Donald Trump has talked a massive foreign policy game on the campaign trail, promising to “bomb the shi*t” out of the Islamic State, torture prisoners, kill family members of suspected terrorists and “get tough” with our enemies in general.
But in an interview today with the Washington Post’s editorial board, the specifics Trump offered for carrying out said foreign policy sounded…tame, dare I say dovish, while touting a list of foreign policy advisers who hold decidedly non-dovish views about America’s role in the world.
The contradictions are glaring and impossible to square, but then again, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about.
As the Post reported:
Trump — who is set to give a major address on foreign policy later Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — said in his meeting at The Post that he advocates an aggressive U.S. posture in the world with a light footprint. In spite of unrest abroad, especially in the Middle East, Trump insisted that the United States must look inward and steer its resources toward rebuilding domestic infrastructure.
“I do think it’s a different world today and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,” Trump said. “I think it’s proven not to work and we have a different country than we did then. We have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting, probably, on a bubble. And it’s a bubble that if it breaks, it’s going to be very nasty. I just think we have to rebuild our country.”
To be clear, it isn’t exactly wrong to say that our resources would be better spent rebuilding infrastructure at home than fighting wars abroad. To be clearer, “an aggressive U.S. posture in the world with a light footprint” is a brushed-up way of saying “speak loudly, and carry a small stick.” In Donald Trump’s case, this seems rather fitting.
Going beyond simply opposing military intervention in the Middle East, Trump also suggested that the US should pull out of NATO and reduce our military presence in Asia — positions so isolationist that it’s hard to place them on the ideological spectrum. Suffice it to say that they represent one of his starkest deviations from Republican orthodoxy to date.
However, these stated goals of reducing America’s subsidization of our allies’ military efforts and turning those investments inward don’t square — at all — with the views held by the people Trump listed in this same interview as people he would turn to for foreign policy advice. From the Post:
“Walid Phares, who you probably know. Ph.D., adviser to the House of Representatives. He’s a counter-terrorism expert,” Trump said. “Carter Page, Ph.D. George Papadopoulos. He’s an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy. The honorable Joe Schmitz, [was] inspector general at the Department of Defense. General Keith Kellogg. And I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do. But that’s pretty representative group.”
Trump said he plans to share more names in the coming days.
Kellogg, a former Army lieutenant general, is an executive vice president at Virginia-based CACI International, a Virginia-based intelligence and information technology consulting firm with clients around the world. He has experience in national defense and homeland security issues and worked as chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq.
Schmitz served as inspector general at the Department of Defense during the early years of George W. Bush’s administration and has worked for Blackwater Worldwide. In a brief phone call Monday, Schmitz confirmed that he is working for the Trump campaign and said that he has been involved for the past month. He said he frequently confers with Sam Clovis, one of Trump’s top policy advisers, and that there has been a series of conference calls and briefings in recent weeks.
Papadopoulos directs an international energy center at the London Centre of International Law Practice. He previously advised the presidential campaign of Ben Carson and worked as a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Phares has an academic background, teaching at the National Defense University and Daniel Morgan Academy in Washington, and has advised members of Congress as well as appeared as a television analyst on terrorism and the Middle East.
Page, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and now the managing partner of Global Energy Capital, is a longtime energy-industry executive who rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch around the world before founding his current firm. He previously was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations where he focused on the Caspian Sea region and the economic development in former Soviet states, according to his company biography and documents from his appearances at panels over the past decade.
I find it hard to believe that any of these national security professionals would advise a President Trump to pull out from NATO or scale back our support for South Korea. They definitely wouldn’t advise against pulling our military out of Iraq.
All of which is to say that no matter how big of a game Donald Trump talks on foreign policy, he’s swinging a small and incoherent stick.
The Post also reported that Trump went out his way to assure its editors that his hands are normal-sized. For some reason, that seems relevant.