The Nation recently published an article titled When Donald Trump Says His Foreign Policy Is ‘America First’—What Exactly Does He Mean?. The article consists of contributions from four different people: Sherle R. Schwenninger, Heather Hurlburt, Stephen Kinzer and Juan Cole. They take turns imagining what Trump’s foreign policy might be like. This is a tall order, considering that Trump’s statements on foreign policy have been vague and contradictory.
However, there is one point on which Trump has always been clear and consistent: he is going to build a wall along the border with Mexico (which is our ally), and he is going to make Mexico pay for it. Gosh, how do you think he is going to do that? This is an important question, yet none of the four contributors to this article even mentions it. (Although Hurlburt indirectly alludes to it.)
So, what do these people talk about? Sherle R. Schwenninger starts off on an optimistic note, by arguing that Trump can simply reverse long-standing US policies towards Russia and Europe and on foreign trade. It apparently doesn’t occur to her that this would put him in opposition to most of the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as much of the military. The idea that the president can simply change pre-existing policies with the flick of a switch is the sort of naivete I might expect to hear from a freshman college student, not someone who is director of the World Economic Roundtable at the New America Foundation (which, I’m told, is a non-partisan thinktank).
It is left to Heather Hurlburt to point out the obvious: “The belief that large swaths of humanity are sub-human would inform Trump’s policy decisions.” She points out that in Trump’s view:
… large swathes of humanity are essentially sub-human. Trump’s many comments reveal disdain for Muslims, Hispanics, poor and middle-class people, women, and the disabled. These are not merely personal prejudices. They would inform his policy decisions.
Ah, but then Stephen Kinzer takes us down the rabbit-hole. He predicts that Trump will form a grand alliance with Russia, Bashar al-Assad (who is pretty much a one-man band at this point), Hezbollah, Iran, and the Kurds, which will “turn the tide” against ISIS. Most of these forces are already fighting ISIS in already fighting ISIS in one way or another (although Russia seems more interested in bombing hospitals in Aleppo), so I don’t see how this would change much. Where Trump would break new ground, though, would be in his approach to Iran:
It is not difficult to imagine Trump reopening the US embassy in Tehran.
Buoyed by turning the tide against ISIS, Trump might then look again at Iran. Throughout this campaign, he has denounced the nuclear deal repeatedly, but he has not denigrated Iran itself. Many Iranians would welcome his victory, since they call Hillary Clinton “sanctions lady” and blame her for making their daily lives worse. Unbound by the anti-Iran fanaticism that reverberates in Washington, Trump could recognize Iran as a potential partner in the Middle East, even beyond the fight with ISIS. It is a young, modern society, fully committed to destroying the Sunni terror embodied in ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Trump would see that Iran shares our Middle East security interests more fully than some of our so-called friends in the region. It is not difficult to imagine him reopening the US embassy in Tehran, and saying, “We should have done this long ago.”
There is so much confusion and wishful thinking here, it’s hard to know where to start. Kinzer thinks that once in office, Trump, who has displayed nothing but contempt for Muslims, will suddenly decide that the Islamic theocracy in Iran is actually pretty peachy and the Iranian people are just swell and we should be their friends. Yeah, right. I don’t know what Kinzer has been smoking, but I’d like some of it myself, because it seems pretty powerful. I’m told that Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.
Juan Cole brings us back to reality, pointing out that most of Trump’s policies would be counter-productive. Yet out of the four people The Nation asked to contribute to this article, two actually take a benign view of Trump. The idea that a racist demagogue would make the world a safer place is so absurd, I don’t see how anyone could take it seriously. The Nation’s readers deserve better than such swill.