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Not all of Donald Trump's foreign policy positions are crazy

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At a recent campaign rally, Donald Trump defended former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's record on terrorism, noting that Hussein was a "bad guy" who was nevertheless very efficient at "killing terrorists." House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately distanced himself from Trump's remarks, and leading Republican donors jumped in with criticism as well.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has repeatedly angered Washington's Republican foreign policy establishment with his views on America's role in the world. Although Trump did not repeat these views during his nomination speech, he suggested in an interview that he might revisit the United States' willingness to defend its NATO allies - drawing an immediate rebuke from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Some of Trump's foreign policy ideas are downright dangerous. Two of his ideas, for instance - forcing Mexico to pay for a new border wall and banning Muslims from entering the United States - alienate much of the world and neither reflect American values nor promote American interests. His apparent enthusiasm for increasing the United States' use of torture is downright chilling.

Nevertheless, amid Trump's showboating and frequently stream of consciousness thoughts, he raises some critical questions that challenge the longtime Washington foreign policy consensus but deserve to be taken seriously.

First, Trump frequently asserts the United States cannot continue to be the "world's policeman," thus challenging the belief held by both Democrats and Republicans that the United States remains the world's "indispensable nation." U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya support Trump's case. Washington's Iraq adventure produced 40,000 American military casualties, over 150,000 dead Iraqi civilians and the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq and ultimately Islamic State. Meanwhile American military support for the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Khaddafi left the country with an ongoing civil war and the emergence of a powerful Islamic State franchise on the Mediterranean.

Trump also rightly emphasizes the financial costs of American military interventions, pointing out during a Republican primary debate that "we've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people" and "if we spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges...we would've been a lot better off." He's right on both counts. A Harvard study actually pegged the combined costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at between $4 trillion and $6 trillion - almost the same amount of money required over the next ten years just to keep America's already crumbling infrastructure from deteriorating further.

In these contexts, Trump's assertion that if the United States had done nothing in the Middle East since 2001 "we would have been much better" has a degree of truth.

Trump also asks some hard questions regarding the United States' network of global alliances. At various points during his campaign Trump has suggested he would renegotiate Washington's alliance with Japan and halt purchases of oil from Saudi Arabia. He called NATO "obsolete" - even suggesting "maybe NATO will dissolve, and that's okay." While these positions make many in the mainstream foreign policy establishment apoplectic, Trump raises some legitimate points.

For example, when it comes to NATO, only five countries in the alliance meet the NATO guidelines that each member spend a minimum of two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, but only five countries - including the United States - meet this requirement. The alliance with Japan is even more unequal. Tokyo spends only one percent of GDP on defense, and as Trump points out, Washington remains required to protect Japan in the event of a conflict, while Japan does not possess any reciprocal requirements.

This means it's not beyond the realm of possibility, for example, that the United States could find itself dragged into a war with China if Beijing and Tokyo clash over the uninhabited Senkaku islands - a pile of rocks possessing no strategic interest to the United States.

Lastly, Trump's willingness to meet with with the leaders of American adversaries such as North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin should not be dismissed out of hand. As odious as the North Korean regime may be, the reality is that Pyongyang possesses a growing nuclear arsenal, and even the Pentagon admits "North Korea is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States."

While Kim appears unwilling to eliminate Pyongyang's nuclear program, it's arguably in the American national interest to at least sit down with Kim to determine if a deal between Washington and Pyongyang could even be possible. Given that no other policy that Washington has pursued towards North Korea in the last 15 years has worked, no harm can come of trying something different.

The argument for engaging with Russia is even stronger. While demonizing Putin makes for good rhetoric, U.S. and Russian interests overlap in some places. Cooperation to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and proliferation represents one fruitful area for further cooperation. Containing the violence in Syria is another example where coordinating with Moscow might be useful.

Indeed, since Washington first began working with Syrian rebels in 2012, its proxies have at various times allied with al-Qaida's Syrian branch; fought each other; turned American-supplied weapons over to al-Qaida; and according to a recently released Amnesty International report committed war crimes, targeted ethnic and religious minorities and imposed Sharia law in cities they control. In this context, Trump's belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin's move into Syria and desire to fight Islamic State is a "wonderful thing" makes some sense.

What Trump ultimately offers is an American foreign policy more focused on narrow American national interests than previously pursued by the United States. This does not mean Trump's views necessarily reflect the best course for the United States - strong arguments in favor of American alliances and the importance of Washington's continuing role as the world's "indispensable nation" exist - but at a minimum it's worth debating the pluses and minuses of the traditional "Washington Playbook" approach to foreign policy.

Unfortunately however, while some of Trump's viewpoints help promote needed debate, many of his other foreign policy ideas are incoherent or even alarming. Moreover, while Trump sometimes espouses a narrower world role for the United States, at other times he completely contradicts this realpolitik approach. For example, Trump promises if elected his "number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran" while also deploying 30,000 American troops to Syria to fight Islamic State. These policies make Trump sound more like a traditional neo-conservative Republican than an original thinker.

When all is said and done, though, Trump does bring some refreshing new foreign policy ideas to the fore - and whatever Trump's merits as a candidate, these proposals deserve our serious consideration.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016. Click For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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9 Comments
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Sure, Trump's foreign policy positions do sound sound. Unfortunately, given that Trump has the attention span of an orange hamster with hands to match, who knows if he'd actually carry out these plans. However, and again unfortunately, we do know exactly what war hawk, screeching laugh Hillary will do, and that's very scary.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Some of Trump’s foreign policy ideas are downright dangerous.

Not ALL are crazy. So, the lesson of this essay is that even a stopped clock is accurate twice a day.

Nice job, GOP.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have to disagree with the author on denying visa to people from countries compromised by terrorism. There is absolutely nothing in political , religious or philosophy which dictates a people must allow themselves to be killed in the name of some claim "everyone" in the world has dome kind of right to go to America. It is the responsibility of Muslim countries to eradicate the violent members of their culture and to stop producing the violent terrorists. It is definitely not legitimate to state the victims of the terrorist compromised cultures to just be murdered or enslaved until the violent terrorists decide to stop. It is the US government's specifically called out responsibility to protect Americans from foreign entities intent on killing and invading.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Mussolini famously made the trains run on time, and Hitler built Germany's freeway system, the autobahn. Just because some of the things they did could be seen in a favorable light, that does not mean that the US should join them in embracing Trump's brand of fascism, because make no doubt about it, Trump is nothing but a fascist pretending to be a Republican.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Trump is nothing but a fascist pretending to be a Republican.

That's the kind of hyperbole that discredits his critics and makes Trump more palatable. It's like criticizing a politician, making a lot of rational arguments against him, then finishing up by saying that he's a "lizard person" masquerading as a human being to allow for the eradication of mankind by aliens from planet Xyztral... This accusation is so far-fetched and ridiculous that it destroys the credibility of the one who makes it, and the rational arguments made beforehand end up being discredited because they're associated with that stupid charge.

Trump is nothing of a fascist at all. The most defining characteristic of a fascist is an aggressive foreign policy to dominate other nations, Trump is the opposite of that, Hillary Clinton is closer to a fascist than Trump is!

In response to the main article, the author claims that limiting entry into the US to people who have a specific religion and reducing immigration is "against American values"... Actually, that's not the case. For example, during the Cold War, people who had communist sympathies often were refused entry into the US, Charlie Chaplin and Pierre-Elliott Trudeau both were targeted by that. Furthermore, during most of the 20th century, the US set immigration quotas based on national origin, accepting immigrants only up to 2% of the current ethnic population of the newcomers to maintain the then-current ethnic mix of the country. The idea that everyone can show up at the border and gain entry and residency has never been an American idea, it's just one that people with a globalist mindset want to push on the US and on other Western countries.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

banning Muslims from entering the United States - No one seems tp hear or retain for long the word - UNTIL - If thousands of North Koreans demanded entry and unlimited access to free stuff, would the response be wait until these individuals are properly vetted?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Josh, absolutely EVERYTHING about Trump is crazy -- as in, LUNATIC.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not all of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy decisions have been disasters, but most of them have been.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

You don't "renegotiate" the security "deal" with Japan. There was no "deal" or "negotiation". There was this thing called "WWII" that Japan had just lost. The US instituted, not negotiated, the post-war regime. I know WWII was long ago and Trump may not know about it. And there is a reason that Japan only spends 1% of GDP on defense. It is to show Asia that Japan will not try to conquer it again. It also is reflection of this thing called "WWII". Also, I'm pretty sure that Saddam was not killing "terrorists", but anyone opposed to his regime.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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