Foreign policy is the great paradox of presidential campaigns.
So often candidates stumble over their lack of knowledge on the subject (The nuclear triad? How many battleships?) and yet once in office it’s the area where presidents often have the most direct influence.
Thus, the spectacle of Donald Trump delivering prepared remarks in at The Mayflower Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Eager to show detractors that he can appear presidential enough when necessary, the Republican presidential front-runner strode across the elegant stage after being introduced by Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to and immigrant from Afghanistan (who, in good Trump fashion, didn’t hesitate to plug his own memoir).
From the speech, we can begin to extrapolate Trump’s unoffical foreign policy philosophy: the CEO Doctrine (“Speak brashly, and carry interest”). The speech was indicative of both how President Trump might govern, and also why his message is proving so resonant nationwide.
Welcome to USA, LLC
Trump’s “America First” speech did not have the conciseness or simple thrust of other foreign policy benchmarks — none of the simple decisiveness of the Truman Doctrine and containment or even the bizarre strategy of Nixon’s Madman theory.
He touched on many of his bellicose stump mainstays — destroying ISIS, staring down China and Iran, a “pause for reassessment” before allowing more Muslims to immigrate to the United States.
He promised to juice up America’s military and prevent us from being "laughed at" abroad.
But at the same time, he said America should be out of the business of nation-building, only sending America’s servicemen and women to war when “absolutely necessary.”
The clearest link between these disparate positions — and what sets him apart from most serious candidates, past and present — might be Trump’s insistence on the lack of doctrine itself.
Trump’s speech indicates he would adopt a business leader’s mentality when working abroad — negotiating with China and Russia but leaving the negotiating table right away if he’s not getting what he wants. Tackling messy bureaucracy with relish, from NATO to the VA.
Most important, he would make sure that the company is taken care of: the shareholders (citizens) of USA, LLC.
Going Dutch on national security
This is an intriguing way to orient foreign policy in an election of disenchantment and pushing back against the status quo.
Trump offers not total isolation nor full-throated global citizenry, but simply whatever would directly benefit his followers and build his/their business. He says foreign entanglements can be tossed if they “tie us up and bring America down.” He says the American worker “will always be my first priority.” NAFTA, of course, is a “disaster,” and he decries China’s “economic assault on American jobs and wealth.”
Foreign activities that would most rile President Trump are those that affect the balance sheet or American safety.
Notably, Trump made no mention of his much-vaunted wall with Mexico. That’s just not the kind of thing you say in the boardroom.
But the sense of protection at home, paired with bellicose statements on actions abroad not backed up with plans for action, echoed the famous message.
The speech displayed little worry about practicality or international responsibility. Trump says he will protect the country's bottom line.
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