Trump Needs a Lot of Help with Foreign Policy

When I was in high school, over a quarter of a century ago, I competed in extemporaneous speaking, focusing on foreign policy.  Several times a week, I gave 7-minute speeches on foreign policy issues facing the United States with 30 minutes or less of preparation.  In some ways, I appreciate the challenges of being asked to comment on topics on short notice.  Yet, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect a high school student to be better informed, more rational, and more coherent than a person who wants to become the president of the United States.  And still, I am confident that my comprehension of US foreign policy was greater when I was in high school 25 years ago than Donald Trump’s is today.

Considering that managing our country’s foreign policy is, by constitutional design and practical necessity, the most important task of the modern US president, having a person with such little knowledge and competence in this area is deeply troubling.  I do not know how anyone who actually has investigated Trump’s beliefs, statements, and life story could actually walk into a voting booth and cast a ballot for him.

The list of statements below provides more than enough justification for that conclusion. 

Some will object that the link has been compiled by the Clinton campaign, and I realize that this will make it appear that this information is biased to some people.   However, if you think the quotes were taken out of context or misinterpreted, investigate them yourself.  This is a pretty fair summary of Trump’s expressed foreign policy views.  And it is not just Democrats and Hillary Clinton that are expressing this concern.  There are plenty of Republicans, as I have outlined below, who have raised similar concerns.

The implications of having someone who is this uninformed in this position will be serious. Although many people based their votes for president on concerns about domestic policy, politically and constitutionally, the president’s power is much greater in foreign policy.  It is the area where the president is expected to take the initiative and is held least accountable both by the public and by our system of checks and balances.  It also happens to be the area in which Trump is the least prepared to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities. Many Americans are already and world leaders are already concerned about the implications of Donald Trump as president.  If you are not already concerned, you should be.

Little Cause for Optimism in Trump’s Approach to Foreign Policy

Admittedly, it does not appear that his foreign policy will likely be divisive but that is mostly because the American people are so profoundly ignorant of the world.

So people just don’t even realize that they should be deeply disturbed when Trump praises Vladimir Putin and criticizes Angela Merkel. After all, in World War II, Russia was our ally and Germany was our enemy.

And people don’t realize that the TPP was intended to secure important alliance in the Pacific with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia and that rejecting it is going to encourage them to push ahead on a similar arrangement with China that will give the Chinese access to these markets that we won’t have and send the message to our allies in the region that they will not be able to count on us.

In fact, Americans- who believe that we spend approximately 1/3 of our budget on foreign aid when it is really less than 1%- will probably be happy to offload the burden of these alliances like NATO. But when we in 20 years and China and Russia have strengthened their positions against our allies and we are in no position to help because we are economically crippled and lack the credibility to lead, we will definitely be able to look back at this moment and say that it was because we elected someone who campaigned on the idea that these policies were a good idea.

A lot of people voted for Trump because he had the “Repub” next to his name and never took the time to realize that most of his platform was a complete repudiation of the principles that Republicans have championed in the past. Ronald Reagan was one of the staunchest defenders of free trade and strengthening the foreign alliances that we have had in the past 50 years. The Republican Party just repudiated Reaganism in the most dramatic way possible.

Trump Actually Said All of This

Trump on Saudi Arabia

ANDERSON COOPER: Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.

Trump on Running Up Government Debt

TRUMP: “I’ve borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts… I would borrow knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”

Trump on Respecting Human Rights

TRUMP: “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works… Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough, ok?”

TRUMP: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families”

Trump on Getting Advice

TRUMP: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things…my primary consultant is myself”

Trump on Warming

TRUMP: “The concept of warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump praises dictators like Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: “I will tell you, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”

and picks fights with the German chancellor…

TRUMP: “What Merkel has done is incredible, it’s actually mind boggling. Everyone thought she was a really great leader and now she’s turned out to be this catastrophic leader. And she’ll be out if they don’t have a revolution.”

and the pope.

TRUMP: “I don’t think [the Pope] understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to [criticize the wall] it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.”

Trump on America

TRUMP: “We have become a third world country, folks.”

And it’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons…

TRUMP: “And frankly, the case could be made, that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They’d probably wipe them out pretty quick.”

and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea – and I quote – “If they do, they do.  Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.”

TRUMP: “And if they fight, you know what, that would be a terrible thing, terrible. Good luck folks, enjoy yourself…if they do, they do”

He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength.

TRUMP: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

He said, “You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit” for taking over North Korea – something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie.

TRUMP: “And you’ve got to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals…. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.”

Trump on ISIS

What’s Trump’s [ISIS plan]?  He won’t say.  He is literally keeping it a secret.  The secret, of course, is he has no idea what he’d do to stop ISIS.

TRUMP: “I do know what to do and I would know how to bring ISIS to the table or beyond that, defeat ISIS very quickly and I’m not going to tell you what is… All I can tell you it is a foolproof way of winning.”

Just look at the few things he actually has said on the subject. He actually said – quote – “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.”  That’s right – let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East.

TRUMP: It’s really rather amazing, maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS, let them fight and then you pick up the remnants.

Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS.

TRUMP: “We really have no choice. We have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them… I would listen to the generals but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000. We have to knock them out fast.”

He also refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties.

TRUMP: “I’m never going to rule anything out—I wouldn’t want to say [if I’d use nuclear weapons against ISIS.]”

Trump says over and over again, “The world is laughing at us.” He’s been saying this for decades.

TRUMP (1999): “[Saudi Arabians] take such advantage of us with the oil… and they laugh at this country.

TRUMP (2010): “I know many of the people in China, I know many of the big business people, and they’re laughing at us.”

TRUMP (2011): “We have become a laughingstock, the world’s whipping boy”

TRUMP (2012): “The world is laughing at us.”

TRUMP (2013): “After Syria, our enemies are laughing!”

TRUMP (2014): “Mexican leadership has been laughing at us for many years”

TRUMP (2015): “The Persians are great negotiators. They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making”

TRUMP (2016): “We can’t afford to be so nice and so foolish anymore. Our country is in trouble. ISIS is laughing at us.”

He bought full-page ads in newspapers across the country back in 1987, when Reagan was President, saying that America lacked a backbone and the world was – you guessed it – laughing at us.

TRUMP (1987): “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help… “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.”

Even Republicans acknowledge that Trump’s knowledge of foreign policy is quite limited.

Lindsey Graham on Trump’s Foreign Policy

Graham seemed especially concerned about Trump’s views on Russia.

“I think [Trump’s views on Russia] are the biggest misreading since the ’30s and Donald Trump is a fool when it comes to Russia,” he said.

During his campaign, Trump was often criticized for warming up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had spoken favorably of the then-Republican presidential nominee.

“I think Russia would love for him to win,” Graham said. “The fact that the Russians are actively involved in this election says all I need to know about Donald Trump. I’ve never, I can’t believe I’ve lived long enough to see a foreign government this involved in our election.”

Graham has little confidence in Trump’s approach to winning the war on terror.

Graham argues that Trump’s rhetoric might make it difficult for Muslims in the Middle East to see the US as an ally, thereby hurting America’s ability to stem ISIS recruitment and establish security in the region post-ISIS.

“If anybody understood the war on terror at all, the last thing he would do is make the statement ‘we need to ban all Muslims from coming to America,'” Graham said. “Because what you’re doing is you’re empowering the enemy.”

He explained: “What you’re doing is you’re empowering the enemy. The enemy’s narrative is that the West hates the religion. Our narrative should be that … that it’s the world against ISIL, not the United States against Muslims.”

 Graham criticizes Trump’s approach to Assad in Syria.

“To suggest that it’s OK to leave Assad in power, you have no idea what that means for the Mideast,” Graham said. “That means every Arab government is going to rebel against that decision because to give Assad, to keep him in power is giving Damascus to the Iranians, and you’re not going to do that. That means empowering the Russians in a way that we haven’t seen since the ’70s.”

Trump’s approach to Syria would almost certainly be a complete disaster. 

Trump’s indifference to NATO and our other alliances is perhaps the most distressing aspect of Trump’s foreign policy. As Graham notes

“What he’s saying is very dangerous,” Graham said. “He’s diminishing alliances at a time when we need more. Yes, NATO members need to contribute more. But this is not a country club where you get kicked out if you don’t pay your dues. This is not a real-estate deal where you leverage for the best price. This is a complicated world where alliances, imperfect as they are, have to be nurtured and built up.”

Iran, Syria, Russia, and NATO

Trump’s indifference toward NATO and our other alliances certainly strengthens Russia in its efforts to expand its influence in Eastern Europe.   This coupled with the open support of the Russian government for Trump’s candidacy, as well as the clandestine efforts of the Russian government to help Trump win the election, makes his outspoken praise of Russia and alignment of US foreign policy with Russia’s to be deeply disturbing.  The fact that he also appear to be abandoning our allies while the Russian presence has become more menacing can do nothing but weaken us further.  For its part, many European countries are already preparing for the US to abandon its traditional leadership role.

Trump Refusing Intelligence Briefings and Ignoring Evidence of Russian Involvement in DNC Hacking

For its part, Russia clearly believes it has won the elections in 2016.

“Despite Russia’s denials that it tampered in the U.S. election or even took sides, Trump’s victory has been greeted as a win of sorts for Moscow, too, by members of Putin’s own United Russia party.”

“It turns out that United Russia won the elections in America,” Viktor Nazarov, the governor of Omsk, Russia, declared in a radio interview.

Russia is aggressively expanding its influence in the Middle East and Trump’s stated attitude toward the region, to the extent that it is coherent at all, threatens to help Russian interests at the expense of the United States’.  We would be deeply concerned if one of our allies were pursuing this strategy.  It is simply disastrous for us to be pursuing it ourselves.

Russia is not targeting ISIS, as Trump has claimed, when it is bombing targets in Syria.  It is seeking to help Assad’s consolidation of power by targeting groups that the US has been supporting.

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Russia and Iran Appear to be Coordinating to Gain Control of the Syrian Regime

Middle East Conflicts Are Not Only About Oil, They are About Natural Gas As Well

US Vital Interests in the Middle East

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The Geopolitics of Oil in the Middle East

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Europe’s Energy Future is Becoming Increasingly Dependent Upon Russian Energy

Open Letter on Trump from National Security Leaders

“We the undersigned, members of the Republican national security community, represent a broad spectrum of opinion on America’s role in the world and what is necessary to keep us safe and prosperous. We have disagreed with one another on many issues, including the Iraq war and intervention in Syria. But we are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency. Recognizing as we do, the conditions in American politics that have contributed to his popularity, we nonetheless are obligated to state our core objections clearly:

His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.

His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world.

His embrace of the expansive use of torture is inexcusable.

His hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric undercuts the seriousness of combating Islamic radicalism by alienating partners in the Islamic world making significant contributions to the effort. Furthermore, it endangers the safety and Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of American Muslims.

Controlling our border and preventing illegal immigration is a serious issue, but his insistence that Mexico will fund a wall on the southern border inflames unhelpful passions, and rests on an utter misreading of, and contempt for, our southern neighbor.

Similarly, his insistence that close allies such as Japan must pay vast sums for protection is the sentiment of a racketeer, not the leader of the alliances that have served us so well since World War II.

His admiration for foreign dictators such as Vladimir Putin is unacceptable for the leader of the world’s greatest democracy.

He is fundamentally dishonest. Evidence of this includes his attempts to deny positions he has unquestionably taken in the past, including on the 2003 Iraq war and the 2011 Libyan conflict. We accept that views evolve over time, but this is simply misrepresentation.

His equation of business acumen with foreign policy experience is false. Not all lethal conflicts can be resolved as a real estate deal might, and there is no recourse to bankruptcy court in international affairs.

Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States. Therefore, as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.

Former Republican Ambassadors Reject Donald Trump

One of the candidates — Donald J. Trump — is entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief. He is ignorant of the complex nature of the challenges facing our country, from Russia to China to ISIS to nuclear proliferation to refugees to drugs, but he has expressed no interest in being educated. Indeed he has recently demonstrated he entirely misunderstands and disrespects the role of the very officials who could educate him: the senior career officers of our intelligence services and of our military services (whom he has characterized as “rubble”). In his frequent statements about foreign countries and their citizens, from our closest friends to our most problematic competitors, Mr. Trump has expressed the most ignorant stereotypes of those countries; has inflamed their people; and has insulted our allies and comforted our enemies. Shockingly, he has even offered praise and admiration for Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia whose international activities and reported intrusions into our democratic political process have been among the most damaging actions taken by any foreign leader since the end of World War Two.

As President-elect, Trump Has Routinely Violated Protocol

Donald Trump is Confirming Fears About His Diplomatic Skills

Trump Appears to Be Mixing His Personal Business With His Official Duties

And Reversing Previously-Held Positions

Not surprisingly Trump is slowing backpedaling from some of these positions while sprinting away from others.  For example, he has lost his enthusiasm for waterboarding, after asking an expert’s opinion.

“On the issue of torture, Mr. Trump suggested he had changed his mind about the value of waterboarding after talking with James N. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, who headed the United States Central Command.

“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Mr. Trump said. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terrorism suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.’”

“I was very impressed by that answer,” Mr. Trump said.

Torture, he said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”

HERE.  Most experts have been saying that for years.  That is one reason that we stopped doing it.  It doesn’t work.  Donald Trump was THE person that challenged that argument, got a lot of people to support him because he “told it like it is” and “was willing to say the unpopular thing.”  But now, after asking one person’s advice, a person whose advice was freely available for some time, he has changed his mind.  So, if he had actually given any thought to these issues prior to running, he would have had different opinions than the ones he championed in his campaign.  For those who are scared of him, this might actually be comforting.  For those that supported him, it should be infuriating.  To everyone else, it is, at best, nauseating.

Yet this example suggests a possible positive trait of Trump’s that he did not demonstrate during the campaign- a willingness to learn and adapt. Yet, as he demonstrated throughout the campaign, this does not appear to be a trait he can be expected to maintain.  He is already choosing to forgo his daily intelligence briefings, an unusual move for any incoming president, but particularly one as uninformed as Trump.

Trump’s Approach to Iran is Almost Certain to Backfire The Iran Nuclear Deal is a good one for the United States.  One country that clearly doe not like it is Russia.

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Trump’s Approach to Making America Great Again is Based on a Belief in American Weakness

So Guess What Now?  “The world is laughing at us.”

Do Nightmares Come True?”

“I consider the Trump hypothesis a nightmare. Do nightmares sometimes come true? They do, but I prefer not to think about it.” José Serra, Brazil’s foreign minister, in Correio Braziliense

“If he [Trump] is in office for eight years, he will successfully be the first US president to lead America’s economy from number one in the world to number two. Yes he can!” Zhang Zhaozhong, Chinese military commentator, Weibo

“We have to assume that American foreign policy will be less predictable for us…Nothing will get easier, much will get harder.” Franz-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister of Germany

“As of this night is more alone, and I don’t believe it is equipped for that.” Benedetto Della Vedova, Italy’s junior foreign minister

In particular, our allies are deeply distressed about Donald Trump’s election and the general tenor of our 2016 campaign. This is particularly true of their views on Donald Trump and the implications of his election.

Attention Allies, This is NOT a Drill

“With his attacks on free trade, disdain for allies, and over-regard for strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, Trump offered a nightmare vision of everything they feared. His attitudes toward women and race challenged cherished beliefs and shared values. He had none of the qualities necessary to prosper in their own political systems, which allow limited scope for insurgents, and there was very little evident foreign-policy substance behind his speeches. His public statements were bold, apparently often unscripted and occasionally contradictory. Beyond them, there was very little. No past experience in public office by which to set expectations. No coherent statement of political philosophy to study for guidance. No memories of overseas visits intended to get to know allies and their concerns. No matter, they thought, he was too extreme to be elected.”

People in other countries do not typically have a problem with the United States or its president.  People from other countries- friend and foe alike- have generally had confidence in Obama and almost all have more confidence in Obama than they do in Trump.  It is also not true that all new presidents face these concerns. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for the campaign that he ran. While it is certainly arguable that Obama did not really deserve this award, it certainly reflects that the public was not deeply pessimistic about his election, as it is now with the election of Trump.  (On a side note, while researching links for this part of this post, I came across many, many sources that suggested that Obama’s prize had been revoked or that the chairman of the Nobel Committee had called for Obama to return the prize.  These stories- to put it simply- are false.)

Most people in our most important allies demonstrated a clear preference for Hillary Clinton over Trump.  Russia was the only country in which Trump was preferred of the G20, a grouping of the most important economic, political, and military powers in the world today.

Foreign Leaders Are Not Optimistic About Trump

Why Don’t Americans See This?

We are ignorant of the world and we don’t care.  There are over 7 billion people in the world.  We are less than 5 percent of the world’s population.  We depend upon the rest of the world more than it depends upon us.  Americans are more uninformed about the rest of the world than the rest of the world is about us and the problem is getting worse, not better. For all of our focus on education, we have produced and continue to produce a citizenry that is completely unaware of what is going on in the rest of the world, but nevertheless has a lot of opinions about it, forms these opinions with incomplete and inaccurate information, votes based on those opinions.  This has consequences.

American’s Perception of Foreign Aid

Marco Rubio said he often hears people argue that a lot of taxpayer money can be saved by cutting back on foreign aid. That’s not reality, though.

“I’m against any sort of wasting of money on foreign aid, but it’s less than 1 percent of our federal budget,” Rubio said. “We can’t just continue to tip-toe around this and throw out things like I’m going to get at fraud and abuse. Let’s get rid of fraud, let’s get rid of abuse, let’s be more careful about how we spend foreign aid. But you still have hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit that you’re going to have to make up.”

The US Doesn’t Really Give Much in Foreign Aid

Actual Budget Appropriated Less Than 80% of Agency Request


Foreign Policy Experts Preferred Candidates in 2016


I'm routinely overestimated.

One thought on “Trump Needs a Lot of Help with Foreign Policy

  • June 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Just remove “of Foreign Policy” from the title and you’d about have it.

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