Trump wants to leave U.S. allies in the lurch

March 28, 2016
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Winner Aviation in Youngstown, Ohio March 14, 2016.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Donald Trump at a campaign rally at Winner Aviation in Youngstown, Ohio, March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Thanks to Donald Trump, Americans now know what a populist foreign policy looks like: “Not isolationist, but America First.” That’s how the Republican presidential front-runner defined his views to an interviewer last week. “I like the expression,” Trump said, implying that he had never encountered the term “America First” before.

“America First” was the slogan that defined U.S. isolationism in the 1930s. The America First Committee was a pressure group that opposed U.S. military intervention against fascism in World War II. It included a lot of Western and Midwestern isolationists, largely, but not all, conservative Republicans.


Charles Lindbergh (C) receives the Service Cross of the German Eagle from Field Marshal Herman Goering L), head of the German air force, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, October 1938. Wikipedia/Commons

Its most prominent spokesman was Charles Lindbergh (photo inset), the aviation hero, who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic – as well as being a well-known Nazi admirer. The committee disbanded shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

Since the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22, foreign policy has moved to the top of the U.S. presidential campaign agenda. Americans are beginning to see the basic impulses driving Trump’s foreign-policy views.

Trump is wrong when he says he is not an isolationist. He’s confusing isolationism with pacifism. Isolationism — which was the reigning doctrine of U.S. foreign policy until 1947 — does not mean a refusal to use force. It means a refusal to get involved in other countries’ problems unless they have a direct impact on U.S. national security. If the United States is attacked or threatened, Washington responds with overwhelming and decisive force. Then it gets out.

Trump told the Washington Post editorial board, “I’m a counterpuncher.” Meaning, if I get hit, I’m going to hit back harder. That’s how he runs his campaign.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall campaign event in Hickory, North Carolina. March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Donald Trump speaks at a town hall campaign event in Hickory, North Carolina. March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

And that would be the ruling principle of his foreign policy: If America gets hit, it hits back harder. And if someone threatens to hit America, Washington hits them first.

Isolationism has deep popular resonance in the United States. It was a driving force behind the American public’s opposition to the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq. They were unpopular wars because the United States ended up getting involved in other countries’ civil wars. The populist impulse is “Win or get out” — but don’t get involved.

Trump horrified the editors of the Washington Post when he said he wanted to renegotiate the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (“We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore”). When asked whether the United States gains anything by having military bases in South Korea and Japan, Trump replied, “Personally, I don’t think so.” He said South Korea is “a wealthy country” that he has “great relationships with” (“I have buildings in South Korea”). Trump’s complaint? “We are not reimbursed fairly for what we do.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Trump of “turning our alliances into a protection racket.” The Democratic presidential candidate described Trump’s policy as: You pay us and we’ll protect you.

Trump’s approach to Islamic State (or, as he calls it, ISIS,) exhibits the key markers of isolationism. “I would knock the hell out of ISIS in some form,” he told the Post’s editors. “I would rather not do it with our troops, you understand that. Very important.”

His idea is to use unrestrained U.S. air power and get Muslim countries to provide the ground troops. Trump said he would find it “very, very hard” to send thousands of U.S. ground troops to the Middle East, even if the generals at the Pentagon recommend it.

There are Muslim militias fighting on the ground — Kurds, for example — but Muslim countries have been unwilling to send ground forces, except Iran. How would Trump persuade other countries to commit troops? He threatens to halt oil purchases and end the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia unless it commits ground troops. “Without us,” Trump told the New York Times, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” That’s called blackmail.

Trump calls it negotiation. He wrote The Art of the Deal after all. He says the key to negotiation is unpredictability: “We have to be unpredictable. We’re totally predictable. And predictable is bad.”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee general session in Washington, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

That’s how he justifies shifting positions on issues like the war in Iraq. He doesn’t like to be predictable.

But military alliances are based on predictability. If a NATO ally is attacked, the attacker has to know that the United States will retaliate. “We need steady hands,” Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last week, “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything is negotiable.”

Suppose Russia were to attack Estonia, a member of NATO. Would Washington really send troops to defend little Estonia, population 1.3 million, as the NATO treaty obliges us to do? Trump asks, “Why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially, the third world war with Russia?”

The whole point of NATO is that Russia can’t be certain we won’t come to Estonia’s aid. (The issue did not come up with Ukraine, because it is not a member of NATO.)

Trump is repudiating the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy since 1947. That’s when President Harry S. Truman committed the United States to lead the free world in the Cold War struggle against communism. The United States repudiated its isolationist past and became the principal guarantor of international order and humanitarian values.

The establishments of both political parties continue to defend that commitment. Clinton told AIPAC, “We need America to remain a respected global leader, committed to defending and advancing the international order.”

But the Cold War is over, and Trump sees no necessity for Washington to continue to bear that burden. “NATO was set up when we were a richer country,” he said. “We are a poor country now.”

During the debate in 2013 over a U.S. military strike to punish Syria for using chemical weapons, Benjamin Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said, “The U.S. for decades has played the role of undergirding the global security architecture and enforcing international norms. And we do not want to send a message that the United States is getting out of that business in any way.”

That’s precisely the message Trump is sending. And millions of Americans seem eager to endorse it.


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NATO and FED, both have run out of relevance – one that feeds the corrupt in defense while making enemies around the globe while the FED feeds the banks/firms to build-up the bubble by borrow at zero-interest to buy back their shares and invest abroad – both, doing no good of any kind, to the hand that feeds them and their time has come to go.

Trump has the clarity and courage to go after what puts America first – imposing VAT to curtail senseless unimpeded duty-free imports and to force return of manufacturing/jobs to local, restrict massive migrant inflows and deporting of illegals to return jobs back to locals, dissolve NATO/FED to improve competitiveness of next generation and bring the needed close accountability of tax-spend by-line-item.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

“I have buildings in South Korea. I have words. I have the best words…”

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Trump of ‘turning our alliances into a protection racket.’ The Democratic presidential candidate described Trump’s policy as: You pay us and we’ll protect you.”

Our alliances have always been a protection racket, Secretary Clinton should understand that best of all.

The foreign policy deal’s always been the same: open your markets, play nice and buy up some Big Macs and Levi’s. Oh, you want protectionist trade policies? It’d be a shame if someone were to topple your regime…

Posted by Shamrock21 | Report as abusive

Trump sends DicPic to Brittain. Says he thought they were a Warsaw Pact country.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Trump has only stated the obvious. That Europe and our proven allies have the means and the moral obligation to ease the financial burden , share the load and to,in the future,not expect a free ride.
To attempt to change this message is the cowards way out of an obligation . How craven and cowardly is western Europe.? We shall soon find out under a Trump presidency .
BTW , Solidar ,why not pull your head out of your as s and get real.

Posted by RemAcuTetigisti | Report as abusive

You censored my post because I said your articles are always prejudiced against Donald Trump. He’s not going to leave any of our allies in a “lurch.” He just says we should negotiate a better deal so they pay their fair share. And that’s a pretty good idea.

Posted by Yvo_Kerwar | Report as abusive

You censored my post because I said your articles are always prejudiced against Donald Trump. He’s not going to leave any of our allies in a “lurch.” He just says we should negotiate a better deal so they pay their fair share. And that’s a pretty good idea.

Posted by Yvo_Kerwar | Report as abusive

What does Trump know about NATO? This is a guy who did not know what the nuclear triad was in a recent interview. That’s worth repeating. The same blowhard who knows how to solve all the problems on the globe, did not know that our nuclear arsenal is comprised of Subs, bombers and ICBM’s. Says he’ll figure that out later. With his “smart people.”


Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Leaving the UN would garner Trump an extra 10-20 million votes. Think how much better NYC would be without those worthless bureaucrats?

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

GetReel, you know that NATO is not the UN, right? Russia and China and Iran are in the UN. You…. know those guys are not in NATO, right?

Focus :)

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

There is a consistency to a billionaire developer running the State Department and the Defense Department as profit making subsidiaries. Good for a comedy satire, but already “protected” nations have to pay by purchases from defense contractors and supplied levee troops for “boots in the ground” in Afghanistan and Iraq, and vote the right way at the UN, and comply with financial blockades, etc.
As the author mentions, protectionism and isolationism have a history and a rationale, and may happen. Deals can help, like if you need a local drug dealer …
But the headline may become “Allies leave Trump and US as they lurch”

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

would you prefer America last?

Posted by catman1 | Report as abusive

Y’all know that the Libya mess started out with Italy and France making a grab for the Libyan oil fields. We avoided getting involved, Obama refused to move an aircraft carrier to the Med. When the whole thing turned into a mess they couldn’t managed, we got involved and inherited a problem. Roll back the clock to the ’90s, and recall that the Dutch army was in close proximity to Srebrenica and did NOTHING while the people there got slaughtered. OUR NATO ALLIES ARE WORTHLESS, AND HAVE BEEN FOR A LONG TIME.

Last month ‘internationalist Democrat’ Obama was also complaining about our freeloading ‘friends’. Before him, Bush II was pulling our army out of Germany, and before him Clinton was pulling the Navy out of the Med.

We spend >3% of our GDP every year on defense, and have for over 70 years. Last year most of our NATO ‘allies’ spent less than 1% of theirs on defense. Then they got overrun by illegal immigrants, and now have no clue or mechanism to deal with the problem. Now they want us and the NSA to bug their cell phones (but only for dangerous Islamists, who they are completely unable to identify or track), next they will beg the 6th Fleet to move back to Piraeus.

Posted by DavidHume | Report as abusive

Trump is an intellectual void playing stupid conservative/right wing Americans for what they are.

Posted by ArghONaught | Report as abusive

Yvo_Kerwar, the US is under no obligation to spend more on military than the next 9 or 10 countries COMBINED. Ever wonder why the paranoia?

Posted by ArghONaught | Report as abusive

Trump, our allies hate him, our enemies love him, why do our enemies know he’s the worst possible thing that could happen to the United States but his supporters don’t have a clue. Latest news from trumps corrupt campaign is his campaign manager is arrested for battery. Get a clue people.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Name once when the US taxpayer hasn’t funded foreign “friendships”…..most often involving weapons.

Posted by SaveRMiddle | Report as abusive

The United States currently provides about 25 percent of these NATO common-funded budgets, and will continue to do so after the addition of the new members. source NATO
On other fronts, alliance leaders pressed NATO countries to follow through on commitments to spend 2 percent of their nations’ gross domestic product on defense. Only four NATO nations meet that threshold: the U.S., Britain, Greece and Estonia.
Komorowski said that Poland would raise its defense budget to 2 percent of GDP in 2016 and would encourage other members to increase defense spending as well.
So the other 24 Nations fail in this.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

At present, NATO has 28 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia (2004), and Albania and Croatia (2009).

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive