“My goal,” said candidate Donald Trump, “is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations.”
He spoke these words last April in a prepared address delivered not at a massive rally in a basketball arena, but before a few Washington insiders at the Mayflower Hotel.
After this speech, Inside-the-Beltway elitists scoffed at what they tried to depict as Trump’s simple-minded views on foreign affairs.
The Washington Post was happy to report that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had tweeted: “Not sure who is advising Trump on foreign policy, but I can understand why he’s not revealing their names.”
Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Post, wrote: “This speech was at an eighth-grade comprehension level, five years beyond Trump’s usual.”
The Post’s own editorial was headlined: “Trump’s incoherent, inconsistent, incomprehensible foreign policy.”
But whose policies have put America in greater peril in recent years?
The foreign policies of the last two administrations — one Republican and one Democrat — were not only simple-minded, but also disastrous.
“It all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy,” Trump told the Washington insiders assembled at the Mayflower.
“We tore up what institutions they had,” he said, “and then were surprised at what we unleashed.”
One of President Barack Obama’s defining moments in foreign policy was his unilateral and unconstitutional decision to order the U.S. military to intervene in Libya’s civil war.
“Today I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians,” Obama said at the time.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to determine when this nation will use military force — except, as James Madison recorded in his notes on the Constitutional Convention, when it is necessary for the president to “repel sudden attacks.”
Obama never argued he was acting in defense of the United States — or on congressional authority — when he intervened in Libya. He said he was acting in defense of a U.N. resolution.
“Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced,” Obama said. “That is the cause of this coalition.”
Obama’s use of the U.S. military to defend the “writ of the international community” helped precipitate the fall of Muammar Qaddafi — an authoritarian one-time terror backer who had given up his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs and restored diplomatic relations with the United States. It also facilitated the rise of radical Islamic terrorists who murdered American diplomats–and, ultimately, the rise of the Islamic State, which demonstrated its own vision by beheading Christians on a Libyan beach.
In his second inaugural address, President George W. Bush expressed a vision consistent with Obama’s intervention in Libya and his own invasion of Iraq.
“So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” said Bush.
This vision, exemplified by Bush’s removal of the secular Iraqi authoritarian Saddam Hussein, resulted in the rise of the Islamic State in Sunni-dominated regions in Iraq and Syria.
Now, the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians there — and sending thousands of Sunni Muslim refugees, whose backgrounds and intentions cannot be adequately vetted, into Europe and the United States.
“We are going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests, and the shared interests of our allies,” Trump said in his speech at the Mayflower.
“We are getting out of the nation-building business, and instead focusing on creating stability in the world,” he said.
“Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction,” he said. “The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.”
It means following a prudential path that puts America first — not some utopian, unachievable internationalist ideal.
“Many Americans must wonder why our politicians seem more interested in defending the borders of foreign countries than their own,” Trump said.
“Americans must know that we are putting the American people first again,” he said. “On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy — the jobs, incomes and security of the American worker will always be my first priority.”
“I will view the world through the clear lens of American interests,” he said.
“We will no longer,” he said, “surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.”
This is not a naive vision. It is a realistic, achievable conservative vision — that, if pursued as Donald Trump promised, can help preserve American prosperity and American freedom.