27 March 2016

Donald Trump: Foreign Policy Heretic, Foreign Policy Visionary

In addition to rocking the political firmament in Washington with his full throated championing of American workers, Donald Trump is also breaking with many long standing Republican orthodoxies on foreign policy.

Donald Trump's foreign policy can be summed up in two words: America First. He says this openly and proudly--the New York Times quotes him as saying "Not an isolationist but I am America First....I like the expression."

I like the expression, too. I like the notion of an American President who will champion American interests, and not global interests.

Why should we keep troops on the border between North and South Korea? North Korea is a pariah nation, and even its sole sponsor China is not going to blithely go along with any military adventurism south of the 38th parallel. The 38th parallel is no longer a front line in the battle against Soviet expansionism; the historic rationale for a continued military presence does not apply--either devise a new rationale or bring the troops home.

Likewise Trump is correct to question NATO. The NATO alliance was both a reaction to the Second World War and to the rise of Soviet expansionism in the immediate aftermath; NATO's own official history states that "the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration". 

The Soviet Union is no more, and Putin's Russia is a problematic threat, given its shrinking population and shrinking economy. Europe is already politically and economically integrated--some would say too much so. Neither France nor Germany--the leading political and economic actors in Europe--show any appetite for military adventurism on the continent or abroad. Against what threats do US troops stationed in Europe guard? And exactly whom are they guarding--Europe or the United States?

Moreover, as Brussels tragically demonstrates, the NATO alliance does nothing to stop ISIS from exporting terror into the western world. NATO has not stopped jihadist attacks in New York on 9/11, in Madrid and London in 2005, nor in Paris earlier this year. As an alliance predicated on mutual defense and protection, NATO is failing its members horribly against the enemy of radical Islam. Trump is right: NATO is obsolete.

US military adventurism in Iraq under Bush and Libya under Obama has not turned out at all well--sobering realities that speak to the limits of what military power can achieve: US military might is formidable, but no military can build nations ex nihilo, and no military can impose democracy on a people from without. US military muscle can topple dictators--and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were unquestionably dictators--but it cannot create stable governments to take their place. For all the seeming electoral successes in Iraq in the years following the US invasion in 2003, without US troops the artificially created regime in Baghdad quickly lost credibility and legitimacy, and is now too weak to confront ISIS militarily even on Iraqi soil.

Challenging these assumptions does not make Trump an isolationist. It does make him a realist. And it calls to mind George Washington's warning in his farewell address two centuries ago against entangling foreign alliances; they were dangerous then and they are dangerous now. Not every foreign crisis calls for the sacrifice of American blood and treasure. Not every foreign crisis is a significant threat to America or American interests.

Contrary to the "experts" of the establishment, "America First" is a vision of foreign policy. It means to measure each foreign engagement, each foreign alliance, each deployment of troops in foreign lands, against the cold objective yardstick of how these things benefit the United States. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute is wrong to say "'greatness' is not a foreign policy"; in fact, it is the only foreign policy stance worth having--it is the stance that says "engage where it benefits America and disengage where it does not."

The duty of the American government is to advance the interests of the American people. Donald Trump is the only candidate willing to say that, and willing to do that--loudly and proudly.

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