Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC, April 27, Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a “serious” address on foreign policy which boiled down to “America First” and “keep them guessing” as he thrust “unpredictability” as his most novel diplomatic tool.
“America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” he declared.
The Hillary Clinton campaign lost no time in reminding everyone that his pronouncements are no more than slogans, divorced from reality and often contradictory and confusing. What is more, they charge that Trump has used “the most reckless rhetoric of any major presidential candidate in modern history.” As Hillary Clinton has said, “loose cannons tend to misfire.”
Trump attempted to tone down his most radical – most would say “outrageous” – statements, like banning all Muslims from entering the country, killing family members of terrorists, expanding the use of torture, withdrawing from NATO and other alliances unless allies pony up more funding, suggesting that Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia obtain nuclear weapons so they will be less reliant on America’s military might.
But while delivered with a deliberate, rather than inflammatory tone, he reiterated the key themes, even if repackaged to sound more thoughtful.
In his foreign policy address, he said that America would not engage in any treaty or international agreement that did not give advantage to the United States, and while he asserted that America would be a “reliable ally,” he contradicted that statement by suggesting that he would pull out of existing treaties and alliances that did not specifically benefit the US. This includes tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, while at the same time asserting that “Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”
He said he would dramatically expand the military – attacking Obama for a reduction in the number of troops from the number during two active ground wars, and for reduction in the number of naval ships from decades ago, without regard to changes in technology and military tactics or an enemy that is more likely not a nation state’s army – but then also said he would cut the unacceptable national debt.
In his most “presidential” and rational sounding section, he pronounced, “I will also be prepared to deploy America’s economic resources. Financial leverage and sanctions can be very persuasive – but we need to use them selectively and with determination. Our power will be used if others do not play by the rules.
“Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce it. However, unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are signs of strength.”
Much of his address was focused on direct personal attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton – charging that Obama has weakened the military and the economy. “I challenge anyone to explain the strategic foreign policy vision of Obama-Clinton – it has been a complete and total disaster,” he stated.
“We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies,” he said and unleashed a tirade against Obama for allowing the US to be “humiliated.”
“The list of humiliations goes on and on. President Obama watches helplessly as North Korea increases its aggression and expands even further with its nuclear reach. Our president has allowed China to continue its economic assault on American jobs and wealth, refusing to enforce trade rules – or apply the leverage on China necessary to rein in North Korea. He has even allowed China to steal government secrets with cyber attacks and engage in industrial espionage against the United States and its companies. We’ve let our rivals and challengers think they can get away with anything….
“This will change when I am president,” he declared (boldface in the text)
“To all our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again. America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again. We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests, and the shared interests of our allies. We are getting out of the nation-building business, and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.”
He offered pablum to the rabid Republican base, promising a full-on assault that will decimate ISIS, rebuilding the military, fixing the economy and the national debt and immigration.
“And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable. But they’re going to be gone. And soon.
“Our military is depleted, and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming.
“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned.
“But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely. In this time of mounting debt, not one dollar can be wasted.
“We are also going to have to change our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again – and to put Americans first again. This will ensure that our own workers, right here in America, get the jobs and higher pay that will grow our tax revenue and increase our economic might as a nation.”
After having stated that he would use economic levers to make China hoe the line, he said, “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations, and must regard them with open eyes. But we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests. Russia, for instance, has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism.
“I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia – from a position of strength – is possible. Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a good deal for America, then we will quickly walk from the table.
“Fixing our relations with China is another important step towards a prosperous century. China respects strength, and by letting them take advantage of us economically, we have lost all of their respect. We have a massive trade deficit with China, a deficit we must find a way, quickly, to balance.
“A strong and smart America is an America that will find a better friend in China. We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways….”
Then, changing gears, he said, “I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must fight to win. I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary – and will only do so if we have a plan for victory.
“Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction. The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.
“With President Obama and Secretary Clinton we’ve had the exact opposite: a reckless, rudderless and aimless foreign policy – one that has blazed a path of destruction in its wake.”
His closing no doubt sealed it with his followers: “Under a Trump Administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.
“I will view the world through the clear lens of American interests.
“I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion. We will not apologize for becoming successful again, but will instead embrace the unique heritage that makes us who we are.
“America will continually play the role of peacemaker.
“We will always help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself. But to play that role, we must make America strong again.
“We must make America respected again. And we must make America great again.
“If we do that, perhaps this century can be the most peaceful and prosperous the world has ever known.”
The pundits seemed so relieved that he didn’t sound as crazed as former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and were all commenting on how he achieved his objective of sounding presidential.
That is, until you actually stopped to think about what he was saying.
Clinton Campaign Calls Trump Policy “Reckless”
Immediately after Trump’s speech, Hillary Clinton supporters, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Sen. Tim Kaine, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Foreign Relations, held a press call.
“I’ve listened to a lot of foreign policy speeches, and given a few, but I’ve never seen such a combination of simplistic slogans and contradictions in one speech, “Albright said. “His goal today may have been to convince us he could be presidential – instead, he just underscored he is running the most reckless, dangerous presidential campaign in modern history.”
Sen. Tim Kaine also took exception to Trump’s foreign doctrine of “America First” and added, “The real title should have been ‘Blame America First’ – which is to look at what’s wrong in world now and blame America” or more specifically Obama and Clinton.
He took exception to Trump’s notion that the US should be “more unpredictable” in its foreign policy. “Do you want a Commander in Chief who is unpredictable with the nuclear codes?” Kaine asked.
“Allies do not want unpredictable, they want someone to count on, and adversaries need to know what we will do – if they take certain steps, what consequences. Our troops don’t deserve a Commander in Chief who is unpredictable – that is the worst criteria for a Commander in Chief.”
“This man who wants to be Commander in Chief has said repeatedly that the American military is a disaster. I have a kid in the military, there are 1.6 million in the military. They don’t deserve a Commander in Chief who talks about them as a disaster, with disrespect.
“Hillary Clinton was a strong member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she understands military strength. Then she was chosen as the nation’s chief diplomat – she is someone who understands diplomacy as a tool. She has a track record of understanding military strength and diplomatic strength. We need a track record, connections with world leaders, rather than unpredictability or blame America first.
Albright said that she found many things troubling, but three concerns stand out, particularly, that there were no details in the speech. “Instead, he offered a lot of tough talk, simplistic slogans, empty promises, incoherent, riddled with contradictions. For example, Trump speaks of redeeming the trust of allies, while in effect blackmailing them into going along. He talked about the importance of Western values but questioned why America should engage in order to support democratic values.
He said he would work with Muslims to fight terrorism, but he has already alienated them by threatening to block Muslims from entering the country.
She noted that Trump’s foundational foreign policy theme of “America First” is the most telling of someone who has “never read history or doesn’t understand it.”
Indeed, the America First movement were people who wanted to keep the United States out of World War II, arguing that Nazism “wasn’t a threat to American interests.”
Albright added, “People are impressed that he could actually deliver a speech – that these things were strung together – essentially stringing slogans together, standard GOP lines. It sounded manufactured and somebody didn’t check the contradictions because the slogans sounded OK.
Trump’s speech sounded like what “somebody thought would sound intelligent but doesn’t make any sense. What he says about China – never doing anything with them, having any relationship, or ruining them economically then saying we have to do a deal – maybe a hotel or something. Diplomacy is not hotel deal making…I have just been to Central and Eastern Europe where they are worried about what Russia is doing, they believe in NATO and believe in America’s presence in Europe. The people I met with last week, would be very worried about Trump’s approach.
“One of the parts that made this ridiculous is when he said he wanted to work with Muslims to fight terrorism, after he has spent so much time insulting them. Visualize someone coming to America and being asked their religion. I am a refugee to this country, a naturalized citizen. It is totally inappropriate for someone to say you can’t come in because of your religion. We have been critical of Europeans who say want to limit religious freedom…. And absurd to say want to work with Muslims while you are insulting them. Which makes me doubt he has fully thought about the slogans he uses.”
Kaine took exception to Trump’s assertion that Obama has “been bad for Israel” or that the US-Israel relationship is weakened. Even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aggressively opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, now “I am seeing a whole group of Israeli security officials saying that Iran nuclear deal has given breathing room –the security that Iran won’t develop nuke weapon for 15 years. We have one significant disagreement between this president and Israeli PM but on other issues, investment and security cooperation, very strong.”
He noted that we went to war with Iraq over the false premise that it had nuclear weapons, and now the Iranian nuclear deal is assuring there will be no war to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Let’s do diplomacy, so we know what’s going on, before we tear up deals and walk away.”
“It’s very clear that Hillary Clinton has long record of being very supportive of Israel, spending time with Israeli leaders, going to Israel and understanding the unbreakable relationship,” said Albright. “Trump has had one speech at AIPAC.
“On the Iranian issue – ludicrous to think that anyone wants Iran to have a bomb. Hillary Clinton as secretary was the one who began the process of putting sanctions on Iran, which is what brought them to the table, and the deal was made multi-laterally. So the idea of walking away and tearing it up is so counter to anything that is normal diplomatic procedure that would help America, but as a result of well negotiated deal, we will not have an Iran with nuclear weapons. The idea that the agreement that this will enable Iran to have nuclear weapon – it’s the exact opposite. That’s what is so dangerous and bothers me the most – his statements can hurt American interests.”
Albright added, that what Trump presented in his foreign policy address and on the campaign trail, “is not a plan. Blustering is not a strategy.
“American leadership is strongest when it comes from thoughtful, strategic approaches to use of American power. It doesn’t come from the world of reality TV. Today’s speech was anything but smart, maybe it was just supposed to be entertainment.”
She drew contrast with Clinton’s foreign policy approach– wise, principled policy, working with partners, use all the tools of power, increase prosperity and advance our values – what Clinton calls “smart power”.
“Clinton came in as Secretary of State in a particularly difficult time. America’s reputation had been deeply damaged by the war in Iraq and the budget deficit that came from that,” she said. How to restore America’s reputation was the challenge and Clinton accomplished that.
–Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
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