This article centers on Donald Trump’s 19th century view of American foreign policy. Then, as we hear today among Trump supporters and some non-supporters, the United States should heed the words of George Washington and avoid foreign entanglements. Then, any foreign entanglement centered on the Western hemisphere through the Monroe doctrine. But that was then and this now and it all changed for good after World War II.
For the first time in many decades, we have a presidential candidate calling into question established alliances like NATO and the Japan-US defense agreement. When one looks at the alliances established in the 19th century they were constantly shifting and ones of convenience. After World War II, they have been enduring and have established some sense of normalcy.
Obviously, Trump’s statements in this area are designed as a bargaining tool- one that involves unpredictability. While that strategy may work perfectly well in making a land or building deal, international relations is not an area to put this strategy to the test. We have spent the last eight years detailing and castigating the Obama administration about abandoning allies and befriending enemies. If Trump’s foreign policy is anywhere like his rhetoric, it would appear he would finish off the job of alienating our remaining friends and allies.
Despite the need to “make America great again,” the slogan and idea misses a very important point- America is already great. Perhaps a better slogan would be “make America even greater.” The fact is that many nations still look up to the United States despite the havoc Obama wreaked in this area. This is one area where Trump can perhaps make some inroads with true conservatives. Israel is the obvious first start on that trek, but under Obama relations with other allies have been frayed. The bottom line is that the United States is not in absolute decline despite the rhetoric.
Trump likes to rail against China a lot on the campaign trail. Australia’s Lowy Institute notes that the United States leads the world in the number of embassies, consulates and missions. We have entered into over 60 treaties worldwide. That is not withdrawal from the world. And it has paid dividends. As The Economist noted recently, over 100 of the world’s largest 150 countries lean towards the United States with only 21 against us.
Telling the world that he considers NATO an outdated organization where he threatens withdrawal unless something else happens sends a strong signal to nefarious European actors like Russia. Even if NATO needs reform and they should foot more of the bill by increasing their defense spending, using a major foreign policy speech sends a strong message to Europe that scares the living hell out of our allies.
His speech, which many Trump supporters now spin into some Trump Manifesto on foreign policy and sing its praises, was, in reality, a denunciation of the whole of American foreign policy since the end of World War II and all the defense and state secretaries and presidents of either party. In typical narcissistic fashion, he claims to be the only person who can fix the alleged wrongs. His stump speech since then has actually been hardest on some of our strongest allies- Great Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea- rather than Russia or China.
This is a man who has considered using nuclear weapons on ISIS when he isn’t killing the families of known terrorists. He has chastised NATO at the same time Russian has naked designs on the Ukraine and disguised designs on the Baltic states. At the very time the US should be beefing up our European presence to prevent these Russian designs, Trump is talking about tearing that framework asunder.
He wants to apparently sue Saudi Arabia for the war on terrorism and threatened to stop purchasing Saudi oil (which I am sure China would like). He has proposed giving nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea and withdraw troops from those countries.
While the Trumpettes describe his foreign policy speech as nothing short of spectacular, they ignore the internal inconsistencies which call into question the entirety of the speech. He claimed that we have to realize that some states will always be antagonistic to the US, then says we should be happy when these enemies become friends. He wants to make America a trusted and reliable ally…for a price. In the same speech where he derided Obama for weakening alliances, he then proposes pulling out of the NATO alliance unless… That is not reliability.
Apparently under some Trump doctrine, we will pursue ISIS and other terrorist organizations around the world, but only in countries that are nice to us with those “niceties” apparently passing some Trump test. So if Yemen, for example, is not “nice” to us, ISIS can take up camp there. And then there is the granddaddy of all inconsistencies in his speech- the United States will be a consistent reliable ally by becoming unpredictable.
In that speech, he asserted that the United States was isolationist and interventionist, that he would be consistent yet unpredictable, and that our military was exceptional but weak. The problem is threefold. First, he approaches foreign policy as just another business deal- the type of thing that happens in his boardroom on a daily basis, or The Apprentice. Second, he is so narcissistic that he honestly believes his incoherent ramblings are actually sound policy statements. The man is delusional. And third, even if he surrounded himself with the best foreign and defense policy minds in the country (a majority of whom panned his speech as “dangerous”), it is clear that Trump, like his entire campaign, dummies down the solutions into soundbites more fit for Twitter than sound foreign and defense policy.
Maybe- perhaps- somewhere in his ramblings we are all missing something, but this writer seriously doubts it. When the inconsistencies are brought to his attention, he either doubles down on them or he again incoherently rambles a clarification.
The President of the United States is not only the Chief Executive of the country and the leader of his political party; he is the leader of the free world. Is it any wonder that the free world is scared like hell (as Sen. Mike Lee said) of a Trump presidency? Donald Trump is not fit to be the leader of the country, “his party,” or the free world. He’s a better fit for the 19th century, not the present world.