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Donald Trump Has a Coherent, Realist Foreign Policy

Despite the bluster, Trump is articulating a bold vision of America’s role in the world. And it demands a serious response — not the snickering of D.C. elites.

ALBANY, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally on April 11, 2016 in Albany, New York. The New York Democratic primary is scheduled for April 19th. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Oh, Donald, bless your heart! You keep on saying those wild and crazy things, the media keeps on snickering, and you just keep on blustering. A grateful nation thanks you. If you weren’t around, we’d probably have to talk about Ted Cruz instead, and that would be no fun at all.

But my editors here at Foreign Policy have asked me to get serious and write about what U.S. foreign policy would look like if the White House should ever sprout an enormous gold sign reading, “TRUMP.” This has not been a simple assignment, because there is a Trump for every possible policy position.

Where to start?

Well, if Donald Trump becomes president, we might have a nuclear war — or, then again, we might not. On the one hand, Trump tells us, “It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.” On the other hand, if Japan and South Korea decide to develop their own nuclear weapons, that’s probably fine, and we “may very well be better off.” On the third hand, “nuclear should be off the table,” when it comes to a potential U.S. first use of nuclear weapons. On the fourth hand, you never know: We might need to use nukes inside Europe, which would not be so sad because “Europe is a big place” and can easily afford to lose a few small nations to radioactive fallout.

Anyhoo. Let’s discuss NATO, which, admittedly, is not a very interesting subject. Trump “would support NATO,” but because he too feels that it is not interesting, he “would not care that much” whether or not Ukraine joins the alliance. “I don’t mind NATO per se,” he explains; it’s just “obsolete” and full of free-riders “ripping off the United State.” But que sera, sera! If getting rid of freeloaders “breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.” Still, perhaps the treaty organization can be “reconstituted” and “modernized.” He adds, “We need to either transition into terror, or we need something else, because we have to get countries together.” I don’t think Trump meant that NATO should transition into a terrorist organization — on the “fight fire with fire” principle — but who can say?

Moving right along: Under President Trump, the United States would show the terrorists who’s boss by bringing back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.” He would also “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” and if that doesn’t do the trick, he would go after the wives and children of Islamic State fighters, because “with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” Ordering the U.S. military to use torture or deliberately target civilians would, of course, be illegal, but the military would gladly obey any order coming from President Trump: “I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader.… If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” On the fifth or sixth hand, maybe not: Trump swears that he’ll be “bound by laws, just like all Americans.”

Regardless, under President Trump, the U.S. military would be very strong, but it would never be used, unless we do use it. Right now, Trump confides, the U.S. military is “a disaster,” decimated and weak. When the White House is rebranded as the smallest of the world’s many Trump Towers, this will no longer be true; after a few waves of the Trumpian magic wand, which can cut budgets and expand programs at the same time, the military will be “so big, so powerful, so strong” that no one will dare mess with it. But the military will have to be satisfied with being big, powerful, and strong right here in the United States, because unless host states such as Japan and South Korea cough up a lot more cash, President Trump will be withdrawing U.S. troops from their overseas bases.

Besides, who cares? According to Trump, more or less every U.S. military intervention from Vietnam on has been a flop. Vietnam? A “disaster,” says his campaign. Iraq War? “Big, fat mistake.” Libya? “Total mess.” As for the Islamic State, Trump says “the generals” tell him it might take “20,000 to 30,000 troops” to “knock the hell out of ISIS,” but they ain’t gonna be American troops: instead, “People from that part of the world” will have to “put up the troops.… I wouldn’t ever put up 20,000 or 30,000.

All right, enough. I could go on: Trump offers nearly endless fodder for media mockery. But I don’t want to keep poking fun at the Republican front-runner.

For one thing, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s like making fun of George W. Bush’s weird malapropisms: “They have miscalculated me as a leader.” It’s just too damn easy.

For another thing, there’s hardly a global shortage of anti-Trump tiradescoming from the Fourth Estate. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell declares Trump is “completely uneducated about any part of the world.” The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson calls Trump’s “ignorance of government policy … breathtaking.” Tara Setmayer of CNN says Trump is “wholly unqualified” to be president, while the New York Times editorial board finds Trump “disturbing” and “shockingly ignorant.”

None of this does Trump any harm. On the contrary: Every time someone in the Media Elite pokes fun at Donald Trump, it inspires six bad-tempered middle Americans to vote for him.

None of this does Trump any harm. On the contrary: Every time someone in the Media Elite pokes fun at Donald Trump, it inspires six bad-tempered middle Americans to vote for him. And every time someone in the Media Elite utters a pompous condemnation of Trump’s ignorance and folly, 17 more angry Trump voters are created. If Trump becomes president, guys, it’s gonna be your fault.

And finally: Though it pains me to say it, Donald Trump is crazy like a fox. Despite the braggadocio, the bullying, and the bluster — despite the contradictions, misstatements, and near-total absence of actual facts — Trump is, to a great extent, nonetheless articulating a coherent vision of international relations and America’s role in the world.

David Sanger and Maggie Haberman capture it well in a summary of their lengthy New York Times interview with Trump: “In Mr. Trump’s worldview, the United States has become a diluted power, and the main mechanism by which he would re-establish its central role in the world is economic bargaining. He approached almost every current international conflict through the prism of a negotiation, even when he was imprecise about the strategic goals he sought.” The United States, Trump believes, has been “disrespected, mocked, and ripped


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