Donald Trump’s vision for America’s place in the world, spelled out in a rare policy speech Wednesday, offered a gauzy overview that left even some favorable to his campaign calling for more specificity.
Trump says as president he’d put “America first” when it comes to foreign policy. He’d bolster defense spending and push U.S. allies to spend more money on defending themselves – or let them fend for themselves.
Combating Islamic State militants? A priority – but his plans are secret. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” the Republican presidential front-runner said Wednesday, promising a surprise attack and quick finish to the terrorist group as he delivered the first foreign policy address of his unorthodox campaign.
The calls for more details began with his embracing “America First,” a phrase that harkens back to aviator Charles Lindbergh and his leadership of the political party that championed American isolationism on the eve of World War II.
“Put America first,’ we could put some more meat on that bone on what that means,” said Donald Smith, a member of the Center for National Interest, which hosted Trump’s talk.
Smith said he wanted more foreign policy specifics on NATO – which Trump has called “obsolete.”
Yet Smith said U.S. allies wouldn’t “suffer from his policies at all. Our enemies might suffer a little more, not our allies.”
America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration
Trump’s campaign in recent weeks has sought to make overtures to the Republican establishment ahead of what could be a contested convention this summer in Cleveland. And the speech sought to give Trump the imprimatur of president. He even used a teleprompter to deliver prepared remarks with little of the bombast that marks a Trump campaign speech, but for a reference to his campaign slogan.
He largely shied away from his prior attacks against George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, instead aiming to place the blame for turmoil in the Middle East squarely on President Barack Obama – and his first term Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
“The legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess,” he said.
Trump’s speech appeared to be aimed not so much at allaying fears among the conservative foreign policy community that has been alarmed by some of his policy proposals, as it was to voters wary of U.S. spending and involvement abroad, many of whom have driven the brash real estate magnate to victory.
He assailed U.S. allies for not putting up enough money for their security and he bashed trade deals that he said had bled jobs from the U.S. – a familiar refrain for attendees at Trump campaign events.
“It was definitely an attempt at a coherent strategy, but it has these contradictions that are not resolved and that doesn’t help elucidate how he would actually manage,” Kathleen Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said of Trump’s speech. “He seems to point to a desire to say ‘Just trust me and trust my principles,’ I will learn the facts and do what’s right.”
Foreign policy experts said they found much of it a morass.
“There were four speeches in there: there was the speech that Charles Lindbergh gave before the faithful in 1933; there was the speech that Ronald Reagan might have given, briefly, in 1979; there was a speech that Bernie Sanders might have given last week; and there was a Donald Trump speech,” said Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the center-right American Enterprise Institute.
“He’s all over the map. ‘We need to save the Christians, but we need to stay out of the Middle East. We need to stop ISIS from making money off Libyan oil by bombing and blockading, but Hillary Clinton made a mistake by going into Libya and not nation-building.’ What?”