GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump strode from a domestic political campaign to the international stage Wednesday where he declaredhe would restore what he sees as America’s diminished standing in the world. But he offered no details on how he would do it. He insisted his deal-making prowess would convince adversaries to back down, and allies to look up to a more muscular America. But beyond such platitudes, he offered nothing new on how he would pay for a more aggressive U.S. diplomacy and the stronger U.S. military it would require.
The brash New York tycoon has been counseled by some that he needs to take some of the edge off his rhetoric—to be viewed more favorably by the American electorate as a possible commander-in-chief—and his half-hour talk lacked his usual rhetorical fireworks. Speaking in relatively moderate tones, he basically pulled together in one place many of the challenges he has previously said are facing America’s interests around the globe.
The day after Trump swept GOP primaries across five states (and in all 106 counties that voted), he began trying to soothe concerns of a foreign-policy establishment he has unnerved. More than 120 GOP national-security heavyweights have signed a letter declaring that Trump is “wildly inconsistent,” swinging “from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.” They have blanched at some of Trump’s proposals (“NATO is obsolete,” he has said, putting a dagger straight into the heart of Washington, D.C.’s foreign-policy elite). He also has called for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border—having the Mexicans foot the bill—and a temporary ban on Muslims emigrating to the U.S. He has suggested he might order the torture of terrorists, and the killing of their relatives. He has quietly backed down from some of those illegal proposals, but the statements’ shocks lingers.
Trump listed his five key criticisms of current U.S. foreign policy: the U.S. is not spending enough money on it (including the military, which currently is spending more than the Cold War average); allies in Europe and elsewhere are not paying their fair share of the bill; Washington’s weakening ties with its allies, who don’t feel they can rely on the U.S. in a pinch; the lack of respect adversaries now show the U.S.; and a lack of a clear set of foreign-policy goals. Looking toward November, he mentioned Hillary Clinton, Obama’s first Secretary of State and now the leading Democratic candidate for President, by name seven times.
If Trump’s aim Wednesday was to flesh out just how he intends to fulfill his campaign’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” he fell short. Four of Trump’s seven short position papers posted on his website (dealing with the U.S.-Mexican wall, other immigration issues, veterans’ care and U.S.-China trade) are international in nature, although there are none dealing with the Pentagon or terrorism. He spoke at the capital’s Mayflower Hotel, after officials concluded the original site at the National Press Building lacked sufficient space for security, according to Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest, a right-leaning think tank that sponsored the event.