By John Ubaldi,

In spite of all the partisan drama, President Donald Trump’s national security team is taking shape. But under Trump, what direction will U.S. foreign policy take?

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump derided generations of U.S. strategic global policy. It was a policy with which America helped shape the world by helping others succeed. With it came benefits for the United States.

Unfortunately, Trump turned this prism completely around by clearly stating in his inaugural address, “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

“But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”

What Direction Does U.S. Foreign Policy Go?

Such “America first” rhetoric by the new Commander-in-Chief begs the question: where exactly does President Trump plan to take U.S. foreign policy? For example, Trump has given no concrete facts about how he plans to deal with Russia.

Trump may have spoken rhetorically to his base audience. However, his selections for his national security team seem to have other ideas.

Russia has interfered with the U.S. political establishment, especially after Moscow hacked into the Democratic National Committee and tried to influence the U.S. presidential election. Trump has given confusing and often conflicting statements about how he would cope with Russia; he often states he can deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mattis Believes Russia Is a Threat to US

However, Trump’s selections for his national security team expressed a different vision about how to deal with Russia throughout their confirmation hearings. In his confirmation hearing, James Mattis, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense, said something completely different from Trump.

Mattis stated, “History is not a straitjacket, but I’ve never found a better guide for the way ahead than by studying history….Since Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.”

The most important thing is to recognize that Putin is trying to break up the North Atlantic alliance, Mattis noted. He insisted that the U.S. and its allies must take steps to defend themselves wherever necessary.

Tillerson Says US Should Have Done More to Counter Russia

Even Trump’s selection for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said there was an “absence of American leadership” with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The U.S. should have taken stronger action, he observed.

Speaking of Crimea, Tillerson called it “a taking of territory that was not theirs.” Tillerson said he would have recommended that Ukraine station its military assets along its eastern border and that the U.S. and NATO should have helped with supplies and air surveillance. Russia would have understood and responded to such a “powerful response,” he said.

Even recently sworn-in CIA Director Mike Pompeo has taken a harsher line with Russia than Trump has done so far.

The only member of Trump’s national security team who has voiced a different strategy with dealing with Moscow is his National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn. Flynn’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

What Will US Strategy Be in the Volatile Middle East?

How to deal with Russia is not confined to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and Crimea. It also includes Russia’s involvement in the Middle East, especially in Syria.

There has been very little talk about the chaos in the Middle East, with regard to Syria and ISIS. Trump has forcefully spoken about the need to defeat the Islamic State, but he has not given a clear, concise strategy how to accomplish that goal or what’s next after the defeat of ISIS.

Trump Has Few Discernable Options in Syria

The Trump administration has been dealt a bad hand with very few discernable options in Syria. U.S. policy toward Syria has been deemed a failure and a growing sign of American weakness throughout the Middle East.

One could argue that the U.S. never really had any good options in Syria. Any chance to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and act decisively to establish a moderate and effective government is long gone.

The Obama administration’s strategy failed to counter and even balance Russian influence in Syria. That failure left the U.S. playing a subordinate role in efforts to broker a cease-fire among warring factions.

Currently, the U.S. is playing a military role in the fight against ISIS, but it has failed to create an effective, unified or moderate Arab army. The lack of decisive U.S. action has led to more determined actions by the Russians and Iranians, as well as the intervention of a proxy army of Hezbollah militants and Turkey’s military campaign against Kurdish forces supported by the U.S.

Obama Favored Iran over Syria

The Obama administration’s top priority in the Middle East was to promote a policy of reconciliation with Iran, even ahead of Syria. As President Obama pursued his long-desired nuclear agreement with Tehran, Iran continued its belligerency toward the U.S. by fomenting terror throughout the Middle East.

The Middle East is a vital national security interest to the U.S. The United States cannot disengage from this region. But the Obama administration abandoned this region to our adversaries and has left the Middle East on the cusp of nuclear proliferation.

The Trump administration must navigate this perilous region in which Russia and Iran, both adversaries of the U.S., are cooperating strategically, militarily, politically and economically. Now China too is beginning to exploit the region for its own strategic interests.

The one ace Trump has is his Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Mattis has extensive military experience in the Middle East from his service as head of U.S. Central Command and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trump will need all the help he can get. This region has flummoxed every administration since the Truman administration.