Flickr Creative Commons, DonkeyHotey, 2016. This caricature of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Max Goldberg's flickr photostream.

Making Foreign Policy Great Again?

By Kaylyn Wade

*The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the ExPatt Board or the Patterson School.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave a speech in Washington, D.C. in which he defined what America’s foreign policy would look like under his presidency. Unlike his normal stump or rally speeches, this speech was given with the help of a teleprompter, showing that at least some amount of thought and planning went into the writing of this speech.

He defined his plan as one that will develop “a new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.”

Now, you may disagree with me, but here’s how this plan strikes me. Replacing randomness with purpose makes us an embodiment of the Big Bang. Replacing ideology with strategy puts us in boats and sends us on pillaging raids during which we steal women and cattle and take them back to our Viking homeland to ensure that we survive the winter and have babies coming in the summer. And replacing chaos with peace is the wish of less well-thought contestants in the Miss America pageant.

Ignoring my obviously weighty objections thus far, Mr. Trump went on to state his ultimate foreign policy priority: “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be.” People who hold different ideologies (Oh no, danger, danger! There we go with the ideology again!) will obviously feel differently about this statement, but I can say one thing for Mr. Trump. He definitely knows how to appeal to his voter base.

Before really getting into the meat of his speech, Mr. Trump touched on the issue of the origins of ISIS in Iraq, saying “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy. We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed.” The origins of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a complex situation, and I will have to keep searching for a quality explanation of it from our presidential candidates. That being said, however, this was a surprisingly insightful statement from Mr. Trump.

From there, Mr. Trump went on to draw out his critique of current U.S. foreign policy. One of his points involved ensuring that America’s allies at least contribute to their own defense, instead of leaving the majority of the responsibility for the U.S. to take care of. In his words, “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.” In his next point, Mr. Trump said that with current foreign policy, America is an undependable friend and ally. “We’ve picked fights with our oldest friends, and now they’re starting to look elsewhere for help. Remember that. Not good.” Wait a minute. We must be prepared to leave our allies to defend themselves, but we shouldn’t pick fights with our oldest friends?

Also when speaking about our future relationships with our allies, Mr. Trump stated that “A Trump administration will lead a free world that is properly armed and funded, and funded beautifully.” I must say, I don’t know what it looks like for anything to be “funded beautifully.” Does it come with an engraved or illuminated copy of the budget? A budget that is signed in the middle of a blooming meadow in springtime? Maybe we’ll get the chance to find out.

After Mr. Trump was done critiquing current U.S. foreign policy, he went on to lay out his own plans for the future. One aspect of these plans revolved around reestablishing America’s reliability and strength. While speaking about this plan, he stated that “Our moments of greatest strength came when politics ended at the water’s edge.” What exactly was our moment of greatest strength? Was it in 1940, when our politics ended at the water’s edge and millions of Jews were being exterminated in western Europe? Or was it in the 1980s, under the Republicans most revered leader, President Ronald Reagan, when America was still embroiled in the Cold War and actively supporting ruling military juntas in South America?

Mr. Trump also stated that “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, that’s what we want. We want them to be our allies.” Hold the trains! So, we are going to look at a country with whom we were on the brink of nuclear war for multiple decades and play leapfrog from enemies to friends and friends to allies, voila! Yes, we can do this, but the thought of making a nuclear agreement with Iran and standing by while their influence on the international stage grows from its previously nonexistent state is not an idea that we can tolerate.

All of this being said, and the disconcerting experience of reading Mr. Trump’s signature speaking pattern once it is in writing put to the side, this speech and the policies advocated within it were not necessarily terrible. Decent foreign policy could be founded on the sentiments voiced in this speech. On the other hand, the policies advocated in this speech, as they are stated, are also dangerous. They lack detail. They lack foresight. More than anything else, they lack nuance, and nuance is absolutely essential to the practice of foreign policy. The shading of different situations must be taken into account, and I question whether nuance and shading are pieces of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy arsenal. Will his decisions be adjusted so they are appropriate for individual situations, or will his decisions be applied in a blanket fashion, as statements made in this speech would easily allow?

Your judgments of Mr. Trump and this glimpse of his foreign policy may be different than mine, and that is completely understandable. Whatever your judgment is though, please just make sure that you ask questions after listening to what Mr. Trump says. Make sure that you ask questions after listening to what any presidential candidate, world leader, or recommender of foreign policy says, including myself. Ask questions, get answers, make your own decisions. Don’t follow what anyone tells you just because they tell you, even if they do have the best words.


Kaylyn Wade is a master’s candidate at the Patterson School, concentrating mainly in Diplomacy and Intelligence.  She grew up in northwest Georgia and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in history and political science.  She began concentrating on the Middle East and Africa during her undergraduate studies, and is still primarily interested in politics and security in those areas.  Her goal is to establish a career in which she combines historical understanding with quality intelligence analysis to contribute meaningfully to US foreign policy and diplomatic practice.

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