Spencer and I were surprised when Donald Trump suddenly veered off the course of his usual bluster and instead wrote his bluster onto a teleprompter before reading it. His speech was hailed as the first real foreign policy speech of his campaign, which it is. So naturally we decided to read the transcript, and take it apart word by word, sentence by sentence, and comment on its brilliance or lack thereof.
“It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy.”
I’m always worried when someone advocates radically redefining American foreign policy. It usually means that the speaker is about to piss off allies or infuriate enemies. Look, say what you want about our international conduct. Advocate for reform. Point out some of the obvious flaws. But the fundamental tenets of American foreign policy actually haven’t really changed since American involvement in WWII, insofar as we’ve become and remained a powerful, active, involved global actor, and while we’ve moved from extension to retrenchment throughout the decades, I’d still argue that on net our foreign policy conduct has been better than we achieved during the interwar years between the first and second world wars.
“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.”
Cool. So said Obama. So did Obama, in fact. And furthermore, Trump’s “new foreign policy vision” is premised on an orthodox Realpolitik standard of analysis. Nothing new has been introduced so far…
“History will not forget what he did. A very special man and president.”
Hooray for Reagan-god worship. It wouldn’t be a Republican foreign policy speech without it! 10 points to Trump for invoking His glorious name.
“Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense.”
Okay, this is sort of fair. Look especially to Michael Mandelbaum’s newly published magnum opus, Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era for an explanation of what went wrong. Although keep in mind, a lot of the critiques that Mandelbaum and Trump (implicitly) are making are actually dovish liberal positions, perhaps to the left of Hillary. Which makes them hilariously incongruous with Trump’s solutions, which sound like the typical neoconservative Rumsfeldian foreign policy of the Bush era, which (hint, hint) set up a lot of the mistakes Trump critiques in the next sentence.
“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.”
Ok. Let’s dissect this one by one. In Iraq, yes, we made a mistake, and yes, that ‘destabilized’ the region, and yes it directly led to the creation of Zarqawi’s AQI that later became Da’ash. In Egypt, one may say we made a mistake in not supporting Morsi and the democratically elected government of Egypt. One may say that we ought to have acted during Sisi’s coup to prevent it. Furthermore, one may say that we ought to have taken action against Sisi’s brazen attempts to disenfranchise voters, to centralize power, and prosecute members of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the number of Egyptian who have joined ISIS has been relatively small (as opposed to the militant groups in the Sinai who are nominally part of Da’ash). And furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the political chaos in Egypt contributed meaningfully to the rise of the Islamic State. On the issue of President Obama’s red line in Syria… suggesting that President Obama’s decision to not consider military action against the Assad regime strengthened ISIL can be interpreted in two ways, each of them equally ridiculous. Way #1: Obama’s inaction, because remember in Trumpland, Obama is WEAK and Trump is STRONG, destabilized the region, creating ISIL. I would caution y’all to remember that Da’ash and the Assad regime are and were actively fighting against each other. In fact, Da’ash grew in strength and numbers by seizing land from the Assad regime, so by taking action against the Assad regime, we would be aiding ISIL. Way #2: Obama is WEAK and he destroyed U.S credibility, and thus ISIL expanded because it knew the U.S wasn’t going do anything about it. ISIL expanded because it wants to create a fucking caliphate. Also this weak articulation of credibility is so easily disposed of—you just need to look at the entire history of the 19th and 20th centuries like say…Darryl Press does.
“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.”
A pretty standard indict of the core principles of neoconservatism. Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz are probably crying somewhere. It is a clear demonstration that Trump is the inheritor of Buchanan’s populist paleoconservatism.’
“We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed.”
I feel bad about saying this. But yes! The invasion and furthermore the policy of Debaathification pursued under Ahmed Chalabi, which effectively served as Desunnification, tore up the institutions of the state. Since in order to become a teacher or doctor, it was necessary that one join the Baath party, dismantling Baathism meant dismantling the architecture of the state. It is no wonder that targeting Sunnis lead to sectarianism where there had not been before, and that dismantling the school and hospital system without replacing it led to civil unrest. If it is true, as Francis Fukuyama opines, that political order necessitates a strong, effective government and stable institutions, then undermining the government’s ability to deliver services to its citizenry by eviscerating the institutions that performed those functions will surely engender political disorder.
“Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.”
It’s so easy to tell when Trump’s own voice starts to come through in his speeches. Two word sentences are Trump’s version of Orwellian doublespeak, and while they’re hilariously simplistic, making him sound like a child, this simplistic language actually has an important psychological effect on people. By making statements that are easy to understand and repeat, they become easy to repeat. Our politicians are stupid. Our foreign policy is a disaster. Trade deals are a failure. No vision. No strategy. No smarts. Not to draw too bold of a historical comparison here, but Trumpian language is starting to sound like the Einheit, treue, gehorsam of Reichs past. And I’d also contest his core statements. We’ve had a lot of strategy in our foreign policy. It’s just that in 1991 the United States found itself in the position of a worker who held the same job for forty-five years and suddenly wakes up in the morning in a glorious forced retirement. That’s why we’ve seen differing views come through, from the coalition building of 41, to humanitarian interventionism under Bill, to nation-building under 41 Jr., to the retrenchment-aux-drone strikes and JTACs under Obama.
“President Obama has weakened our military by weakening our economy. He’s crippled us with wasteful spending, massive debt, low growth, a huge trade deficit and open borders. Our manufacturing trade deficit with the world is now approaching $1 trillion a year.”
Don’t worry! It is Obama’s fault. And let us be clear, Trump isn’t arguing that trade deficits hurt growth because we’re currently in a liquidity trap and thus the increased capital flows are meaningless as Krugman did. He’s arguing that trade deficits hurt growth in normal conditions ceteris paribus because it mean America is losing!
“They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us. In NATO, for instance, only 4 of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense. We have spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia.”
Sadly, yes! But this isn’t a problem we can do much about in the status quo. Firstly, Trump’s mention of Asia in the context of NATO is odd but reflects the standard belief that the United States subsidizes the defense budget of the rest of the world. Not to mention that as a result we get things like a non-nuclear South Korea and a greater ability to shape the architecture of the international order in ways that benefit us, I actually agree with Trump that we spend way above an optimal amount. The trouble is…how do you compel these countries to pay more? Through diplomacy and soft power? Well, we’re doing that in the status quo. Through using opportunities for collaboration as bargaining chips? Shitty strategy since those collaborative projects are mutually beneficial and because collective action problems pose the greatest threat to world order. Through sanctioning your allies? Ok, do that, and tell me how it goes over. Through threatening to withhold military assistance, because as Donald suggests “the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice?” Firstly, it is contradictory to suggest that we’re going to have a foreign policy based upon the shared interests of our allies and then suggest we abandon supporting them militarily. Because where there is no deterrence, when America actually declares that it is unwilling to support say its Baltic allies, things like Crimea, South Ossetia, and Georgia happen. Go figure? If it is indeed true that deterring Russia through military obligations is within our self-interest, then Trump’s proposal is at its very least, dangerously counterproductive. Lastly, Trump ignores the benefits we receive from NATO. The benefits relating to power projection and the like. Or how NATO helped us fight our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Also, the Donald’s solution seems to involve more military spending, so…
“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.”
I also have grandparents, and they also want the U.S to PUNCH our enemies in the MOUTH. Let’s make the sand GLOW, my friends! But no. One of the benefits of being the world’s last superpower is that Pax Americana lets you stop treating every event like an existential threat. As both a realist and a supporter of diplomacy where we can find it, go to bed, would you please. (Also, we will love our friends by threatening to take away all of their military aid! Huzzah! We are such a kind and benevolent nation!)
“Do you remember when the president made a long and expensive trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, to get the Olympics for our country, and after this unprecedented effort, it was announced that the United States came in fourth — fourth place?”
Is it really the best use of your time to comment on the Olympics? A- the IOC is second only to FIFA in sport-institution evil-ness. B- what kind of foreign policy involves the Olympics in the 21st Century? What is this, Twilight Struggle? Also, god dammit! This is the most insignificant point ever made on the topic of foreign policy. Sure, it plays into the narrative of Trump being a WINNER and Obama being a LOSER. Why should I care about this? Furthermore, how would this be any different under President Trump? More importantly, WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT THIS?
“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.”
“Finally, America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals. Since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, we’ve lacked a coherent foreign policy.”
Already said, but not unfair. This is a sort of legit critique that taps into Mandelbaum’s thesis. Although, if you actually want a cogent analysis of what has been happening, please don’t listen to my man Donald. An issue with post-Cold War policy has been that we haven’t had a real enemy since Reagan toppled Gorbachev through sheer force of hair gel and punny Soviet jokes (and of course the all-powerful STAR WARS). We’ve gone from intervention to intervention, never facing an existential threat quite so large as the USSR’s nuclear fleet as some dudes with AK-47s who learned how to yell really loudly on the Internet. This isn’t to downplay the loss of those who’ve been killed in what have been in what are horrific terror attacks. However, since 1998, there have been only around 3,500 U.S citizens have died in terrorist attacks. The U.S is far safer than we believe we are…but foreign policy plays well at home if we have an existential enemy, if the US is locked in a battle for survival. So it’s often the politicians themselves who overblow, overhype, and break down the foreign policy that the NSC, Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, DoD, Department of State, CIA, NSA, and any number of other alphabet soup Cold War holdovers set out for our Commander-in-Chief, who, by the way, the Founders wanted to have ultimate control over foreign policy. So really, Trump is blaming himself here.
“We’re a humanitarian nation, but the legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess.”
Sorry, you’ve lost me, Mr. Drumpf.
“We left Christians subject to intense persecution and even genocide.”
Ooooooookay. Let’s pause for a second here. If you take your worldview and shrink it to the size of a fucking pencil, yeah. In fact I agree! Coptic Christians, and various other Christian minorities have indeed been subject to intense persecution, although I still hesitate at the word “genocide.” But in singling out Christians, Trump ignores the numerous other religious and ethnic groups who are subject to the same persecution and seems to suggests that the Responsibility to Protect is limited only to Christians. If you’re for preventing genocide and persecution, let’s certainly not ignore Christians, but let’s also not ignore Yazidis, let’s not ignore Kurds, let’s not ignore Druze, let’s not ignore Syrian Muslim civilians. So I guess I don’t disagree with Trump here, although this is still a remarkably myopic and narrow view of the multinational, multiethnic, multifaith, globalized world we live in today, no matter how much you’re in love with the idea of English as a national language or the fiction that the U.S was founded on Judeo-Christian morality.
“And now ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libya oil.”
Ooh, look at that. Another lie. ISIS would certainly love to sell Libyan oil, but sadly for Mr. Trump, ISIS doesn’t actually have that oil. (yet.) It is certainly bombing Libyan oil tankers and the prospect of Da’ash controlling Libyan oil is frightening, but it is not what is happening in reality.
“We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world. Our moments of greatest strength came when politics ended at the water’s edge.”
Actually, fuck you. Stop. Politics doesn’t stop at the water’s edge with you, it fucking begins there. You’re the poster child for fucking with the full faith and credit of the United States. Go home. Also, on a more substantive note, how is getting out of nation building and instead focusing on creating stability a thing? Are you planning on having occupation forces throughout the world? Once we have made the decision to invade a certain area and dismantle its political institutions in favor of nation building, withdrawing from the region without actually building up those nations leaves instability in our wake. Because if by Trump’s own admission, dismantling the institutions of a country breeds chaos, then leaving weak and incomplete institutions behind us will breed the same disorder. This is the lesson of the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and of the surge and the Sawah movement. Currently, Iraq faces a crisis of governance. Not only is Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi unable to get his cabinet nominees approved, the Iraqi speaker of the house was just ousted. The legacy of the U.S’ decision to support Maliki over Iyad Allawi and the al-Iraqiya list is clearly demonstrated in the political chaos and gridlock we see today and the feelings of disenfranchisement documented by Emma Sky that led Sunni Iraqis to join Da’ash.
“I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how.”
Ahahahahahah I love it. Vintage Trump. Like a Trump steak. Served with a fresh, steaming side of stupid.
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.”
I really wish this was July 2015, because then this is a joke. It’s a really good joke. It’s hilarious. I love it. Yet it’s actually not July 2015. It’s almost July 2016, and not only has this oompa-loompa not disappeared from American politics, he’s turned the presidential race on its head and become the de facto leader of the Republican Party. So let’s listen to the words of a Soviet soldier after WWII: “One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine, is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine…” Americans are known for not being predictable.
“The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal.”
I’m in pain. Agh. Please save me from this. The contradictions sear my torn retina.
“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest, single investment we can make.”
I amend my previous statement. Now I’m really feeling it. Mr. Trump, how much do we spend on our military? $671 billion. A “measly” 57% of the federal budget. Inténtalo otra vez, Mr. Trump.
“But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely.”
Uh-huh. I see. You clearly have the best words. I guess we just have to concede.