He’s challenging 70 years of US foreign policy – and they hate him for it!
July 23, 2016
This election season is so much fun because Donald Trump keeps enraging all the right people – and his timing is perfect. Just as the Republican convention was at its height, with his running mate up there on the podium perorating about the alleged threat of Vladimir Putin, along comes Donald with an interview in the New York Times that has the War Party yelling and screaming bloody murder. The head of NATO; the foreign policy pundits; even some alleged “non-interventionists” – they’re all aghast that Trump is questioning the supposedly sacred tripwires that commit us to going to war if Lower Slobbovia invades Upper Slobbovia.
It started with this article, in which Trump’s views on NATO, the Turkey coup, and other matters were summarized, but it caused such a commotion that the Times published the entire interview, and it is really a sight to see – good news for us anti-interventionists, and very bad news for the internationalists, i.e. the entire foreign policy Establishment.
It starts off with Times reporter David Sanger trying to bait him into attacking Paul Ryan, who, he says, “presented a much more traditional Republican, engaged internationalist view of the world.” Sanger reminds him of his previous comments on NATO: that our shiftless “allies” need to start paying their fair share of the costs of the alliance. Sanger adds in Korea and Japan, and ask: what if they won’t pay? What then?
Trump’s answer is vintage Trump: “Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.’”
He is challenged by Sanger – who asks most of the questions, by the way – who avers that our system of alliances is in our interests as well, because of “trade.”
Does Sanger imagine Russia going to somehow stop trans-Atlantic commerce? It isn’t clear, but Trump comes back at him by saying it’s “a mutual interest” – in which our NATO allies are not doing their part. Stopped in his tracks – because even President Obama, as well as traditional Republicans like Robert Gates, have complained that our allies aren’t paying – Sanger reverts to the default interventionist argument:
“Even if they didn’t pay a cent toward it, many have believed that the way we’ve kept our postwar leadership since World War II has been our ability to project power around the world. That’s why we got this many diplomats …”
Trump’s answer is perfect:
“How is it helping us? How has it helped us? We have massive trade deficits. I could see that, if instead of having a trade deficit worldwide of $800 billion, we had a trade positive of $100 billion, $200 billion, $800 billion. So how has it helped us?”
Here Trump has stumbled on the dirty little secret of the post-World War II security architecture so beloved by our elites: for the privilege of paying for their defense, and in effect militarily occupying our allies-cum-satellites, we allow them to flood our markets with tariff-free goods, while they wall off their markets with trade barriers and subsidies. As the Old Right economist and prophet of empire Garet Garrett put it at the dawn of the cold war, it’s a peculiar sort of empire in which “everything goes out and nothing comes in.”
It’s really quite interesting to see Sanger take on the role of the defender of our role as “the indispensable nation” – although to be fair, it’s his job to challenge the candidate – and see how Trump argues in favor of a new policy, one that recognizes the limits of power. In their discussion of the US presence in South Korea, Sanger argues that this has prevented war, but Trump avers that it has only led to the radicalization – and nuclearization – of the North, and heightened the prospect of a really catastrophic conflict, one in which the 28,000 American troops stationed in the South would be instantly incinerated. And Trump goes further, opining that if we hadn’t intervened and stationed our troops there to begin with, things might’ve turned out differently:
“Maybe you would have had a unified Korea. Who knows what would have happened? In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime, we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, ‘Well, how is that a good thing?’”
The fact is that the Koreans were getting closer to unity and resolving their own problems back during the Bush administration, but the neocons stepped in and scotched what was a hopeful process of reconciliation and reunification. I wrote about that here and here.
And here Trump lets it rip with a reiteration of his essential point:
“I’m only saying this. We’re spending money, and if you’re talking about trade, we’re losing a tremendous amount of money, according to many stats, $800 billion a year on trade. So we are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion. That doesn’t sound like it’s smart to me. Just so you understand, though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world. Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible. We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because [they] are only paying for a fraction of the cost.”
Sanger, defeated, can only point to the logical conclusion of Trump’s foreign policy: “Or to take on the burden themselves.” Trump is ready for him:
“In a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk. Hillary Clinton has said, ‘We will never, ever walk.” That’s a wonderful phrase, but unfortunately, if I were on Saudi Arabia’s side, Germany, Japan, South Korea and others, I would say, “Oh, they’re never leaving, so what do we have to pay them for?’ Does that make sense to you, David?”
Sanger is forced to concede: “It does, but …” and he falls back on the far-fetched question of how will we defend the United States – as if there’s going to be an attack on the continental US. Trump comes back at him with the rather obvious fact that we can always deploy from the US – “and it would be a lot less expense.”