Trump vs. the GOP on Foreign Policy

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How will Republicans paper over the sharp foreign policy differences between Donald Trump and the party’s congressional leadership?

That problem was vividly illustrated when one compared the report of the House Task Force on National Security released last week by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) with elements of Donald Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate’s other pronouncements.

Start with the House report’s dynamic opening statement: “While America alone cannot guarantee international security, it is the sole, indispensable power that can lead the world in confronting and defusing global threats. We are not ashamed of this truth, nor do we apologize for it. To the contrary, we are inspired by it.”

Compare that to Trump’s statement in the November 2015 Republican presidential debate, which he has repeated on many occasions: “We cannot continue to be the policeman of the world. We owe $19 trillion; we have a country that’s going to hell; [and] we have an infrastructure that’s falling apart.”

As he put it in that April 27 speech, which was written and read from a teleprompter so it was not off-the-cuff, “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.”

Taking Trump at his word, he apparently sees the U.S. under his presidency acting as a worldwide, for-profit, paid security company enterprise, not as the world’s most powerful democracy with responsibilities to, as the House report put it, “lead the world in confronting and defusing global threats.” 

This warped, Trumpian, businessman’s view of mutual defense would be unique in American history and has not drawn the attention here at home it deserves. However, his repeating of it has aroused much concern abroad.

The U.S. NATO allies have been a prime target. In an April campaign speech in Racine, Wisconsin, Trump said, “Either they pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.”

Over the years, Democratic and Republican presidents have urged NATO nations to meet the alliance’s goal of spending two percent of the gross national product on defense, but it has never led to a pay-that-amount-or-leave demand.

The Ryan House report is in the American tradition of the past. “Our message to allies and partners alike must be that we will help them defend themselves, but our responsibility is not greater than their own.”

The report also recognizes something that Trump has never acknowledged: assisting other countries to defend themselves from foreign and domestic threats “is critical to the security of our own.”

In a March 29 appearance on CNN, Trump put his mutual defense concept bluntly when he said while speaking of Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, “They have to protect themselves or the have to pay us.”

Days later, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to respond publicly, saying, “Whoever will become the next president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy.”

American leaders are being questioned about it. On April 4, President Obama told a press conference, “I think that I’ve been very clear that I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made.”

Making things worse, Trump is often mistaken in his facts when he speaks about his pay-for-U.S.-security plan during his frequent, stream-of-consciousness, campaign stump speeches.

For example, in that campaign speech in Racine, Wisconsin last April, he said, “We take care of Saudi Arabia. Now nobody’s going to mess with Saudi Arabia because we’re watching them.” But, he added, “They’re not paying us a fair price. We’re losing our shirt.”

The fact is the Saudis pays billions every year purchasing U.S. arms and receive almost no military assistance. For each of the past several years the Saudis got $10,000 for the Pentagon’s training of Saudi military in the U.S., while the Saudi government between 2014 and 2016 bought some $21 billion in U.S.-manufactured military equipment, training, and construction services, according to the Congressional Research Service.

No one yet has confronted Trump to get him to explain how he would determine what to charge a foreign government for U.S. security protection. Would he rewrite all seven mutual defense treaties the U.S. is party to?

Beyond mutual defense, the House report ignores some of Trump’s other proposals, starting with his plan to build a “beautiful” wall along the southern U.S. border and make the Mexican government pay for it.

The House report states, “Due to the diverse terrain across our long borders, every area requires a different mix of assets, from Border Patrol agents and high fencing to aerial surveillance and radar.” No mention of a solid wall, nor having Mexico pay for it.

 There is also a big gap between Trump and the Ryan report in the handling of terrorists abroad.

Trump has repeatedly called for a quick attack against the Islamic State (ISIS) areas in Syria, where they are using control of oil fields to support their fighters, and then withdrawing U.S forces. “ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president,” Trump said on April 27, “And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.” Of course he said his attack plan was secret, “I won’t tell them where, and I won’t tell them how. As a national, we must be more unpredictable.”

In contrast, to defeat ISIS and terrorism, the more realistic House report calls for “sustained U.S. involvement [that] is also imperative in the region’s failed states, like Libya and Yemen. In these places, political solutions are the only path to long-term stability, and American leadership can play a critical role in paving the way.”

The gap between Trump and the Republican leadership was stark in dealing with the horrific Orlando massacre. Ryan opened by expressing condolences for the victims and then said, “as we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who did this, we are a nation at war with Islamist terrorists.” 

Trump, on the other hand, not only praised himself for predicting such an attack would take place, but went on news shows reiterating his call for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.  This time he said he would block “people coming in from Syria, coming in from different parts of the world with this philosophy,” ignoring the fact that the shooter was born in New York and lived in Florida.

There are more areas where the differences are great, including Trump’s practice of politically attacking the leaders of close allies, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel (over her refugee policy) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (over his response to the Muslim ban).

The House report opens with an over-the-top critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, arguing its “collective failures can be encapsulated in one simple statement: Our enemies no longer fear us, and our allies no longer trust us”

While I would argue that the report’s claim does not represent the situation today, it certainly would be the case if Trump’s foreign policy proposals were ever implemented – our enemies would no longer fear us, and our allies would no longer trust us.

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