Expert Doubts Trump's Pledge Of A More Consistent Foreign Policy

Originally published on April 29, 2016 3:36 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an evaluation of Donald Trump's foreign policy proposals. We heard this hour from a Trump adviser. And now we're joined by Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security. He previously served as a foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Fontaine, welcome to the program.

RICHARD FONTAINE: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: What did you think of Donald Trump's speech yesterday?

FONTAINE: Well, there were a lot of broad kinds of bumper sticker types of messages there. There was very, very few specifics. And some of the bumper stickers pointed in different directions.

INSKEEP: Like, what do you mean?

FONTAINE: So, for example, he says that he'll be the best friend that the allies have ever seen, a great ally in Washington. But at the same time, if the allies don't increase their financial payments in exchange for American defense protection, then America walks.

INSKEEP: This is one of those examples, though, that makes me wonder what Trump is really doing though because you peel away the strong rhetoric. He's using unusually strong rhetoric. But is the actual underlying policy idea actually pretty standard? President Obama would like NATO to pay more for the alliance, but would also like to maintain the alliance. Is Trump basically saying the same thing but more boldly?

FONTAINE: No, I think he's going well beyond that. American presidents have been haranguing our allies to pay more for decades now, particularly in NATO. But at the same time, presidents have also seen nonfinancial benefits for the United States in our alliances, you know, bases, the political relationships we have, the ability to do things together militarily and otherwise. And Mr. Trump seems to see only the financial side of this in a very transactional kind of relationship.

INSKEEP: Now, Walid Phares, the Trump adviser we heard from in this hour, said he saw no contradiction in another place, where Trump says that I want to avoid nationbuilding, but I want to bring stability. Is there a way to do both of those things?

FONTAINE: I think you can bring stability without nationbuilding all over the world. But here I think you see a strong break with the pattern of orthodoxy in both of the Republican and the Democratic parties over the previous years. It's been something of an article of faith that the United States has an interest in trying to stabilize countries that are weak, fragile, potentially sanctuaries for international terrorism. Sometimes that involved a degree of nationbuilding, and Mr. Trump seems to reject that entirely.

INSKEEP: Is there something in another argument being made for Donald Trump here that he is representing a large swath of America that just doesn't get what the foreign policy establishment is going for here? It hasn't been explained to them, it really doesn't seem in their interest, and they are sincerely concerned about it?

FONTAINE: I think there is something to that. As with his economic policy prescriptions, he seems to be trying to tap into disaffection with government and with the foreign policy achievements over the past few years. That doesn't, of course, mean that what he is putting on the table is going to be any more successful.

INSKEEP: Are his ideas in your view wrong, dangerous? What's the word you would use?

FONTAINE: I would say most of them are fairly incoherent. He wants to defeat ISIS, and says he has a secret plan to do it, but doesn't want to spell it out. He wants to be a good ally, but then has these - this way of trying to jam up the allies at the same time. And his views on America's leadership in the world is a very narrow conception of the American national interest.

INSKEEP: Richard Fontaine, thanks very much.

FONTAINE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He is president for the Center of a New American Security and a former adviser to Sen. John McCain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.