Here’s the transcript if you can’t be bothered to watch. There are people who believe Trump has thought these issues through and will therefore want to carefully consider what he says here. There are other people who suspect Trump’s spent maybe eight minutes contemplating foreign policy — America first, China bad, fewer wars, hit terrorists hard, strength strength strength — and won’t really have an idea of what he wants to do until he holds his first cabinet briefing. Guess which group I’m in.
Here’s your quote of the day, from before the speech:
NEW: Trump advisor previews his foreign policy speech: "There will be no details in this speech." https://t.co/qWwFz9eIVe
— Jill Colvin (@colvinj) April 27, 2016
No kidding. I’ll say this for him, though: The core message of his foreign policy is exactly the same as the message of his domestic policy. We, i.e. you, are being taken advantage of. Our leaders are weak and treacherous. I, through my Trumpy superpowers, will solve every problem, judiciously avoiding interventions that will sap of us blood and treasure yet intervening heroically to smash America’s enemies whenever they threaten us. He likes to note the fact that he won’t describe his plans in detail for fear of tipping off the enemy, which is his way of trying to convince his marks that he’s not totally winging this, but one thing that strikes me is that Trump seems like an exceptionally easy guy for foreign leaders to read. Given his image and how invested he is in it, it shouldn’t be hard to bait him into reacting however you like by doing something that either undermines perceptions of his strength or enhances it. For instance, Trump preaches variations of isolationism and prudential restraint on the trail, but I think no candidate running this year on either side (with the exception of Rubio) would be as likely to lash out over a terror attack as Trump would. He’s already raised the possibility of 30,000 American troops(!) to engage ISIS. What would the number be if suicide bombers hit several U.S. embassies a few months after he was inaugurated? The policy considerations would be a function of considerations about his image: He got elected as a strongman, promising to protect the American people, with his biggest fans viewing him as some sort of creepy father figure. Daddy not only has to beat up the bully, he has to do it more convincingly than any of the people he defeated in the election — even if that’s what the bully wants. Nothing would restore some prestige to ISIS and reverse the flow of all the fighters who’ve been leaving lately like a glorious ground war with American troops.
On the other hand, if you’re a cannier operator like Putin who wants to advance your country’s interests at America’s expense but needs to do it without military confrontation, you could go a long way with Trump by handing him cosmetic diplomatic victories. Putin already pulled that on Obama, in fact, when he helped O out of his “red line” jam a few years ago by brokering an agreement with Assad to “voluntarily” give up his WMDs in return for America calling off a bombing run. That didn’t work out so hot in practice but Putin was shrewd enough to know that Obama would accept a fig-leaf diplomatic “win” that gave him a pretext for calling off an air attack for which there was little public appetite. In so doing, Putin kept America’s military footprint in Syria light, which came in handy when Russia waded into the fight on Assad’s behalf a few years later. Trump would be an even bigger mark than Obama for plays like that. He doesn’t know policy as well as O so he’d have a weaker sense of the chessboard and his impulse towards isolationism is stronger than O’s so he’ll probably be even more amenable to unfavorable yet face-saving diplomatic “deals” if they can avert military action. Trump called Obama’s Iran deal “disastrous” today and vowed that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon if he’s president, but the Iran deal is precisely the sort of bargain that I think Trump would be susceptible to as president. He’s a salesman; as long as he can sell the deal as a win, it’s a win. And the more he can sell it as a product of his own personal greatness, the more easily seduced he’d be, I expect, to sign onto it. Putin’s already discovered the value of flattery with Trump. I’d bet big money that every “deal” the two make if Trump wins will favor Russia in substance but will come larded up with praise for his excellency, the president, and how he’s ushered in a new era of peace between former rivals.
A few exit questions for you. Take your pick. One: Is Trump still pretending that he was against intervening in Libya? He should stop doing that. Two: Does he really not know that the term “America First” comes with a pedigree, or is he making that allusion deliberately? Three: The same guy who’s not sure if NATO’s worth keeping up is worried that “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us”? What?