Presidential Debate

Trump's Foreign Policy in the Debate: Skeptical of Past Wars, Eager for New Ones

Last night Trump's foreign policy mouth seemed in some cases to be outrunning his mind, making a strict interpretation of his meaning difficult.

|

Donald Trump's willingness to insist he was against the Iraq War, to say he eschews nation building, and to insult past GOP foreign policy mavens have led some non-interventionists to insist he's a positive game changer for the future of American foreign policy.

That didn't seem very likely in the way Trump handled foreign policy questions at last night's first presidential debate.

Todd Krainin

Yes, Trump still wants to make it clear no matter what contrary evidence might exist that he was always against the Iraq War and the idea of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. He is also, though, against U.S. troops having left Iraq, because of the mess it left behind, and also still says he's against nation-building.

The best case interpretation to tie all that together for those eager to believe in a non-interventionist Trump is that surely he can be trusted to never send troops in anywhere in his attempt to crush the foes he swears we can and must crush, including ISIS and by strong implication Iran, since once he does he'd feel obligated to keep them there forever and make sure things don't go wrong in the country we invaded, that is, he'd feel obligated to nation-build.

And hasn't he told us he doesn't want to do that? Thus, we can trust him to not do any more full-on invasions.

This seems a thin reed of hope. I'm guessing his will to crush will exceed his will to not nation-build, in the end. He is an avowed fan of surgical Middle Eastern interventions (though he continues to refuse to say out loud whether his ISIS-crushing plans will be surgical, boots on ground, or even nuclear) but isn't clear on why he thinks such surgical attacks, for whatever purpose, not followed up by continual ground troops, won't leave the same kind of Middle Eastern chaos in its wake he rightly critiques. Perhaps he thinks his oft-repeated call to just steal oil from our foes over there will make it all work out fine?

Trump won great huzzahs from some looking for a less bellicose shakeup in the American foreign policy establishment by once saying some negative things about NATO. Last night, though, he reiterated he merely wants to allocate the costs more fairly among the whole alliance and in fact is thrilled to see NATO expand its mission to the international war on terror. That lack of an expanded mission, he said last night, was really the only thing that bothered him about NATO, ultimately.

He did not contradict Clinton when she accused him of wanting to blow up another country's ship if people on it were "taunting" Americans, but don't worry peaceniks—he insists "that would not start a war." That seems a bit of a chance to take over a taunt, especially if curtailing overseas interventions is your political goal.

Last night Trump's foreign policy mouth seemed in some cases to be outrunning his mind, making a strict interpretation of his meaning difficult. "I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it" he says of nuclear weapons, which he stresses are the greatest danger we face. "But I would certainly not do first strike. I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it's over. At the same time, we have to be prepared."

So, certainly not do first strike? Well, maybe. "I can't take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we're doing nothing there."

He goes on to suggest (as has Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson) that rather than expending our own force or treasure on bringing North Korea to heel, we should somehow get China to do it.

Like the most dedicated neocon, Trump is sure that Iran will get a nuclear bomb within a decade because of the Iran deal he hates, and is very concerned that Israel is very worried about it.

The most encouraging thing said last night was his continued recognition of the crushing expense of trying to defend the world. "We are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policemen of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world…"

Still, his overall goal, previously stated, when it comes to military spending is to increase it anyway.

Trump's overall foreign policy vision, as presented in last night's debate and over his political career, provides little hope for restraint, sanity, and frugality. It's great that he seems reluctant to believe that hostility to Russia needs to be a core part of American foreign policy, and that he is capable of at least saying that nation-building is out. But his vision of the world sees many nations and threats that either explicitly or implicitly are going to require Americans to wage war in Trump's vision. His essential vision of the world is one that is very dangerous to America, and must be brought to heel by force, one in which any perceived blow to our dignity must be met by violence, even if to his mind that doesn't necessarily mean "war" or "nation building." It's still a dangerous vision.

NEXT: Rising Prosperity Means Getting to Eat More Meat and Seafood

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Trump’s wars are going to be the best wars, the classiest wars.

    1. Maybe he’ll bankrupt the DoD.

    2. I Make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $70h to $86h..Go to this website and click tech tab to start your work.Visit this web… http://tinyurl.com/hygs5jl

  2. Well, damn, I’m convinced. What we really need is more of Hillary’s foreign policy experience and expertise.

    1. I become more and more convinced that what we really need is 4 years without a president at all.

      1. Only 4? /sarc

        I realize you were joking, but I’m not sure I’d want to see what the bureaucracy would do if left to its own devices for 4 years. *shudders*

    2. Right, because criticism of Trump = Support for Hillary.

      1. Listen every time an article doesn’t explicitly state how much better the republicans are, and condemn Hillary (who is a known quality and not very tempting) it’s proof reason is in the bag for Hillary.

        Just to posit a theory: What if we don’t see as many attacks on Hillary because she doesn’t flirt with libertarian notions but show an attitude that puts those statements to lie. She’s just simply hostile to them openly and personally.

        1. So it is the heretic before the infidel?

          1. Attack the heretic before the infidel.

  3. Donald – next time, PREPARE!!

    1. He missed so many opportunities to slam Hillary, but just missed the openings entirely.

      1. I’m sure he prepared for his business negotiations better than this.

        1. Well, he probably takes those seriously.

      2. This. Maybe next time.

  4. You know who else was critical of past wars but eager for new ones…

      1. Admittedly, the wars were against America…

    1. Honey badgers?

  5. “But I would certainly not do first strike. … I can’t take anything off the table.”

    An utterance worthy of Hillary herself.

  6. I agree. Trump’s is a dangerous vision. But, really, even that amounts to the second sanest vision in the running. Sure, I vastly prefer Gov. Johnson’s. And I’ll vote for it. But, let’s not kid ourselves, the most surefire disastrous vision in the running is Ms. Clinton’s eagerness for perpetual war.

  7. he eschews nation building

    His campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again”. He is literally running on a platform of nation building. By the government. Because that’s how you build a nation – through government.

  8. Last night For the last two years Trump’s foreign policy mouth seemed in some cases to be outrunning his mind, making a strict interpretation of his meaning difficult.

    FTFY.

  9. Is this really so hard to grasp?

    Yes, Trump still wants to make it clear no matter what contrary evidence might exist that he was always against the Iraq War and the idea of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. He is also, though, against U.S. troops having left Iraq, because of the mess it left behind, and also still says he’s against nation-building.

    He didn’t like the idea of going into Iraq–we’ve all got that, right?

    But the US went into Iraq anyway.

    Okay, you’ve done it, now make sure it’s done right.

    And the US didn’t do it right. We left before it was stable and back in the hands of the Iraqi people. How long to stay? Until it’s done. We’re still riding herd on the Germans and Japanese. Or has everyone forgotten that?

    Despite what people think, ‘nation building’ is that weird way of waging war where you try to defeat your enemy and build him a stable civilization at the same time. People need to understand that. That’s what Trump’s refer—-

    –to be continued—

    1. –continued—

      …ring to when he disparages ‘nation-building’.

      Trump doesn’t mean don’t defend ourselves(and he DOES see the military as a defensive weapon)–he means hit them back and hit them good and keep hitting them until they’re out. And then stay there and make sure they can’t ever do it again.

      Likewise, while he can easily promise to not be the one who starts a war with a nuke, his line about taking nothing off the table isn’t a contradiction–because he only ever sees himself or the US as hitting back–as having taken a hit that we’re now retaliating to.

      And using a nuke to answer that wouldn’t be a first strike.

      1. “And using a nuke to answer that wouldn’t be a first strike.”

        And this here comes from a libertarian website. A commenter advocating genocide against desperately poor people because of the actions of a few terrorist assholes in a country destabilized in a criminal and imperialistic war. Are there any anti war libertarians left here?

        1. “Anti-war” is not pacifist. Nuclear War needs to outweigh the cost of continued longterm combat. You solve the issue by not involving yourself in a war until they put you there.

          Anti-war doesn’t mean letting them hit you over and over again and never punching back.

  10. My Uncle Samuel recently got a nice month old Infiniti QX SUV only from working part time online
    see more at———–>>> http://tinyurl.com/Usatoday01

  11. RE: Trump’s Foreign Policy in the Debate: Skeptical of Past Wars, Eager for New Ones

    Trump the Grump’s foreign policy can be summed up in three words.
    Kill them all.
    It does eliminate a lot of questions.

    1. Bryce . even though Samuel `s story is unbelievable… on tuesday I bought a great Peugeot 205 GTi after making $4790 this – four weeks past an would you believe $10k last month . it’s definitly the most-comfortable work Ive ever done . I actually started 4 months ago and right away startad earning more than $85 p/h . find more info

      ……………. http://www.BuzzNews10.com

  12. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I do,

    ………….. http://www.Max43.com

  13. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,
    ——————>>> http://www.4cyberworks.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.