WASHINGTON, DC – In a speech that was loudly decried by ((((pundits)))), Donald J. Trump outlined what foreign policy would look like under his presidency. Surprisingly to some, he used a teleprompter, but foreign policy really is something that you cannot wing, even if most foreign policy brokering between countries actually happens in an off-the-cuff manner. Not a single word or phrase he utters goes without intense and instant national and international scrutiny, and when it comes to foreign policy he needs to make those words consistent and coherent, more indicative than inspirational. There is simply too much loaded into each and every decision and directive for it to be extemporaneous—this was a very good move on Trump’s behalf and one that enhances his professionalism, which he must emphasize if he wants to win over needed establishment supporters.
But there is a distinction between taking on a professional form and taking in the content of self-anointed professionals. Unfortunately, one can see Trump’s attempts to reach out to ((((neocons))))) throughout the policy positions in his speech, which he no doubt had some help with. A genuine America First nationalist foreign policy would be a huge improvement over what we have now. But from the content of Trump’s speech, it seems he is not there 100% and this would be an incremental change rather than a paradigm shift.
Such dilution is entirely consistent with how electoral politics work in a universal franchise democracy—policy positions become watered-down when their standard-bearer has to deal with his opponents. Trump’s rhetoric is, on the whole, the right place to be. We do have to put ourselves first because that is what everyone else is doing. In the Hobbesian-Darwinian struggle between nations this is absolutely the case. But if we really look at the substance of what Trump is saying on foreign policy, there are a lot of very bad things being signaled, despite the muscular Americentrism that characterizes his campaign. We must absolutely be mindful of this and remember that just because he says something does not make it something we should support, even if we support him in general. The kvetchspiral of punditry against his speech is actually very unwarranted in my opinion, given how much of this would be business as usual. With that in mind, I would like to review some of the most crucial ideology and policy points of his speech, with my own emphases. This will be a long post. [tl;dr: His foreign policy is like 80% ((((neocon)))), and poorly complements his Jacksonian civic nationalism. It’s rhetorically very nationalist-sounding because he has decent speechwriters and must have had input, but the substance is distinctly ((((neocon)))).]
“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be. That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make… America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”
On the surface, America First might sound like an empty platitude, but this is rhetorically a huge shift from what we are used to hearing from politicians when it comes to foreign policy. This muscular Americentrism of saying our needs and our security come first and that of others second sounds like it is from another era, and it is. Obama’s emphasis the last eight years, for example, is typically on “our partners” or “our allies.” And it is naturally hard for him to put ‘America first,’ so to speak, given his identity; he is the non-White head of an anti-majority coalition, which is not much of a mandate and certainly not the historical constituency of the US. After all, isn’t this an evil, racist, capitalist, White supremacist country that needs to be enlightened by the blazing torch of diversity and progress? It’s nothing to be proud of. Obama aside, much of this country’s foreign policy consists of an elaborate system of bribery and carrot-and-stick diplomacy, which Trump seems to be aware of—hence his trademark emphasis on “bad deals.” America First is thus an ideal starting position from which to negotiate any and all foreign affairs. Why would we make arrangements with other countries in which we put our concerns beneath theirs? That’s what a vassal or a client state does, not a free people. (Yeah I know, >implying we are free).
“We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy. We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result.”
Trump’s diagnosis here is correct. US involvement in the Middle East and North Africa has been a net disaster and the Islamic State exists because of the War in Iraq. The institutions destroyed were Arab nationalist governments, which the Leviathan on the Potomac wanted replaced with Western democracies. That was at least the mission on paper, ironically called nation-building; it involved violently upsetting fragile ethno-religious balances which made national government possible in the Levant. And where democracy is implemented in the region, we often see Islamist parties in power or Islam made the state religion and basis of civil law. Egypt tried this in 2012 and elected the Muslim Brotherhood into power, but has since reverted to a military junta. Having universal franchise voting in a Muslim-majority society tends to result in that, and that is not Western democracy at that point. And yes, never forget the sixty gorillion dollars wasted on Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re rebuilding other countries while weakening our own. Ending the theft of American jobs will give us resources we need to rebuild our military, which has to happen and regain our financial independence and strength. I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this and this is a serious problem.”
I am skeptical of economic protectionism here. I think we would be better off trying to create a highly skilled workforce with high immigration barriers rather than trying to repatriate sources of employment. He doesn’t really say here what measures he is going to take to bring back manufacturing jobs from the Third World, or how this will give us military-building resources. We are already one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers and the world leader in the aerospace and defense industries, but I digress. In any event, the notion of “financial independence” is probably setting off alarm bells in ((((certain circles)))), so I have to give Trump some credit for even mouthing it.
“[O]ur allies are not paying their fair share, and I’ve been talking about this recently a lot. Our allies must contribute toward their financial, political, and human costs, have to do it, of our tremendous security burden… In NATO, for instance, only 4 of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense…. The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.”
Well, don’t get me started on NATO. It is frankly disappointing that Trump hasn’t put two-and-two together here in realizing that the globalist military structure spearheaded by the US is responsible for destroying stability in the Middle East to the benefit of Salafist/Wahhabi Islam and Israel. On the other hand, from the perspective of fairness and assuming NATO’s mission is good, making the other members of the alliance foot their share of the bill is a good thing as it saves us money. What Trump has nailed correctly here is that NATO is not really collective defense at all for most countries in it; it is making a token contribution to the US military in exchange for protection. But Trump still wants NATO to exist, and to be financed more equitably. Thus, he still buys into the idea that it is necessary for Anglo-America, Europe, and the Turks to be allied against… what exactly?
“We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies, something that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country. He negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran, and then we watched them ignore its terms even before the ink was dry. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, cannot be allowed. Remember that, cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”
We all know that “friends” means Israel, something Trump will make extremely clear later in the speech. He is adamant on the red line of Iran being forbidden from acquiring nuclear capabilities. This is not an America First position at all, it is an Israel-first position that requires permanent US involvement the in internal affairs of Iran. Permanent monitoring, permanent negotiating, permanent bribery and extortion, and permanent enmity. And for what? So Israel can offload countering Iran as an externality on the United States? Our security is not threatened by a nuclear Iran, as we have, frankly, a bigger gun. We have and will always have more warheads and more missiles, and more importantly, a greater second-strike capability, which is the cornerstone of the mutually-assured destruction school of nuclear deterrent. If Iran tries to nuke a single US city, there will be no Iran the next day.
“When the other side knows you’re not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win — you just can’t win. At the same time, your friends need to know that you will stick by the agreements that you have with them. You’ve made that agreement, you have to stand by it and the world will be a better place.”
This segment is a good example of Trump’s deal-broker and decision-maker ethos. We must stand firm and we must stand honorably by our commitments. But Trump also understands threat-values, and that one has to argue from a position of strength and cunning. You can’t beg for a deal and get 51%. And indeed, the world is a better place when people fulfill their contractual obligations to one another. However, this all assumes that the deals and alliances made by the US are made to serve our interests, which is very debatable given the criminal and deliberate failure of the state to support its majority population. Trump’s instincts on the principles are correct though.
“Israel, our great friend and the one true democracy in the Middle East has been snubbed and criticized by an administration that lacks moral clarity. Just a few days ago, Vice President Biden again criticized Israel, a force for justice and peace, for acting as an impatient peace area in the region. President Obama has not been a friend to Israel. He has treated Iran with tender love and care and made it a great power. Iran has, indeed, become a great, great power in just a very short period of time, because of what we’ve done. All of the expense and all at the expense of Israel, our allies in the region and very importantly, the United States itself.”
And there it is. Trump is so literally wedded to the Jewish-Neocon foreign policy establishment that he cannot even think rationally about the Israeli-Iranian relationship. He considers the ‘Iran deal’ to have made Iran into a ‘great power,’ which it most certainly is not, and has not been since antiquity—when the Persian empire(s) had on occasion ruled as far as Egypt and Asia Minor. Trump affirms the ((((neocon)))) boilerplate that our greatest ally is the one trve democracy in the Middle East. We, of course, know why ((((neocons)))) place Israel at the center of their foreign policy, but the mental gymnastics they go through to sell it to everyone else are truly incredible. Arguing that Israel is a democratic country in the Middle East and therefore should be supported by the US is one such example of this. Israel is a democracy, but it is also an exclusionary ethno-religious nation-state. Therefore it is patently false to consider it a sister republic or a sister democracy of the United States, which is currently a universalist, internationalist, and anti-nationalist state. The US-Israeli alliance being justified by democracy alone is an antiquated Cold War relic, one that doesn’t take into account huge differences between the ideologies of the countries in question, only their form of government and willingness to cooperate with one another. In the mind of Trump, Israel is equated with justice and peace, values he likely also ascribes to the United States. But here it seems Trump is merely admiring muscular Zionism, not realizing or not caring that for him to be a muscular Zionist he cannot be a muscular Americentrist. Muscular Zionism means putting Israel first—which is frankly what he promises to do.
“Our president has allowed China to continue its economic assault on American jobs and wealth, refusing to enforce trade deals and apply leverage on China necessary to rein in North Korea. We have the leverage… We’ve let our rivals and challengers think they can get away with anything, and they do. They do at will. It always happens. If President Obama’s goal had been to weaken America, he could not have done a better job.”
With Israel out of the picture, Trump returns to muscular Americentrism, his baseline of foreign policy-making. He talks about how we have been undercut and made a victim of industrial espionage by China, and how the lack of repercussions has only emboldened them. Trump has a good grasp of incentives, but is characteristically vague about how he is going to lever China. But this is certainly an improvement over doing nothing and letting it continue.
“President Obama won’t even name the enemy, and unless you name the enemy, you will never ever solve the problem… Hillary Clinton also refuses to say the words radical Islam, even as she pushes for a massive increase in refugees coming into our country… First, we need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam. Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States and indeed the world. Events may require the use of military force, but it’s also a philosophical struggle, like our long struggle in the Cold War. In this, we’re going to be working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world.”
Trump is right in that Obama and Clinton will not name Islam of any kind as an enemy of Western civilization. This is because they are leftists, and doctrinaire leftists since the 1960s have not seen any inconsistency between supporting violent brown people who hate Western civilization and being liberal. This is because race has replaced class as the purported structure of oppression which must be overthrown. [Go check out Hillary Clinton’s merch page—you can get shirts of every ethnic and gender minority saying ‘X for Hillary Clinton,’ well except for whitey of course]. Trump also rejects the popular doctrine of invade-the-world-invite-the-world, which is an absurdist policy we have followed since Vietnam. Today you can find communities of foreigners in this country numbering 100,000s and millions who come from countries or civilizations we have violently struggled with in the last fifty years. This makes no sense, as people are slowly figuring out. The same is true of Europe (especially in France and Britain), where former colonized non-White peoples have been readily admitted by the governments there. Interestingly, Trump is taking the Cold War containment strategy and applying it to the Muslim world, but thinks he will be able to balance banning Muslims from entering the country with having Muslim allies. It remains to be seen how this will work, but ideally we would disengage from the region as much as possible. The ((((neocon)))) overtones here are too large to ignore, however, and it is safe to say Trump is not going to get us out of the Middle East; he will only be more pragmatic and cynical towards it. Incremental improvement, but far from ideal.
“We should work together with any nation in the region that is threatened by the rise of radical Islam. But this has to be a two-way street. They must also be good to us. Remember that. They have to be good to us, no longer one way. It’s now two-way. And remember, us and all we’re doing, they have to appreciate what we’ve done to them. We’re going to help, but they have to appreciate what we’ve done for them. The struggle against radical Islam also takes place in our homeland. There are scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism. For every case known to the public, there are dozens and dozens more. We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies.”
The idea of allying with regional kebab countries “threatened by the rise of radical Islam” is vague but based on things Trump has said before; one would hope he is implying Arab nationalists like Saddam (F), Gadaffi (F), and Assad, as opposed to say Saudi Arabia, which is both threatened by terrorism and responsible for the spread of puritanical Islam globally. One would also hope the reciprocity he demands would be used to evaluate the existing relationships with countries like Pakistan for example, an Islamic republic which harbored fucking Osama bin Laden for almost a decade in a well-stocked compound. And of course, he is absolutely right that the war with Islam has gone domestic due to the wholesale importation of angry brown medievalists.
There is a bit more speech after this but it is a lot less insightful and more inciteful, the kind of things he would say at a rally, and we have heard it all a thousand times already. He does go into some more detail about partnering with Russia to fight radical Islam, which would be a good move. But ultimately throughout the speech, we see a pattern of wavering tension between ((((neoconservative)))) internationalism and American nationalism. He tries to pull in one direction but then finds himself drifting back into the other. On foreign policy, Trump is clearly going to be a transitional figure, not a great sea change. But then he goes and drops a bomb like this:
“No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down.”
I want to believe. My bare minimum for Trump has always been whether or not he will do what he says about illegal immigration, not foreign policy—which he is clearly confused on. It would be nice to get a nationalist foreign policy, but it is clear that Trump will not be the one to bring us there yet. His foreign policy seems to be nationalist in rhetoric but largely neoconservative in substance. He still believes in the ideological crusade against foreign states that will yield us few benefits. He puts Israel first in the Middle East rather than the United States first anywhere in any situation. But he is not dumb about what causes terrorism and how to prevent it from happening here. For technical purposes, however, immigration policy can hardly be considered foreign policy. Trump absolutely falls short on foreign policy, regardless of the language he is using to justify it.
Also published at Atlantic Centurion