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OPINION: Donald Trump Still Offers Little Clarity in Foreign Policy Positions

Created: 28 March, 2016
Updated: 16 October, 2022
2 min read

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump may be reviving a term synonymous with foreign policy restraint. In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times that was released over the weekend, the GOP leader told interviewer David Sanger that he was not an "isolationist," but was for "America First."

A term employed in the late 1930s and early 1940s, "America First" signified a reluctance to intervene in foreign wars. However, much in Trump's interview, combined with the release of his foreign policy team, has muddied his foreign policy views.

In addition to saying he was for "America First," Trump asserted America "cannot be the policeman of the world," questioned the usefulness of NATO in the 21st Century, provided ambiguous support for humanitarian intervention, and offered ideas about using "economic power to have [North Korea] disarmed."

Trump repeatedly said "take the oil" that fuels the Islamic State, but would not commit to whether that would include ground troops. However, while later reiterating his opposition to the Iraq War, Trump said the U.S. should have taken the oil, which the interviewers reminded him would have required using ground troops.

Overall, Trump's interview reflected a nationalistic tone -- one which lacked a coherent worldview and may produce more friction with foreign powers, not less.

In repeating one of his usual talking points, Trump said, "[The Chinese] are totally disregarding our country." By saying, "they will go in the South China Sea and build a military fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen," Trump indicated that it remains the role of the U.S. to patrol East Asia.

In addition to his opaque statements, Trump's foreign policy team leaves more questions about the candidate's core. As reported last week on IVN, among the foreign policy advisers announced as part of Trump's team, perhaps the most well-known is Walid Phares. An adviser to Mitt Romney during his 2012 campaign, Phares has long attracted attention for conspiracy theories, particularly about Islamic influence on American foreign policy.

In a Fox News interview last November, Phares suggested that the reason that the Obama administration was not waging all-out war on ISIS was because the president aligned himself with Iran. The implication was that the Islamic Republic did not want ISIS taken out and that there was an alliance between Sunni ISIS and Shiite Iran, a claim occasionally propounded, but unfounded.

As of this writing, Trump continues to lead the delegate count as North Dakota and Wisconsin prepare to vote soon. As his nomination nears inevitability, the Donald Trump foreign policy interview, while offering some platitudes of restraint, may have created more questions than answers.

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