The United States has 1.4 million active military personnel stationed across the country and worldwide -- from Togo to Tibet to Germany -- and a lot of people aren’t here for it. That makes sense; we’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for 15 years, and lost more than 6,000 American lives in the process. Hundreds of thousands more have returned with injuries -- physical and mental, forever changed. By 2013, the Iraq War had cost the U.S. $2 trillion -- and three years later we’re still there, boots still on the ground.
Apparent Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump believes that’s because we don’t “win” anymore in foreign policy, and we haven’t “won” for more than 100 years. Trump acts like a strongman, and if Trump were president, he says, we’d win again, beating China and Iran and convincing Saudi Arabia to commit more ground troops to the war against the Islamic State because ...
Well, that’s just it. We don’t know, because Donald Trump doesn’t know. Donald Trump’s “foreign policy” plan is full of shit.
Would we send in ground troops to fight the Islamic State under President Trump? Yes. Actually, no, because Trump wouldn’t need them to bomb the oil fields. Actually, yes, as many as 30,000 of them. Just kidding, no, but we will destroy ISIS oil fields. Or take the oil.
Would we seek a one-state or a two-state solution in Israel? Trump’s “not saying anything,” but he’ll be “neutral” on the issue.
Donald Trump’s foreign policy is whatever he thinks you want it to be at a given moment. Want the country to be isolationist? Trump can do that! Well, unless you want the U.S. to dedicate ground troops to the fight against ISIS. He can do that too! We’ll even build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Actually, that’s just the first step in further negotiations. We might accept some Syrian refugees, we might not. We might bar Muslims from the United States, but not Trump’s friends and members of the armed services. We’ll be a reliable friend to our allies -- unless they don’t pay for it.
Most importantly, we’ll be “unpredictable.” But we’ll be unpredictable “through a disciplined, deliberate, and consistent foreign policy.” Which would be, by definition, predictable.
When Trump isn’t changing positions, he’s just plain wrong. Like when he said that under his presidency, we’ll beat China in trade and renegotiate “bad” trade deals that limit U.S. trade to other countries like Mexico and Canada, ignoring the fact that U.S. exports have set new records and increased by at least $760 billion since 2009. Or when he said that Obama has weakened our military -- by spending billions on it.
When you think about it, Donald Trump doesn’t have a foreign policy. He has a “Republican emotions” policy. He is trying to be everything Republican primary voters could possibly want in a presidential candidate, and he’ll do or say whatever it takes. He's a New York City liberal billionaire turned conservative stalwart, who avoided military service but just knows that our military could be stronger if only he were in charge. Donald Trump has no capacity for principled leadership, because that would require saying something, anything, that his dedicated base of voters might not immediately respond to with feverish applause. “We need to win again” is easy. “And here’s what could happen if we get involved in the South China Sea” is hard.
We spend billions more than other countries on our military -- and we could spend much less while remaining a global superpower. We have been at war for entire lifetimes and our military is stationed around the world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s an argument for change, for leadership, for new thinking on foreign policy. But that’s an argument for someone, anyone, other than Donald Trump, because Donald Trump has no cohesive argument for any of that at all.
Nothing says weakness like changing your position faster than the digestion process of a Trump Tower taco bowl. Nothing highlights a lack of actual fortitude as much as answering legitimate policy questions with “I know the answer, but I’m not going to tell you.” Donald Trump isn’t a strongman, he’s an eggshell. He’s not “macho,” he’s desperate. And he’s not going to keep you safe -- but he might put us all at risk, all because he’s just a boy who can’t say no.