Is the Donald Trump who supports torture and wants the United States to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” a thing of the past? The Republican front-runner certainly wants us to think so.
Trump gave a sedate but completely incoherent speech on foreign policy in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, hoping to burnish his image as the GOP’s self-declared “presumptive nominee” and to put his inflammatory foreign policy statements behind him. As he did during his last major foreign policy speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump read from a teleprompter and seemingly tried to give off a calm, statesmanlike appearance.
At the start of the speech, Trump promised he would lay out a foreign policy “that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.” But there is simply no point in trying to pick out a Trump Doctrine or any sort of policy vision from Wednesday’s speech. The address was a baffling combination of establishment GOP foreign policy talking points, attacks pulled from Trump’s rallies and media appearances, red-meat jabs at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and even an “America First” slogan once used by 1940s Nazi sympathizers to try and keep the United States out of World War II.
So, instead of trying to pick through the mess, here’s a list, in no way comprehensive, of the many times Trump contradicted himself while laying out his alleged foreign policy:
- We have to be both stable and completely unpredictable: Trump repeatedly said the United States had “no coherent foreign policy” and needed to again become a stable and dependable ally. How to do that? “We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable.”
- China is destroying the United States economically, but we have huge economic leverage over China: Trump loves to attack China, and he once again complained about the United States’ large (but shrinking) trade deficit with China that’s “letting them take advantage of us economically.” But he also claimed that the Obama administration has huge, unspecified financial leverage over China, which isn’t being used to make China take a tougher line against North Korea.
- We’ll be an incredible ally again. Also, our allies are freeloaders: Trump once again criticized other countries for not spending enough on their own defense. “Our allies are not paying their fair share,” he complained, promising to somehow make them boost their defense budgets. He then pledged that America would again be a powerful and respected ally to the same countries he had insulted.
- We can’t waste money, but we have to spend a lot more on weapons: “Not one dollar can be wasted,” Trump said of the federal budget, blaming much of America’s supposed decline on government overspending and debt. He also called for the United States to pump cash into building new weapons to rebuild the American military, demanding hugely expensive and wasteful systems such as new fighter aircraft and warships.
- Weapons are a scourge, but we have to spend a lot more on weapons: “The power of weaponry is the single biggest problem we have today in the world,” he said, seemingly forgetting his demand that the United States spend billions of dollars more adding to that very problem.
- We have to work with Muslim allies, but none of them are allowed to come here: Trump promised he would work “very closely with our allies in the Muslim world” to help defeat ISIS and radical Islam. Seconds later, he once again demanded the United States temporarily halt Muslims from entering the United States. “A pause for reassessment will help us prevent the next San Bernardino,” he said.
The foreign policy establishment has already reacted with almost universal horror to Trump’s rise. A group of more than 75 Republican foreign policy experts blasted Trump in an open letter last month, saying he was “fundamentally dishonest” and “utterly unfitted” to be president. CIA Director John Brennan said he would refuse any orders to resume waterboarding or other acts of torture, which Trump has said he would bring back. Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, attacked torture as “inconsistent with the values of our nation” in response to Trump’s comments. The Huffington Post this week described panic among current and former military officers at the prospect of a Trump presidency. Wednesday’s speech likely won’t do anything to change minds.