all Americans should be proud of.

That brings us to Russia. Far from being a stooge for Vladimir Putin, President Trump has pushed back against Moscow at every turn, while extending a hand when appropriate. From arming Ukraine and ensuring NATO allies fully fund their armed forces to punishing sanctions and, yes, trying to find areas of mutual interest for cooperation, this administration's Russia policy is comprehensive and takes a realist approach.

Then there is the defeat of ISIS and death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, something Obama and Biden simply had no idea how to achieve. President Trump's leadership in declaring a determination to destroy the Islamic State, making sure it does not hold any territory, has enhanced the security of our world. Today, ISIS is scattered around the globe, with the dream of a caliphate long since dead, holding no territory of consequence. This is a far cry from the approach of President Obama and Joe Biden—when there was talk of Baghdad at one point falling to the caliphate, and whose disastrous pullout from Iraq without thinking of the consequences led to the rise of ISIS. Trump's strategy proved the correct one.

Of course, success is never delivered in a straight line. President Trump has clearly had challenges finding the right mix of foreign policy advisers to deliver on his vision—not shocking, considering his change in direction from the past. For example, known hawks who clearly contrasted with Trump, such as H.R. McMaster, John Bolton and James Mattis—brought into the administration due to their wealth of expertise—were clearly a bad fit.

Their agenda, to steer Trump in directions he did not want to go, only did the nation a disservice. Here, Trump should be praised, as he had the guts to make the tough calls to dismiss such incompatible personnel and take the heat for it. That led Trump to find strong national security allies he could trust, especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

When it comes to national security, Americans must evaluate the candidates based on their records, their vision for how to keep our nation safe and what they have delivered in the past. If we can agree that is the basis for picking our next commander in chief, then President Trump should clearly be set for victory come November 3.

Harry J. Kazianis serves as Senior Director at the Center for the National Interest, a bipartisan national security focused think tank founded by President Richard M. Nixon in 1994. The views expressed are his own.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.