- - Thursday, April 28, 2016

The day after Donald Trump carried every county in five states (a remarkable achievement), he gave his first major foreign policy and national security speech to the Center for the National Interest.

It was a substantive speech to a serious foreign policy and national security organization.

Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented afterward that he “really did think [Trump] did a good job on the speech. And there are some details that need to be filled in. But it was a big step forward.” He continued, “I do like the fact that it does challenge the foreign policy establishment in Washington, which has really gotten it wrong for a long time.”

I had been calling for an overhaul of the foreign policy establishment at the State Department since at least April 2003, when I gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute calling for completely transforming the Department. And I first warned that America had “gone off a cliff” in Iraq in December 2003.

So I appreciated Trump’s calls for rethinking our foreign policy and national security assumptions.

Some analysts said it put Trump to the left of Hillary.

Others asked if Trump or Clinton was more hawkish.

This completely misunderstands the depth of change inherent in the Trump foreign policy speech.

The traditional analysts want to place Trump’s foreign and national security ideas somewhere on a traditional right-left continuum.

Trump is repudiating the establishment consensus. He is part of neither its right wing nor its left wing.

Traditional establishment analysts want to use hawk versus dove models. But Trump is neither a hawk nor a dove.

He is trying to describe a new model as an owl. He wants to be vastly more powerful militarily and more aggressive diplomatically than any dove. However, he also wants to be more cautious and more selective in using military power than a traditional hawk.

This model is not really new, of course. Great strength used cautiously is the heart of Sun Tzu’s Art of War which is 2,500 years old. But Trump’s core critique, that American interests, not ideological hopes, should define American foreign policy, would be very new to the foreign policy establishment that currently dominates Washington.

Trump’s was a long speech but some parts deserve special emphasis.

He is clear about his biggest shift in policy: “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”

Some critics suggest this is a reference to the isolationism of the 1930s (which included an “America First” theme), but how anyone could believe this is hard to understand. The entire context of the Trump speech repudiates isolationism.

In fact, the phrase was first used by Woodrow Wilson, the consummate internationalist, who said, “I am not speaking in a selfish spirit when I say that our whole duty, for the present, at any rate, is summed up in this motto, ‘America first.’ Let us think of America before we think of Europe, in order that America may be fit to be Europe’s friend when the day of tested friendship comes.”

Trump is seeking to develop an American-focused internationalism.

This emphasis on American interests is long overdue. It is a reminder in part of Palmerston’s approach to defending Britain’s interests in the 19th century.

This, Trump says, is his difference with the elites who have dominated foreign policy for the last generation: “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.”

It is such a break with the current orthodoxy that 90 percent of the Foreign Service would have to be retrained or replaced to implement it. No wonder the establishment won’t like it.

Trump makes clear the difference between putting globalism first and putting American interests first: “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”

He continues:

To achieve these goals, Americans must have confidence in their country and its leadership again.

Many Americans must wonder why our politicians seem more interested in defending the borders of foreign countries than their own.

Americans must know that we are putting the American people first again. On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy – the jobs, incomes and security of the American worker will always be my first priority.

No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must do the same.

We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.

The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down, and will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs.

Trump went on to expand his vision of how different his policies will be:

Under a Trump Administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.

I will view the world through the clear lens of American interests.

I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion. We will not apologize for becoming successful again, but will instead embrace the unique heritage that makes us who we are.

The world is most peaceful, and most prosperous, when America is strongest.

America will continually play the role of peacemaker.

We will always help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself. But to play that role, we must make America strong again.

We must make America respected again. And we must make America great again.

If we do that, perhaps this century can be the most peaceful and prosperous the world has ever known.

This is a vision of a very different, but very active, American leadership in the world.

It is a robust, energetic vision but it is a profound departure from the goals that have preoccupied our elites for the last quarter century.

This is a speech worth studying.

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