Donald Trump was a unique Republican nominee from an endless array of perspectives, but one of his most striking breaks with party orthodoxy was in his criticism of the Iraq War and his denouncement of foreign intervention. During the general election, he actually found himself to the left of Hillary Clinton on this issue – one reason many in the neoconservative camp felt compelled to support her for president.
Of course, U.S. overseas intervention is a time-honored strategy that has passed through both Republican and Democratic administrations. Most Americans think “Bush” these days when they think about overthrowing dictators and inserting proxy-democracies, but presidents in both parties going back to World War II have had their hands in the pie. And that includes Mr. Peace Prize himself, who turned Libya into a terrorist stronghold and is on the verge of doing the same thing in Syria.
You can’t necessarily say that Trump campaigned as an isolationist; he has been crystal clear about his intention to wipe out ISIS, for instance, and his issues with NATO seem rooted in monetary concerns, not an unwillingness to use the military. At the same time, though, his stance on interventionism has been consistent.
“We will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past,” the president-elect said last week in Cincinnati. “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments.”
In an op-ed this week, former Senator Ron Paul praised Trump for this approach while warning that he could fall under the influence of a very powerful, very strong-willed foreign policy establishment. Furthermore, Paul wrote, Trump’s appointees thus far seem to have a much different view on how and when the U.S. military should be used:
Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, has said the following about Iran: “I believe that Iran represents a clear and present danger to the region, and eventually to the world…” and, “…regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”
Will the incoming president have the ability to rein in his more bellicose cabinet members and their underlings? We can be sure about one thing: if Trump allows the neocons to capture the State Department, keeping his foreign policy promises is going to be a lot more difficult.
Paul’s fears are grounded in reason, but let’s not make any early assumptions. There are core, fundamental issues that Trump has been talking about since the late 1980s, and needless foreign interventionism has been one of them. We still have two “wars” in progress and Trump will have his hands full bringing them to a victorious conclusion. In the meantime, he is the decider. And if the last year and a half has proven anything, it’s that Donald Trump isn’t afraid to be out on a limb. We need that. It’s called leadership.