What did he say? Basically that US foreign policy was a success up to the end of the Cold War, but has been misguided since then. He identified five weaknesses of current foreign policy:
- Our resources are overextended.
(Who would disagree after 15 years of continuous war?)
- Our allies are not paying their fair share.
(All presidential candidates agree on this)
- Our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us.
(e.g. Israel, Poland, Czechia, Egypt)
- Our rivals no longer respect us.
(and it is starting to be ridiculous)
- America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals.
(For example: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/national-security/)
Trump's plan is to be more aggressive against "radical Islam" and China, rebuild the military, oppose trade agreements, and ease tensions with Russia.
Hilary Clinton agrees with much of this. In a recent debate, she said:
it is important to ask for our NATO allies to pay more of the cost. There is a requirement that they should be doing so, and I believe that needs to be enforced.Clinton is also hawkish on terrorist groups, and the contributions she receives from defense contractors suggest that she agrees about rebuilding the military. She opposes trade agreements, is very critical of China, and began her time as Secretary of State with an attempt to ease tensions with Russia.
So why all of the criticism of the speech? I've tried to remove the fluff and hyperbole from the New York Times editorial and extract the main points. I think they are as follows:
- Trump would negotiate too forcefully.
"other nations have agendas, too."
- His "America First" view contradicts his willingness to use force when needed.
"He did not bother to square that [America First] with his vow [to use force when needed]"
- Opposing nation building contradicts his aim to build regional stability.
"He condemned 'nation building,' but said he aims to build 'regional stability,' without explaining the difference."
- He is vague about how he would rebuild the military.
"He did not say how he would further build up the military."
- He lied about ISIS collecting revenue from Libyan oil.
"There is zero evidence of that."
#1 is the main point of the editorial. Trump says that a negotiator must be "willing to walk," but the Times thinks this advice only applies to real estate deals. Hillary seems to share this view, essentially saying that the US would never pull back from NATO, regardless of how the US is treated.
I don't think real estate is the only field where effective negotiation requires strength. France understood this when it withdrew from NATO in the 1960s and extracted concessions when it returned in the 1990s. Jimmy Carter understood this when he boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. The Cold War was won with a 40 year threat to destroy the world. It seems completely bizarre to me to argue that negotiations with rival world powers should not be backed by anything other than fines and moral exhortation.
#2 is not a coherent criticism. Trump believes in using force when it would directly benefit the U.S., and does not otherwise.
#3 should not be so difficult for the Times to understand. Pouring billions of dollars into broken countries is not the only possible strategy for building regional stability.
#4 is true - every presidential candidate in U.S. history is guilty of vagueness in their promises.
On #5, perhaps I am missing something, but there clearly seems to be evidence that ISIS is collecting revenue from oil in Libya.
The media and the political establishment have become accustomed to ridiculing Donald Trump. When he ridicules back, pearl clutching ensues. But the failures of post Cold War foreign policy are obvious to voters, and are legitimate topics of debate.