Yesterday, Donald Trump delivered a lengthy speech on his foreign policy plans. The speech was in many ways a mixed bag, combining some sentient and clear points with a few misunderstandings as well as some curious omissions. Here are the key points ranked on Trump’s preferred scale of 1 out of 10.
Russia: Unlike Hillary Clinton who blames all of her personal woes as well as most global crises on Russia, Trump did not mention let alone criticise Russia’s internal nor foreign policies. He instead reiterated one of his long standing points that cooperation with Russia on ISIS can only be a good thing and that seeing Russia as a partner rather than adversary is advisable. 10/10
Iran: Trump’s views on Iran are hopelessly out of date. He referred to Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism which simply isn’t true. Saudi Arabia and their allies in the Gulf through their exporting of Wahhabism into countries where this medieval version of Islam is totally alien, and their continued attempts to destabilise secular Arab states, represent a far bigger example of exporting terrorism than anything Iran has done recently.
Ukraine, which Trump didn’t mention, is also a manifestly more prominent sponsor of terrorism than Iran. Whilst Trump has dropped the Obama/Clinton line that ‘Assad must go’, he fails to understand that the most concerted alliance fighting ISIS includes not only Russia but also Iran, the Syrian government and Hezbollah.
Trump did however grasp the fact that it has been through the weakening of the strong secular Arab states of Iraq and Syria (policies of both the Bush and Obama governments) that Iran has been allowed to take her place as a key regional player in the Middle East. 2/10
Arab Allies: Unlike Obama whose political interference in the Arab world has weakened secular Arab states, Trump pledged to support such states and referred to them as allies. Interestingly he contrasted such ‘allies’ with the enemy of Iran. Whilst this is understandable in the context of contemporary American politics, one could be forgiven for thinking this part of the speech was based around a political map of the Arab world from 1986 rather than 2016.
He named Egypt and Jordan as key US allies in the fight against ISIS, but when it comes to secular states fighting ISIS, Syria is of course on the front line. Until Trump has the ability to name Syria as a necessary ally in the fight against ISIS, this crucial portion of his policy will remain incomplete. He also failed to mention the importance of supporting a stable Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS and indeed if he is so anti-Iran, supporting a non-sectarian government in Baghdad would help his cause. Curiously he didn’t offer any proposals on how to solve the deepening crisis in Libya. 6/10.
Hillary Clinton: Trump’s criticism of Hillary Clinton was spot on. He spoke about her personal crusade to destroy Libya as being the disaster that it was and frankly still is. Specially, he mentioned that Obama’s cabinet was deeply divided on Libya and that former Defence Secretary Robert Gates said it was Hillary Clinton’s insistence on bombing Libya that was a decisive factor in a war which Obama has called a mistake but which Hillary Clinton still glories in.
He went on to say that the Clinton’s made $60 million in gross income when she was Secretary of State, that her email scandal showed she does not have the temperament or honesty to be in a leadership position, and that her policies in the Middle East turned what was in 2009 a small subsidiary of Al-Qaeda in an Iraq on the verge of recovering from civil war into ISIS.
He described her time as US Secretary of State as a catastrophe pointing to the fall of strong secular Arab regimes to be replaced by ISIS, which the US helped to create as a matter of policy and which, as we now know thanks to Wikileaks, the US had a direct hand in aiding. 10/10
NATO: Trump applauded NATO for setting up an anti-terror task force and claimed that his statements that NATO is obsolete because of its inability to address the ISIS threat may have helped push global thinking in this direction. To be fair, he did not take direct credit for this but instead implied an indirect credit in the form of being able to forecast a crucial event. He did not speak of the ‘freeloaders’ of NATO but nor did he say anything about the importance of NATO in Europe. NATO of course has no importance in Europe other than to threaten Russia, and Trump’s calls for the bloc to realign itself and work with Russia against ISIS can only be described as positive. 9/10
Obama: Trump carefully defined Obama as incompetent on foreign policy whilst portraying Hillary Clinton as openly devious, zealous and irresponsible. Whilst this is obvious political point scoring, there is more than an element of truth to this. Trump referred to Obama’s erstwhile Middle East charm offensive descending into Clinton’s harm offensive. Trump also chastised Obama’s lack of willingness to say the words “ISIS” and “Islamic terrorism”. 9/10
Oil: Trump insisted that if America had ‘kept the oil’ ISIS would have been financially crippled. This is something of a straw man argument. On the one hand it is true that ISIS has been using captured Iraqi oil to make their money and that Turkey and others have helped facilitate these transactions. It is also true that if US tanks and heavy arms had been guarding the oil refineries, ISIS with their small arms, would not have been able to capture them.
Yet at the same time, this is part of the arrogance of American policies which assume that Iraq doesn’t have the right to at least try and regain the sovereignty ,it lost, first following Bush’s and Blair’s invasion, then as a result of a prolonged civil war and now in the war against ISIS. Ultimately Iraq must be a sovereign nation, free of terrorism and ideally free from blood soaked sectarianism. 5/10
Ideology: The low point of the speech was when Trump implied that so-called ‘honour killings’ in countries like Pakistan are somehow a matter of international affairs. They are not. It is easy to condemn such practices as most level headed people of any and all religious backgrounds have done. But to imply that an internal social problem in countries like Pakistan are the business of the United States or any other state is simply incorrect. Apart from being an internal Pakistani issue, it should be something discussed by the UN and World Health Organisation but nothing beyond this.
He then went on to speak of the importance of shutting off ISIS’s access to the internet, something which is more or less impossible and is furthermore a slippery slope to other forms of censorship.
His only sentient point in this part of the speech was when he raised the issue of some sensible screening of refugees before they are allowed into a country so as to make sure that they are who they say they are. Whilst similar statements drew criticism earlier this year, the abject failure of Merkel’s ‘come as you are’ policy has made people the world over think that a new way of doing things is necessary. Whether it’s Trump’s way or some other way remains to be seen. 3/10
Summary: On the whole, Trump’s focus on ISIS, his silence on non-existent treats in Europe and his willingness to support a broad coalition against ISIS is admirable and correct. He may not quite get how broad this coalition ought to be, but he’s still miles ahead of his opponent in this sense. Whilst Trump’s speech was imperfect on foreign policy it is better than the alternatives any serious contender for the White House has offered in years.