Republican frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination, Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been the subject of wild speculation, but very little substance, with Trump implying this was by design while touting his unpredictability as a major advantage over his rivals.
But catchphrases only go so far, and today Trump began the task of laying out some of the nuts and bolts of his broader policy, with high-profile newspaper interviews, unveiling part of his foreign policy team, and speaking before AIPAC.
After rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R – TX) unveiled his own foreign policy team, stacked heavily with neocon insiders, Trump’s own team appeared much less well known, with Mitt Romney’s former adviser Walid Phares, still pushing the same narrative of the world versus Islam that he has been for decades, now looming large in the Trump camp.
Beyond Phares, the names are even less recognizable, but Carter Page does stand out as an exception to the hawkish nature of much of the team. Page, founder of Global Energy Capital, blasted US involvement in Ukraine as misguided and provocative, fueling tensions with Russia. His expertise is in the Caspian region, and presumably he will add to Trump’s own aversion to picking fights with Russia.
Gen. Joe Kellogg is one familiar name from the past though, briefly serving as the head of the US occupation in Iraq in late 2003 and early 2004, before leaving to pursue a high-profile job at US military contractor CACI.
Still, in his talk with the Washington Post, Trump managed to contest a lot of the preconceived notions about his campaign, dismissing the suggestion that he would follow the recommendation of generals to send 20,000-30,000 ground troops to Iraq for the ISIS war, and suggesting that he would rather do the ISIS war “without troops.”
Trump also did something very rare indeed for hawks from either party when talking about foreign policy, asking questions about how the wars could be afforded, and citing the massive US national debt. He called for other nations to foot much of the bill for US interventions, and suggested the US should be far less involved in NATO than it presently is, encouraging Germany to pick up the slack.
Trump carried this opposition to large overseas involvements to Asia as well, suggesting that Japan and South Korea should be made to pay 100% of the costs of America’s deployments in their respective countries, presenting South Korea as “very rich” and America as a “poor nation” that can’t afford to keep paying for other nations’ defenses.
He also griped about Iran, using his oft-repeated false claim of the US having “given $150 billion” to Iran and complaining that Iran bought Airbus brand airplanes for its civilian airliner upgrades instead of buying proper America-made Boeing planes.
He also appeared to try to redefine his calls to “take all the oil” as something he wishes had been done in the last Iraq War, as opposed to an objective on the ground in the ISIS conflict, while claiming Iran is “taking over Iraq” and would ultimately have all of Iraq’s oil.
Unlike his gripes about Boeing not getting juicy Iranian contracts, however, American oil companies actually did get some lucrative oil deals in Iraq, particularly Exxon-Mobil and Chevron.
Indeed, the whole logistics of “take all the oil” makes it an absurd statement at any price, and with oil prices dropping precipitously since then, it becomes an exercise in futility. It is unsurprising, then, that Trump’s discussion of the matter came wholly in the past tense.
Trump closed off his Washington Post talks on a question on the use of tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS, saying he didn’t want “to start the process of nuclear,” but then going off on a tangent in complaining about $18 million in negative ads against his campaign, and when pressed by a reporter for details, insisted “I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here,” perhaps the most derailing non-answer possible.
Trump followed this up with a news conference doubling down on the call for the US to charge allies for their military services, declaring “there are many countries that can pay, and they can pay big-league.”
The elephant in the room for this conference has to be Trump’s suggestion, when asked, that Israel would be among the nations paying the United States for military support, comments which break with decades of partisan tradition of throwing money at Israel as a matter of course, and which came just hours ahead of his AIPAC speech.
This might’ve portended a more controversy-ridden AIPAC appearance, but his 25-minute speech before the Israel Lobby was ultimately much more straightforward, following the time-tested script of politicians just saying whatever the Likud Party wants to hear.
Declaring at the start of his speech that he “didn’t come here to pander about Israel,” Trump did little else during the protracted speech, praising Israel, condemning the UN, Iran, and Palestinians in general, and pledging 100%, unconditional use of the US veto at the UN Security Council to block all resolutions Israel objects to.
Trump predictably went back to the false claims of the US giving Iran $150 billion again, making myriad false claims about Iran having an active nuclear weapons program, and going so far as to claim that the P5+1 nuclear deal explicitly allows Iran a military nuclear program.
Naturally, this isn’t the case, but Trump claimed to be the single most informed person on the nuclear deal, “far greater than anyone else” in the world, and got repeated applause for his condemnation of the pact.
He also appeared to depart from his comments earlier in the day about America being too poor for all these wars, insisting Iran is “big and powerful, but not powerful like us,” and that America could readily confront Iran militarily, to the delight of the always pro-Iran War crowd.
Attacking Iran at AIPAC is always a safe choice, but Trump also spent considerable time railing against the Palestinians, not necessarily Palestinian Authority factions, but the Palestinians as an undifferentiated whole, declaring them to have a “culture of hatred” and presenting Hamas as “the Palestinian ISIS of Hamas.”
While not totally backing off his past suggestion that the US would support Israel-Palestinian peace talks, he did backtrack feverishly on the suggestion of being neutral in the talks, demanding the Palestinians accept an array of preconditions, including publicly acknowledging Israel as “forever a Jewish state,” and recognizing that there is “no daylight” between America and Israel and the talks.
He went political in parts of the speech, declaring Obama the “worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me,” and then insisting Hillary Clinton was part of that. Closing his speech, Trump continued his “not pandering” by repeatedly declaring “I love Israel, I love Israel” to the applause of the assembled throng.
All this marks an incredibly busy day for Trump on the foreign policy front, closing the book on his previous claims that he only knows what he’s read on the Internet, and that he is his own foreign policy advisory team, and revealing that he’s getting the same bad advice from many of the same warmongers everyone else is.
Raising the possibility of having other nations pay for America’s intervention abroad is a new spin on things, but likely no more realistic than his suggestion that Mexico will be forced to pay to be walled off from America.
Still, acknowledging America having any theoretical finite spending limit is enough to make him a bit of a radical, and will likely continue the furor of calls to stop him at all cost from neo-conservative figures looking for a more palatable mainstream nominee.