Yesterday I must admit, I was surprised — ok, shocked — by the foreign policy speech delivered by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. First of all, it was only the second time Mr. Trump used a teleprompter. Ok, he mispronounced the Tanzania. I found it amazing that the White House would try to make light of that. I remember when Obama had to use a teleprompter to speak to a class of elementary school kids.
So, what would be my grade? A good solid B. And no, he didn’t need to go into exhaustive detail — after all, back in 2008, all Obama had to do was say “hope and change.”
As reported by Fox News, “Donald Trump, in a highly anticipated speech on the heels of his primary-contest sweep across the Northeast, called Wednesday for a drastic shake-up in America’s foreign policy – including “getting out of the nation-building business” and demanding NATO allies pay their “fair share” or be left to “defend themselves.”
“It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy,” the Republican presidential front-runner said.
In what was billed as a major policy speech, Trump called for an “America first” approach. To that theme, Trump voiced skepticism toward international deals like NAFTA and said a Trump administration would not allow the U.S. to enter agreements that reduce America’s ability to control its own affairs. He panned what he described as the “false song of globalism.”
The speech, read from a teleprompter and focused on policy, was also heavy on campaign-season slams against President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. He called their policies “aimless” and destructive, and criticized them for not using the term “radical Islam.” “We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria,” Trump said. He said this has allowed the Islamic State to thrive — but said, going forward, the U.S. is out of “nation-building.”
I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn’t get bogged down in “nation-building” activities. It’s not the proper role and mission for our military forces in this current conflagration primarily against Islamic jihadism. We need to move from a forward-deployed force structure to more power projection armed forces. Now, Mr. Trump hasn’t had a formal strategic or operational-level military education, so I wasn’t looking for him to be the second coming of Carl Von Clausewitz — but someone should recommend he read On War as well as Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Here are my main takeaways from the Trump speech:
> He started off with a good framework explanation by saying that we’re going to move from randomness to purpose, from chaos to peace, from ideology to strategy. Those three overarching themes set the stage for his address.
> Along the lines of standing against nation-building, Trump clearly articulated that he was against making countries into Western democracies, but did state we will work with allies to reinvigorate Western civilization values and institutions. He emphasized we won’t seek out new enemies but will seek common ground based on shared interests. His main thrust was that his foreign policy and national security strategy will be based on “America first” — American interests.
> Trump did a great job presenting the case against the Obama-Clinton foreign policy and its evident failures. He spoke of the overextension of our military resources and was very accurate in portraying the dire force structure levels. He addressed the lack of a coherent foreign policy as he went country by country mentioning what he called the “legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions.” He was clear in pointing out that our allies have lost confidence and doubt our strength. That led Trump to talk later about restoring our military strength and reliability. He also mentioned how our allies aren’t doing their “fair share” — only 4 of 28 NATO member nations own up to their responsibility to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. And during my time in Afghanistan I could see the results of that.
> When presenting his foreign policy and national security perspective he said something that is music to my ears: “we must be unpredictable.” We do telegraph everything to the enemy. And one thing truly impressive was that Trump was able to grasp the connection between economic security and national security. He got it that a strong economy enables us to have a modernized and strong military focused on deterrence. Along those lines he said he wants to have regional economic and security strategy summits…when was the last time Obama went to the Middle East to visit Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, UAE, the Kurds, or Israel? And Trump did admit we cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy…but as he said, he will not hesitate to use military force and deploy our troops if necessary, but he will only fight to win. I cannot remember the last time I heard Obama say that — then again, “win” is a very nuanced term I suppose.
> Lastly, I heard Trump mention helping Christians in the Middle East region at least three times…that’s certainly a change from the current administration.
In conclusion, was this some brilliant strategic overview? Nah, but it was a pretty doggone decent presentation. Like I said, I was surprised. Now, we have the beginnings of a skeletal system, and the meat has to come later. One thing is for certain, if it’s Trump vs Clinton, foreign policy and national security is definitely not an issue Mrs. Clinton will want to discuss — after all, that little Russian reset button ain’t working too well. And I’m trying to figure out what she could point to as a win for Obama — running away is not a successful foreign policy strategy.