An Open Letter on Donald Trump’s Vision of US Foreign Policy

The following statement was drafted by Ali Wyne, a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project. All of the signatories have signed in their personal capacities. Those who wish to add their names to this statement should contact Ali at awyne@alum.mit.edu.

For at least two reasons, 2016 offers an unusually compelling—and critical—opportunity for the United States to reassess both the hierarchy of its national interests and the conduct of its foreign policy:

  • First, each of the world’s three principal strategic theaters is in flux: the Middle East is undergoing a period of extreme instability, with contagion effects that extend well beyond the region; a confluence of stresses is testing the strength of the European project; and a resurgent China is using geoeconomic statecraft and maritime maneuvers to reshape the Asia-Pacific’s postwar order.
  • Second, the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has revived a long-dormant conception of U.S. foreign policy—one that, Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Wright observes, “would have found favor in pre-World War II—and even, in some cases, 19th century—America.”

The United States should be more appreciative of the limits to military force in achieving political outcomes; it should accord even greater priority to internal economic restoration, which is the foundation for a sustainable role in world affairs; it should adopt a more focused conception of its vital national interests and eschew a crisis-driven foreign policy, whereby incessant agitation replaces judicious prescription; and it should continue urging its allies in Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific to play a greater role in maintaining their respective regions’ strategic equilibria.

We, the undersigned, do not believe, however, that Mr. Trump offers a considered recalibration of America’s engagement abroad.  Having reviewed his proposals in their totality, we conclude not only that he advocates a de facto U.S. withdrawal from the liberal world order of which it has been the principal beneficiary in the postwar era, but also that he exhibits a predisposition to strategic recklessness.  On balance, Mr. Trump’s foreign policy would weaken America’s alliances and erode its power:

  • He contends that the United States “get[s] nothing out of the United Nations other than good real estate prices,” even though America’s status as a veto-wielding member of the body’s Security Council has given it a major diplomatic voice for over seven decades. Despite Russia’s incursions into and ongoing destabilization of eastern Ukraine, moreover, he argues that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is “obsolete.”
  • He insists that the United States must “be prepared to walk” from longstanding alliances—whether with Japan and South Korea, which have strongly supported America’s postwar Pacific presence and play a vital role in shaping China’s behavior, or with Germany, which is the linchpin of the European economy.
  • He discusses the possibility of a military confrontation between Japan and a nuclear-armed North Korea with disconcerting equanimity. At a rally in Rothschild, Wisconsin this April, he stated that such an event “would be a terrible thing, but if they do [clash], they do.”  He added: “Good luck.  Enjoy yourself, folks.”
  • He has proposed the imposition of a tariff of up to 45 percent on goods from China, which accounts for approximately one fifth of U.S. imports. He does not seem concerned with the consequences that such a measure might have for U.S. relations with the world’s second-largest economy and largest trading country: “Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?”
  • On the day of the 2012 presidential election, he tweeted that “[t]he concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” That he has echoed this judgment several times during the current election cycle does not inspire confidence in his ability or willingness to address the world’s pressing challenges.
  • In a speech at Iowa Central Community College this past November, he claimed to “know more about ISIS than the generals do.” His strategy for defeating the organization: “I would just bomb those suckers.  And that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes; I’d blow up the refineries; I’d blow up every single inch.  There would be nothing left.”  He would then arrange for companies such as Exxon Mobil to enter Iraq, rebuild the plants, and ship whatever oil they generate back to the United States.  He has also expressed support for taking similar steps in other Middle Eastern countries.  In April 2011, for example, when asked how he would have responded to Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on Libyan civilians, he replied: “I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff.  We’re a bunch of babies.”
  • He is insouciant about the use of military force: at the aforementioned speech at Iowa Central Community College, he stated that “I’m good at war. I’ve had a lot of wars of my own.  I’m really good at war.  I love war in a certain way.”
  • He has called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” At a rally in Columbus, Ohio this past November, meanwhile, he declared: “Would I approve waterboarding?  You bet…I would—in a heartbeat.  And I would approve more than that….It works.  Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”  Finally, this past November, when elaborating on his strategy for confronting ISIS terrorists, he stated that “you have to take out their families.”
  • He has pledged to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the United States, erect a 1,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and force Mexico to pay for the barrier. As Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Bret Stephens notes, however, “Mexico is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. products,” and “illegal immigrants pay billions in state and local taxes, along with about $15 billion a year to Social Security.”

In light of such judgments, of which we could have adduced many more, it should not be surprising that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy vision has inspired alarm across the political spectrum in the United States as well as in allied capitals throughout the world.  Many critics of his candidacy appear to have believed that they could blunt his momentum by lampooning his disposition and mocking his proposals.  With less than four months before the United States elects its next president, however, it is evident that neither of those tactics has succeeded; it behooves Americans—policymakers, analysts, and citizens alike—to take Mr. Trump seriously and interrogate his vision of foreign policy.

Susan A. Aaronson
Gordon Adams
Tripp Adams
David Anderson
Terry Babcock-Lumish
Jieun Baek
David A. Baldwin
Hussein Banai
Elmira Bayrasli
Omar S. Bashir
Michael Beckley
Nora Bensahel
Gregory M. Bernstein
Benedetta Berti
Richard K. Betts
Jonathan Beutler
Philipp C. Bleek
Andrea Blinkhorn
Erik Brattberg
Robert L. Brown
John A. Burgess
Richard C. Bush
Sarah Bush
David Callaway
Albert M. Camarillo
Pam Campos
Asha Castleberry
Andrew Cedar
Welton Chang
Michael S. Chase
Shamila Chaudhary
Scott Cheney-Peters
Cathryn Clüver
Roberta Cohen
Steven Colley
Michael Connolly
Russell Crandall
Patrick M. Cronin
Richard J. Danzig
Jacques deLisle
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
John Delury
I. M. Destler
Daniel H. Deudney
Rush Doshi
Michael W. Doyle
Darcie Draudt
Daniel W. Drezner
Laurie K. Dundon
Martin S. Edwards
Lars Elinderson
Jeffrey A. Engel
Jennifer L. Erickson
Matthew Fay
Tanisha M. Fazal
James D. Fearon
Rosemary Foot
Harry Franqui-Rivera
Ellen L. Frost
Dan J. Futrell
Saul Garlick
Laurie Garrett
Rebecca D. Gibbons
Rachel M. Gisselquist
David Gold
Kristofer Shawn Goldsmith
Peter Gourevitch
Ryan D. Grauer
William W. Grimes
Mustafa Özen Güner
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
Stephan Haggard
Sherry Hakimi
Kristen R. Hajduk
Amir Handjani
Lauren Harrison
Roger G. Harrison
Lukas Haynes
William I. Hitchcock
Sarah Holewinski
Russell Hsiao
Roselyn Hsueh
G. John Ikenberry
Richard H. Immerman
Lasha Kasradze
Robert Jervis
Anthony Johnson
Michael Kazin
Marla B. Keenan
Joshua D. Kertzer
J. Christian Kessler
Jonathan D. Kirshner
Rachel Kleinfeld
Alan M. Kraut
Raymond Kuo
Courtney La Bau
Klaus W. Larres
Frank Lavin
Mark A. Lawrence
Anka Lee
Melvyn P. Leffler
Robert Legvold
Jeffrey Lewis
Peter Liebert
Lach R. Litwer
Fredrik Logevall
Yonatan Lupu
Sumantra Maitra
Hansen Mak
Robert A. Manning
Vic Marsh
Crystal Martin-Nelson
Michael Masserman
Mr. Brendan McCord
Alexander B. McCoy
Michael A. McDevitt
J. Sherwood McGinnis
Erin C. McGrath
Brendan McKinnon
Robert J. McMahon
Jesse C. Medlong
Rajan Menon
Andrew C. Mertha
James N. Miller
Helen V. Milner
Michelle Moghtader
Brian H. Moore
Theodore H. Moran
James A. Morrison
James D. Morrow
Adam Mount
Aroop Mukharji
Gautam Mukunda
Paul Musgrave
Nadia Naviwala
Carl H. Nelson
Daniel H. Nexon
William G. Nomikos
Johna Ohtagaki
Sidney Olinyk
Derek J. Oliver
John M. Owen, IV
Won Palisoul
Megan J. Palmer
Ankit Panda
Adam L. Parga
T. J. Pempel
Tom Pepinsky
Aki Peritz
Daniel W. Piccuta
Peter Pizano
Mira Rapp-Hooper
Ari Ratner
Iskander Rehman
Robert B. Reich
Vicki Lynn Ruiz
Stephen M. Saideman
Richard J. Samuels
Gregory Sanders
David Santoro
Brent E. Sasley
Ali G. Scotten
Maggie Seymour
Shiza Shahid
Martin J. Sherwin
Erin M. Simpson
Randolph M. Siverson
Branislav L. Slantchev
Walter B. Slocombe
Cassie Smith-Christmas
Paul Staniland
Jessica Stern
Devin T. Stewart
Mark Stoler
Sebastian Strauss
Alexander H. Sullivan
Jeremi Suri
Ariane M. Tabatabai
Justin Talbot-Zorn
Stephen Tankel
Mark Zachary Taylor
Shannon Tiezzi
John Tirman
Peter Trubowitz
Matthew Tyler
Katelyn van Dam
Nicolas van de Walle
Shawn VanDiver
Steven K. Vogel
Joshua W. Walker
James Walsh
Barbara Walter
Michael Walzer
Jessica Chen Weiss
David A. Welch
Ralph V. Wilhelm
Celia C. Winkler
Edward Wittenstein
William C. Wohlforth
Michele M. Wucker
Ali Wyne
Michael Yahuda
Andrew I. Yeo
Joseph K. Young
Wendi X. Zhang

Published on: July 19, 2016
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