Donald Trump and His Neo-Merchantile Foreign Policy
A day after Trump convincingly won five Northeastern state presidential primaries, he took time to better outline his foreign policy.
Trump said in his first major foreign policy speech on Wednesday that if elected president in November he would make US allies bear more of the financial burden for their defense. Trump also promised that as president he would “shake the rust off America´s foreign policy” and rebuild the US military. Trump criticized the US´ relationship with its allies under the Obama administration, saying: “Our friends cannot depend on us. We have had a president who bows to our enemies first.”
Trump spent much of his speech panning President Barack Obama’s handling of crises in the Middle East, saying the current administration was leaving a legacy of “weakness, confusion and disarray.” He said he would be tougher on Iran, which has become a “great power” at Israel’s expense
“We’ve made the Middle East more unstable and chaotic than ever before,” Trump said. He singled out Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s handling of the deadly attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and repeatedly linked the former secretary of state to what he sees as the failures of the Obama administration to show strength around the world.
He also called for an easing of tensions with Russia “from a position of strength, only.” He made direct appeals to Russia and China, saying the U.S. and those world powers are “not bound to be adversaries. “We should seek common ground based on mutual interests,” Trump said, citing Russia’s own concerns about the rise of Islamic extremists.
Trump clearly differentiated himself from other Republican candidates. He mentioned former Republican President George W. Bush, and criticized his efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, while reminding the listeners of his own opposition to the Iraq war. Drawing a contrast with hawkish Republicans, Trump said “war and aggression will not be my first instinct” and pledged to deploy combat forces only as a last resort.
Trump also made it clear that he felt that US allies weren’t contributing enough to their own defense. He reiterated his stand that other countries must contribute to international security agreements, such as NATO, if they’re to get the benefits of American military protection. Yet he also assured allies that the U.S. will have a renewed commitment to its overseas friends if he’s elected president.
“To our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again, America is going to be reliable again,” Trump said. “It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again.”
He called for a summit with NATO allies and Asian partners shortly after taking office.
However, all these are words. What would a Trump foreign policy look like?
The “Trump Doctrine”
Although many foreign policy experts have decried the “Trump doctrine”, there are reasons to seriously consider it.
One reason is that the current foreign policy style has clearly failed.
American foreign policy since WWII has been designed for the Cold War – “Us versus Them.” Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, American foreign policy has wandered under Clinton, Bush, and Obama as America has tried to find a new international focus, whether it be nation building, spreading democracy, or “leading from behind.”
There remain questions about what the US can and should do in a “multi-polar” world where the US doesn’t have the economic or military clout that it once had.
There is also the failure of current American diplomacy with the American voter. Where Americans once generally agreed on American foreign policy, today Americans are seriously questioning the current level of military involvement, the questionable value of military involvement overseas, and the type of allies that America picks. Clearly, advocating a “stay the course” policy as Clinton does is not going to win voters.
So, while the “Trump Doctrine” avoids the past failures, it does fit the personality of its practitioner – non-diplomat and businessman Donald Trump.
Trump is a successful businessman who has thrived in the New York real estate business, which is as unforgiving (but not as bloody) as any region of the world. It focuses on money and the benefits of profit. No wonder Trump has framed foreign policy in business terms as “Build a wall and make Mexico pay,” “Our allies must pay for their defense,” and “stop sending jobs overseas.”
Although diplomatic professionals decry these proposals, such an approach to diplomacy isn’t new and actually was standard practice over two hundred years ago in Europe. It was a workable foreign policy in a multi-lateral Europe that wasn’t dominated by a few great powers.
It was called Mercantilism.
Mercantilism was theory popular in parts of Europe during the 16th to the 18th century. It used government economic policy for the purpose of strengthening a nation state’s international power at the expense of rival national powers. Mercantilism includes a national economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade.
Mercantilism also tied in with nationalism – something that Trump is using to win voters. It also coincided with the rise of the nation state in Europe.
Mercantilists saw international trade in terms of how it best benefited the nation. High tariffs, especially on manufactured goods, are a regular feature of mercantilist policy. It also included subsidizing exports and domestic manufacturing. It also tried to limit the movement of money out of the country.
These have all been mentioned by Trump in past speeches and have proved popular with voters.
However, critics say mercantilist policies frequently led to war and also motivated colonial expansion. However, the number of wars fought isn’t much different than today. They were also less destructive as nations would only fight a war if it had solid economic benefits to it.
There are also well known voices who supported mercantilist policies. Economist John Maynard Keynes – whose economic theories are at the core of American economic policy – argued that encouraging production was just as important as encouraging consumption, and he favored the “new mercantilism.” Keynes said mercantilist policies generally improved both domestic and foreign investment.
The Politics of the “Trump Doctrine”
The Trump foreign policy doctrine also appeals to American voters, who are tired of foreign policy failures. And, it represents a new force in the Republican Party (and amongst many disaffected Democrats).
The “Trump Doctrine” is best understood as a resurrection of the conservative ideas of nationality and citizenship – something that would be familiar with the political leaders of a few centuries ago.
The result is that Trump is attracting voters that don’t totally reflect traditional GOP values. They are suspicious of, if not opposed to, free-trade agreements and entitlement reform; they are not strongly pro-life; and they question the sort of foreign military intervention many strong conservatives favor.
We can see the mercantilism in the views of Trump voters by looking for the common thread that ties together the issues those voters care about: a perceived failure on the part of government to protect vulnerable Americans from threats to their way of life. With immigration and trade, the danger is economic — Americans (in the view of Trump voters) are losing jobs and wages to competition from foreigners, and the people who run the country prefer profiting from that competition to protecting workers who are harmed by it.
The Trump campaign and “Trump Doctrine” are fueled by nationalism. The America they want to “make great again” is not a land mass that can be occupied by anyone who can get there. It is instead a place, a people, a nation. Trump voters believe that they have upheld their side of the American social contract, while others like businessmen and politicians have violated it.
But, this attitude isn’t new. It lies at the core of traditional conservative thought and was a key theme for Ronald Reagan. It also led to an unprecedented 12 yearlong Republican hold on the White House.
Reagan’s appeal to Americans, especially to the so-called Reagan Democrats, rested in part on the notion that America is special. And, there is no doubt that Trump is trying to recapture Reagan’s blend of American individualism and American nationalism.
To some of his advisors, critics who denounce the “Trump Doctrine” may be making a mistake of underestimating Trump. “In a world where countries like China see the economic aspects of foreign policy, mercantilism may make good diplomatic sense. And, most would agree that it is a sounder policy than the current Obama Doctrine”.
If Trump can take the old idea of mercantilism and blend it with 21st century needs, He might surprise many people. According to one of his staunch supporter: “…Politically, he can not only bring the GOP back together this summer, but he can set a political foundation that may win many elections to come”.
Trump’s Foreign Policy Advisers – to date
Kellogg served for nearly three decades in the Army until his retirement in 2003. Since then, Kellogg has served on a number of boards, including at GTSI, which primarily provides computer software to government agencies.
From 2005 until 2009, he was an executive vice president at CACI International, a Virginia-based intelligence consulting firm that was embroiled in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal prior to his arrival there. Kellogg had little to do with the company’s cleanup as he was primarily focused on research and tech systems. A lawsuit brought by prisoners against the firm was eventually dismissed.
Page, an investment firm managing partner, wrote a bizarre blog post last year, ostensibly about U.S.-Russia relations, but comparing the U.S. to slaveholders and citing the Kanye West track “New Slaves.” In the song, West notes that after consistent mistreatment, slaves were bound to eventually “wild out,” and Page wrote that other countries would similarly go rogue should the U.S. continue to act as the world’s policeman.
Papadopoulos served as a policy and economic advisor to Ben Carson, who notably struggled with domestic and foreign policy issues during his failed presidential run. Before that Papadopoulos was a consultant at a London-based oil and gas company. He’s a director at the London Centre of International Law Practice. In its mission statement, the group views global issues with a “promotion of peace,” which falls into accord with Trump’s noninterventionist approach. He graduated from DePaul University in 2009.
Phares, who served as a foreign policy aide to Mitt Romney in 2012, is perhaps the most controversial of Trump’s advisors. He was the subject of a 2011 Mother Jones story that said he has ties to a right-wing Lebanese militia accused of committing war crimes against Muslims during that country’s bloody 15-year civil war. Phares did not respond to requests for comment about the story. Officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations have condemned Phares – like Trump – for his comments about Muslims. Phares is a professor at the National Defense University in Washington. He’s also a regular on Fox News and tried to tamp down Trump’s calls to reinstate the torture of terrorism suspects after last month’s bombings in Brussels.
“Mr. Trump, because we are in a political season, he’s making those statements, but when he will come to the White House … then he’s going be tasking experts to answer that question, and I’m not sure that the experts are going to recommend any form of torture,” Phares said on NPR.
Schmitz had a rocky tenure as the Pentagon’s inspector general from 2002 until 2005, during the runup to and early years of the Iraq war. Schmitz is alleged to have “slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines,” according to a Los Angeles Times investigation in 2005. Amid the allegations, Schmitz resigned and took a position with the parent company of notorious defense contractor Blackwater.
Harrell oversaw combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of his three decades in the Army and retired in 2008 as deputy commanding general for the Army Special Operations Command.
Kubic served for nearly 30 years in the Navy, including helping rebuild schools and hospitals in Iraq as commander of the Naval Construction Division.
“I’ve been up here since the early days of the war, and every day, every week the country returns to normal,” he told CNN in 2004 as he praised the U.S. efforts to rebuild the country, a comment that predated the bloodiest years of sectarian violence in Iraq during the war and the consistent failure of the U.S. rebuilding efforts.
Kubic now owns his own engineering firm, which has consulted with the U.S. government on diplomatic facilities in Kabul, Karachi and Bangkok.
Mizusawa has the most decorated military career of Trump’s advisors. He was awarded a Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration, for his service during the Korean War. He ferried a Soviet defector to safe ground while under fire from 30 attacking North Korean soldiers, according to the Pentagon.
“He personally led the defector to safety while under fire and deliberately, at great risk to himself, exposed himself to the enemy in front of his own troops,” the Pentagon said.
In 2010, he ran in a GOP primary for a congressional seat in Virginia. He lost the five-way primary.
The U.S. Might Be Better Off Cutting Ties with Saudi Arabia
By Emma Ashford
April 22, 2016
When President Barack Obama visited the Gulf this week to meet with leaders from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the big question on many people’s minds was whether he could successfully repair fraying relationships with allies he has publicly referred to as ” free-riders.” That was the wrong question. Instead, the President’s visit offered a chance to consider whether we should be repairing these ties, and whether our continuing support for Saudi Arabia’s increasingly assertive, destabilizing foreign policy is actually good for U.S. interests. It cannot be denied that the U.S.-Saudi relationship has soured in recent years, with officials in both countries now openly admitting to cracks in the alliance. The declining relationship is most frequently attributed to a choice by the Obama administration to distance itself from Riyadh. Certainly, the obvious distaste with which the President has discussed Saudi Arabia’s archaic and repressive domestic politics — most recently his assertion that “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population” — adds credence to this argument.
Middle East Notes and Comment: The Right Debate about Egypt
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 22, 2016
Washington is engaged in several debates about Egypt as the country takes an increasingly authoritarian turn. Some are trying to shape the right conditions on U.S. assistance to Egypt to help open up Egyptian society. Others consider Egyptian authoritarianism a foregone conclusion, and they are exploring ways to create more distance—either in order to clear the U.S. conscience, ensure that the United States is “on the right side of history,” or win the support of Egypt’s people by supporting them over those who oppress them. Still others argue that the United States should be supporting Egypt wholeheartedly as it fights radicals. But these are the wrong debates to have. The U.S.-Egyptian relationship is strained, and worse times are likely ahead. The important debate is this: what are the consequences of the United States losing a close relationship with Egypt, and what should the United States be doing now to mitigate those consequences?
Trump’s foreign policy speech: The devil’s in the details
By Matt A. Mayer
American Enterprise Institute
April 27, 2016
In a foreign policy speech in Washington, DC, today, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump spent time on the threat from radical Islam. Trump made five key points on the issue. Though foreign policy experts and those inside the Beltway likely will scoff at Trump’s address and its lack of specific policy details, a majority of Americans would agree with the sentiment in each of these items and much more of what he said in his speech beyond the issue of terrorism. First, he argued for the policy of containment. Presumably, that policy means keeping ISIS and other terrorist groups contained in their bases of operation. This isn’t much different from the policy practiced by the Obama administration and our allies. Next, Trump noted that the fight with radical Islam is a philosophical one. He stated that our Muslim allies in the Middle East will be part of the solution to eradicating radical Islam, as they also are at risk from terrorist attacks. Trump pointed out that those allies, however, need to understand that they must show appreciation of our efforts, which may allude to the undisclosed 28-pages from the 9/11 report that allegedly show some level of financial support for the 9/11 attackers from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia Is a Great American Ally
By Michael Pregent
April 20, 2016
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become the new favored piñata by the chattering classes in Washington. “They’re worse than Iran!” is the refrain, echoed by those who defend Tehran’s unceasing provocations, even following the nuclear deal. The House of Saud has been on the receiving end of a particularly aggressive string of attacks as of late. Partly spurred on by former Sen. Bob Graham’s one-man campaign, outlets as diverse as Fox News, CBS, and PBS have recently pushed the narrative that the kingdom abets terrorism and fuels Islamist extremists globally. This chorus was recently echoed by Sen. Christopher Murphy’s attempt to severely restrict U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
The anti-Saudi campaign picked up steam following the conclusion of the nuclear deal with Iran, as many Washington analysts began to advocate for normalization of relations with Tehran to “counterbalance” Riyadh. These critics warn that Saudi Arabia should no longer be viewed as a staunch ally and that the United States ought to disavow the kingdom as a mainstay of stability in a volatile Middle East.
With Term Waning, Barack Obama Aims to Stabilize Relations in Middle East
By Aaron David Miller
April 26, 2016
Life’s about learning, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young famously sang. And it may well be that in the last year of his presidency, Barack Obama is finally learning that imperfect partners in the Middle East are better than no partners at all, particularly for a president disinclined to invest in a large U.S. presence in the region. None of this means that relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel will fundamentally improve before 2017 — too many divergent interests preclude that. But recent U.S. efforts suggest that Mr. Obama may at least want to stabilize them. With the Middle East a mess, he can’t afford to hand to his successor three relationships in crisis. Mr. Obama’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia – his fourth since taking office (he’s visited Israel and Egypt only once) reflects the continued importance of the Kingdom in U.S. foreign policy, however strained the relationship has become. Declining dependence on Arab hydrocarbons, differences over Iran and Syria, and the famously missing 28 pages in the 2002 Congressional report that might contain damning information on official Saudi knowledge or role in 9/11 have injected tension into the relationship. Still, the president’s visit wasn’t a disaster and led to new areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Mr. Obama is likely to hand over to his successor a U.S.-Saudi relationship that, while still fraught with significant divides, is functional and working to the advantage of both.
Saudi Arabia’s Challenging Plan to Shift from Oil
By Simon Henderson
April 25, 2016
In 1984, a British ambassador departing Saudi Arabia at the end of his tour wrote a “valedictory telegram” defining the kingdom in terms of three “I’s” — Islam, insularity, and incompetence. Unsurprisingly, the telegram was promptly leaked. Islam is certainly still the country’s dominant feature, but the Internet and social media mean that at least the younger generation is well aware of what is going on in the wider world, even if the population remains generally conservative and insular. As for incompetence, it is now less well hidden — most recently, the minister of water and electricity was fired on April 23 for poor performance. Against this backdrop, Riyadh announced a new economic plan on April 25 called “Vision 2030.” Promptly approved by the Council of Ministers, the plan is the brainchild of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (aka MbS), the thirty-year-old royal who is increasingly seen as representing the aspirations of the emerging generation. His campaign to implement Vision 2030 will be helped by the fact that he is regarded as the most powerful person in the kingdom — a consequence of being the favorite son of the ailing King Salman, even though his older cousin, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, is theoretically above him.
Red Line Revisited: The Costs and Benefits of Not Striking Syria
By Michael Singh
April 22, 2016
Wall Street Journal
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing recently in the Atlantic, noted with surprise that President Barack Obama’s former Middle East adviser Phil Gordon believes that the U.S. should have responded militarily to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossing the “red line” of using chemical weapons. President Obama, in contrast, told Mr. Goldberg that he is “very proud” of the decision not to strike, and administration officials have argued that the threat of force paved the way for a diplomatic initiative leading to Mr. Assad shipping out much of his chemical weapons stockpile. So was the non-strike a case study in “deterrent credibility,” as Sen. Tim Kaine put it, or of “embarrassingly amateurish improvisation,” as one critic said? Judging a policy requires examining both its outcomes and the cost at which they were achieved. The most straightforward objective — removing Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile — succeeded only in part, according to a July 23, 2015, report by The Wall Street Journal. The Syrian regime controlled weapons inspectors’ security and movements, and it used that leverage to hinder their work.”