Stop Pretending Trump Doesn't Have a Coherent Foreign Policy

Waters East of Okinawa, July 30, 2014 - The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and ships from the U.S. Navy, the
Waters East of Okinawa, July 30, 2014 - The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and ships from the U.S. Navy, the Indian Navy, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force participate in a photo exercise during Malabar 2014.

When Donald Trump rolled out his "America First" foreign policy doctrine in April, it was widely mocked and dismissed (unless, of course, you're Ann Coulter). Nobody stopped to think about it critically because it was Trump giving the speech. But underneath all of the rashness and bluster, there is a coherent foreign policy that is overwhelmingly popular with a large swath of the electorate. And it's something we've seen before.

Trump's foreign policy is very distinctly Jacksonian and nationalistic. He's skeptical about foreign aid and general do-gooding. He's suspicious of government elites and the bipartisan foreign policy orthodoxy. He questions the value of permanent, defensive alliances. He opposes interventions that prop up the international order and has little regard for international laws and norms. He believes that when dealing with people that fight dirty, like ISIS, you fight fire with fire. And above all, Trump's foreign policy is predicated on a deep sense of national honor, respect, and prestige.

They'd hate to admit it, but academic realists have been pushing a number of these strains of thought for years. You don't have to look very hard to find famed realists like John Mearsheimer complaining about American allies freeriding off of American military might through defensive treaties like NATO, or about American overextension through foreign interventions and the maintenance of foreign bases.

But when Trump decides to articulate these policies, the Washington foreign policy establishment dismisses them off-handedly. It's easy to reject an idea (no matter how good or bad) when Donald Trump is its messenger. Still, it's hard to ignore that these themes have proven to be very popular with people who feel like the only thing that they've gotten out of globalization was their job being sent somewhere far away to be done by someone whose culture they don't understand and whose language they don't speak.

Trump is questioning assumptions about American foreign policy that have effectively gone unchallenged in Washington for several decades. What is the value of foreign bases? Why should the U.S. maintain these defensive agreements with NATO, South Korea, and Japan? Does America need such a broad definition of its national interest that we're compelled to be everywhere at once?

To Trump, the only thing U.S. primacy has bought the average American is their job shipped overseas and a more pronounced fear of terrorism. That's not a claim someone that is intellectually honest can just dismiss without much thought. The foreign policy orthodoxy has an obligation to prove to the American people why their tax dollars are worth spending on maintaining American stewardship of the world order, and it's hard to think of someone that embodies that orthodoxy more than Hillary Clinton.

This is far from a defense of Donald Trump, or the merits of his ideas. This is an attack on complacency. Complacency breeds arrogance and laziness. And arrogance and laziness are how you get "TRUMP" emblazoned in gold on the front gates of the White House.