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

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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.

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.

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."

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.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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If there is a return to isolationism then at least there might be less of the characteristic American fat-fingered meddling that ultimately has led to more instability in the world. But I won't hold my breath.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

'Cause it worked so well the last time the US tried it....

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The last thing the world needs is isolationism.. There are so many dangerous players out there today, the US is needed more than ever to protect the free world

0 ( +5 / -5 )

The last thing the world needs is isolationism.. There are so many dangerous players out there today, the US is needed more than ever to protect the free world

The U.S made the world more dangerous with each passing year. People that throw out "isolationism" don't know the difference between no-intervention and isolationism. Isolationism means to not be involved what so ever even in matters of trade. In that sense most of the world is non-intervention but 1 player.

These 800k+ illiterate dangerous dregs that waltz into Europe is all Americas fault.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Trump only thinks about money. Money, money, money. But anyway, maybe it is time for Japan to defend itself. The US military is here only so that, after their WWII experience, Asian countries will not get nervous about Japan. We are all friends now, so that is not a problem. And the US hasn't won a war since WWII, so nobody really expects that the US could ACTUALLY protect Japan from anyone. That is the real reason Abe has taken it upon itself to remilitarize Japan. So we are not getting our money's worth for the US military presence in Japan anyway.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

If there is a return to isolationism then at least there might be less of the characteristic American fat-fingered meddling that ultimately has led to more instability in the world.

The last time America was isolationist, Nazi Germany was allowed to militarize and start the Second World War. If you ask me, that was a pretty huge piece of "instability" that had nothing to do with America. Care to re-evaluate your poorly constructed argument?

In that sense most of the world is non-intervention but 1 player.

Are you high? China. Russia. Just those two alone dwarf the United States in how much of other territory they occupy.

These 800k+ illiterate dangerous dregs that waltz into Europe is all Americas fault.

OK, question answered. You ARE high. (rolls eyes)

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Fadamor

The last time America was isolationist, Nazi Germany....

Yep. And Imperial Japan. And then things starting going in directions we didn't like. And then starting embargoes, and lend leasing and before you know it.

Bang. Boom, Bam,

That is what happens. It is very irresponsible for Trump to say what he is saying. More evidence of what we already know: Trump does not have the character to be president.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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 only purely true part to the above statement is the fact that the US indeed stopped being isolationist. This global anti-communism doctrine by the US actually led to the overthrowing of democratically-elected (socialists, but so what) governments and replacing them with dictators and right-wing governments, and religiously fundamentalist governments. Some dictators were brutal to their own people, but it didn't matter since they were pro-US, like the ones in Latin America for example. Some dictatorships lead to the uprising of religious fanatics, like the Iranian revolution (the first ever democratically elected government of Iran got replaced by the Shah with the help of the US and the UK). Some dictators ended up becoming anti-US after a while, like Saddam. Some pro-US right-wing governments started wars against each other, like Turkey and Greece. Some right-wing governments were able to stay in power while having their past white-washed, like the LDP. Some fundamentalist groups rose to power with the support of the US, like the Mujahideen in Afghanistan replacing a democratic Afghani government, and they later became Taliban and al-Qaeda.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"“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." - article

Donald J. Trump, phrase thief and torture advocate, rides into the mushroom cloud of a Trumpian future!

This dolt is ready to over take Sarah Palin in doltdom. "Go Trump, the stupider the more they love it.' - GOP/Tea

"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.” - article

When does the great businessman part start? What a loser.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The last time America was isolationist, Nazi Germany was allowed to militarize and start the Second World War. If you ask me, that was a pretty huge piece of "instability" that had nothing to do with America.

Sure instability can arise without American intervention but there are copious examples of it arising WITH intervention too and then turning round and biting America's big butt with the rest of the world as "collateral damage". And do you seriously believe that a non-isolationist America would not have let the Nazis militarise? There was connivance. Too many American interests were happy to see Nazi rule, just like subsequent Suharto rule or several other tinpot dictators since. And America has been letting China do exactly the same as the Nazis with probably the same outcome even when not isolationist. It is nationalism that blinds people to reasoned arguments about their nation. America is not a force for good any more, even if it ever was.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

the article doesn't mention that mr. trump thinks japan and south korea should develop their own nukes.

not sure if that would be stabilizing or disruptive.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Trump talks a lot of sense. The US military already has a capitalist agenda and I would postulate that if Trump gets power then it wouldn't really differ from what it is now....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

America didn't become involved in Iraq's civil war. It was through the policies of the Bush administration and American neo-conservatives and their belief that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein would lead to democratic pluralism in that region of the world. Iraq has an on going civil war because of those misguided policies.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Kitsap, yes but from what you see on the news and on the TV debates, Amercan is quickly heading the same direction as Iraq. It will break apart soon because Americans seem to hate each other.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Damned if you do, damned if you don't, I'm afraid. All actions have consequences, including non-action. Isolationists often think they can just wash their hands of foreign affairs and not bear any responsibility for what follows. That is a load of BS, to put it politely. The real question, of course, is whether we're doing more harm then good. Jury's still out on that one, as far as I'm concerned - though I'm sure many of my fellow posters would disagree.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"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."

I wonder why? Given that U.S. taxpayers have paid trillions of dollars to have the U.S. military all over the world for decades...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Three cheers for trump!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

That’s precisely the message Trump is sending.

If that's the case, for once he is getting something right.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I wonder why? Given that U.S. taxpayers have paid trillions of dollars to have the U.S. military all over the world for decades...

Perhaps being involved in other countries' civil wars for longer than the United States has ever been in an ACTUAL war is tiring the American people out. Troops going back into the warzone for their fourth and fifth tours is nothing but ludicrous. Iraq and Afghanistan treat the U.S. as a never-ending reserve of troops to throw at any organization fighting the current regimes and this needs to end. Iraq and Afghanistan need to start carrying their own weight and stop relying on outsiders.

That said, ISIL needs to be eliminated and it will take a multinational effort to do so. American isolationism is not an option in the face of such evil. While I'm tired of the U.S.A. being tasked with the job of "World Cop", ISIL has managed to override even MY reluctance to play the role of World Cop.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"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." - article

Deeper insight was made at . . .

"In reading Trump’s recent interview with The Post’s editorial board, what is striking is not only his shallowness (though his policy depth must be measured in microns). It is also his utter rootlessness. None of his ideas or proposals is placed in the context of ideals or ideology, Republican or otherwise. Trump possesses impulses and instincts. He does not reason from first principles." - Michael Gerson - The Washington Post - Monday, March 28, 2016

Donald J. Trump, as shallow as Sarah Palin, exceeds all expectations at vapid contempt.

The Frankenstein of the GOP/Tea.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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