For some reason, Donald Trump’s critics are desperate to see him “act presidential,” which seems to mean that he should read from a teleprompter more often. And while Trump has reportedly shaken off Paul Manafort’s attempts to make him more presentable, he delivered a sweeping foreign policy speech on Wednesday that should satisfy those voters concerned about his knowledge of world affairs. In his first significant pre-written speech since AIPAC, Trump offered some specifics on his “American First” doctrine.
“On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy, the jobs, incomes and security of the American worker will always be my first priority,” he said. “Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours, and we – while being fair to them – must start doing the same.”
In a 40-minute address, Trump vowed to eliminate ISIS, force China to bring North Korea under control, and reevaluate America’s international agreements in both trade and global security.
“Our allies are not paying their fair share,” he said. “They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us.”
In what is bound to be the most-quoted portion of the speech, Trump said, “We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down. And under my administration, we will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs.”
The speech was more than just an attempt to “look presidential.” In taking firm positions that run sideways to established Republican orthodoxy, Trump is proving that he is not about to shut up and smoothly assimilate into the GOP establishment. If there was anyone out there who still thought Trump was only concerned with realizing his own personal ambitions, this speech should put an end to the chatter. He has chosen the road less traveled. That’s leadership.
Of course, one can respect Trump for his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom without agreeing with his foreign policy prescriptions. For all the talk of America playing world police, it is through those international security agreements that we have been able to become the most powerful country on the planet. Defending our allies takes a lot of money, but it also keeps them subservient. President Obama has endangered world stability by making deals with rogue Islamists, but a policy of isolationism could easily be worse.
That’s the downside. The upside is that Trump isn’t saying we’re going to withdraw from the world stage. He’s saying that it’s time to look at some of these outdated agreements and institutions with fresh eyes. He’s a negotiator. That’s what he does best. And if he can go in and rewrite international policy so that it benefits the U.S., no one will complain. And any president who comes into office with a mindset of “America first” will be leagues better than what we’ve been dealing with for the last eight years.