Compared to Clinton, Trump is a peacenik
Nov. 8 features an awful choice. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump should be America’s next military commander-in-chief. Clinton is the neoconservatives’ best Democratic friend, in favor of every one of Washington’s recent, unnecessary wars.
In contrast, no one really knows what Donald Trump really believes.
However, embarrassing unpredictability would be better than predictable imbecility. Clinton would continue with the expensive, failed conventional wisdom that masquerades as U.S. foreign policy. Trump at least might challenge Washington’s proclivity for war on occasion.
There is little coherence to Trump’s call to restore American “greatness,” whatever he means. In a formal talk last April he criticized U.S. foreign policy as “a complete and total disaster.” But he offered nothing systematic as its replacement.
Still, Trump identified genuine problems if not their solutions, such as America’s allies “not paying their fair share.” But he also argued that “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us,” that is, the very allies who do little because they expect America to pay for their defense.
Moreover, he complained that “our rivals no longer respect us.” But he offered a bizarre mix of important and incidental, and there was little difference under President George W. Bush. Trump further complained that “America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals.” True, but he then offered a superficial, minimal critique of current policy.
Finally, he made manifold generic promises — the U.S. will be strong, reliable, and great again. It will be a good friend and follow a “coherent foreign policy.” He offered some sensible goals, but without many specifics on how to achieve them.
Trump announced that “we have to rebuild our military.” But far from being “depleted,” the Pentagon is bloated, much larger than what America needs for its, rather than the world’s, defense. If Washington no longer subsidized rich friends, engaged in nation-building, and fought other countries’ enemies, it could spend far less on the military.
“Finally, we must develop a foreign policy based on American interests,” he concluded. Sure, but what does that mean? Trump wants to “defeat terrorists and promote regional stability,” but it would be better to stop creating so many enemies and let other states confront those who most threaten them, such as the Islamic State extremists.
He is right about the need to seek “common ground based on shared interests” with Russia and China. Neither regime is a good one — Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin is misguided — but neither has any desire for conflict with the U.S. It is particularly foolish to push these two powers together against America — reversing Richard Nixon’s 1972 policy breakthrough.
Finally, Trump deserves enormous credit for promising: “war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.” Of course, he has said much that sounds like the opposite.
But decrying “war and aggression” sets him apart from virtually every other Republican and most Democrats. And especially from Clinton, whom he correctly called “trigger-happy.” What war has she opposed, at least before it was politically popular to do?
No wonder a large group of GOP foreign policy gurus, mostly Neoconservative and other uber-hawks, denounced Trump. They questioned his knowledge and temperament, but likely were most concerned by his criticism of promiscuous U.S. war-making in the Mideast.
Clinton guarantees more of the same: war-making, nation-building, and social-engineering overseas. The American people would be the losers, with more money wasted and more lives lost.
Trump’s policies might end up little better. But the country might occasionally find itself at peace.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.