By Ivan Eland
Despite Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s reality-show candidacy, his recent foreign-policy speech put forth a realistic view of the world and a largely credible foreign policy to face it.
Continuing his poke at the political establishment, the maverick candidate proposed a viable alternative to the bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, which uses unneeded and profligate military interventions overseas as the primary US foreign-policy tool.
As opposed to the interventionist neoconservatism of the Bush administration and the equally meddling liberal hawkishness of Hillary Clinton, Trump got back to basics in this week’s speech. He let American citizens know his foreign policy would safeguard US national interests first—not those of foreign countries, including providing for their security while they freeload.
He laudably said military intervention would be used only as a last resort, after diplomacy and economic sanctions—and even the latter would be used sparingly.
Rather than using military power in a vain attempt to export democracy by force into countries that are unreceptive to it, as the United States did in Iraq and Libya, Trump said America should promote its values through leading by example.
This is smart, practical policy.
Democracy takes root when people in a country support it, rather than having it shoved down their throats at gunpoint. In only four out of 18 attempts since 1900 has the forcible US export of democracy succeeded.
In contrast, at the end of the Cold War the United States inspired the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to democratize from their communist past.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to impose democracy on other nations—Iraq and Libya, respectively—using military power and nation-building, and we are now stuck bandaging the resulting hemorrhages.
This interventionist approach sparked chaos in the Middle East and allowed the terror group ISIS to fill the vacuum.
Trump sees this reality and is right to commit his presidency to a more restrained, prudent approach to foreign intervention.
Echoing the traditional, less-interventionist US foreign policy that was the norm before the Cold War, Trump affirmed the United States would “not go in search of enemies.” This more restrained foreign policy served the nation well from its birth in the late 1700s to 1947, when it began to police the world.
During this period, the United States had few costly foreign wars—and in the ones that it did enter, such as World Wars I and II, the country had the luxury of doing so late, thus saving American lives and resources.
Trump’s promise of a nation that places more emphasis on diplomacy and improving relationships, even with nuclear-armed China and Russia, can make the world a safer place.
And it may result in cooperation in specific areas where US interests align with those of such countries—such as a common interest with Russia in combatting radical Islamist terrorism.
This week’s speech shows us Trump realizes a central problem in US foreign policy: Intervention in the affairs of other nations has been unnecessary and destructive.
While many scoff at his success at striking “deals,” his commitment to putting military might second to respectful negotiation and traditional diplomacy shows leadership.
The United States is not the world’s protector. Our own resources have been over- extended in providing for the defense of wealthy allies.
It’s time we start treating them as our peers, transferring the responsibility for their own security.
Despite Trump’s usual campaign bluster, his foreign-policy views are largely well-argued and based on knowledge of, and stark admission of, numerous past instances of excessive and failed military meddling overseas.
This article was published at New York Post and reprinted with permission.