Friday, April 29, 2016

Trump's Still-Unpredictable Foreign Policy

After another strong showing in the latest primaries, Donald Trump looks increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee. It's now mathematically impossible for his competitors to reach the magic number of delegates required to be assured the nomination. Indeed, it's virtually impossible for his competitors to catch up to his delegate count, even when combined, yet they are still staying in on the hopes of a convention coup.

In the face of this increasing inevitability, Donald Trump has been working to consolidate establishment support behind him. To that end, he recently gave a long foreign policy speech that was slated to be a more deliberate and premeditated talk than Trump's usual off-the-cuff style. After weeks of everyone saying his understanding is shallow or vague, this was supposed to be an opportunity for Trump to lay out specifics and prove them otherwise.

Unfortunately, despite the planning that went into this one, it came off much like the others. His speech still consists of a series of slogans. Some ideas are eminently laudable for advocates of peace and nonintervention, but there are just as many bad ideas in there to balance it out. Thus, Trump occasionally expresses a reluctance to use force, but at the same time condemns diplomatic successes that required compromise. Similarly, Trump calls for placing American interests first, which is a generally good idea, and tends to imply that we would only intervene abroad in narrow corcumstances that truly impact American security. But then he also says we need to try to bring stability to many other parts of the world. This is problematic because US administrations for several years have interpreted the need for stability as a need for American military involvement, actual results notwithstanding. And so, the two are almost pure contradictions of the other, and it's anyone's guess which Donald Trump we will actually get if he is elected.

What is perhaps more concerning is that it's not clear whether these contradictions are the product of deliberate political calculation or just ignorance. One could imagine a politician giving a speech like this because he gives everyone a little something to like. If you believe in piece, you can point to parts where he expresses reluctance to use force. If you want to see more hawkish positions, you can latch onto various condemnations of Iran. Then again, it seems just as likely that Trump's understanding of these terms and issues is so cursory that he literally doesn't know the contradictions are there. Time will tell.

But having said all that, it's worth saying a word in defense of Donald's somewhat incoherent positions on foreign policy. (And I'm not using incoherent pejoratively here, but literally--that the ideas don't all fit together.) The reason is that, while it's fair to say that Hillary Clinton's foreign policy positions are coherent, they are also dramatically worse. With Trump, there's a chance that America would end up with a less militant president who really does prioritize negotiation. With Hillary, we all know what we'd get--a president that has never met a conflict that she didn't want America to participate in.

For more on Trump's speech, check out the excellent analysis by Daniel Larison and The American Conservative.

Trump's Foreign Policy Speech

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