No sooner than I had turned the last page of Bret Stephens’s brilliant analysis of America in Retreat – The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder on holiday last week than Trump’s foreign policy speech popped up on my Twitter feed.
Blow me down and talk about a welcome foreign policy U-turn. I checked out the full speech. Had he been reading the same book as me? Had he been similarly compelled by Stephens’s damning indictment of American defeatism, self-doubt and negativity, by this powerful case for why America must re-engage abroad and restore Pax Americana?
For here was Mr Trump effectively doing just that:
“In the 20th Century, the United States defeated Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.
Now, a different threat challenges our world: Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
This, he argued, was the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It seemed to be Stephens, word for word, analysis and solution.
America in Retreat (published 2014) is not just a detailed account Obama’s systematic retrenchment of America’s role as world policeman. It is also a prediction of the global disorder that has already followed as states, in the absence of American support, go it alone. Much of what he identified in the two years since has come true.
In his speech Trump similarly detailed the heavy price that has been paid Obama’s ‘Let Allah sort it out policy’ :
“Let’s look back at the Middle East at the very beginning of 2009, before the Obama-Clinton Administration took over.
Libya was stable.
Syria was under control.
Egypt was ruled by a secular President and an ally of the United States.
Iraq was experiencing a reduction in violence.
The group that would become what we now call ISIS was close to being extinguished.
Iran was being choked off by economic sanctions….
In short, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has unleashed ISIS, destabilized the Middle East, and put the nation of Iran – which chants ‘Death to America’ – in a dominant position of regional power and, in fact, aspiring to be a dominant world power.”
Like Stephens, Trump has also made clear his concern about America’s depleted military – how vital it is to rebuild it. A week or so before he said:
“We will completely rebuild our depleted military, and the countries that we protect, at a massive cost to us, will be asked to pay their fair share”.
Now he underlined the need for America to lead.
Like Stephens he rejected the excesses of the (Bush) ‘nation building’ freedom agenda as emphatically as he rejected Obama’s policy of studious non-judgementalism in a world that Stephens rightly argues still looks to America as a beacon of freedom.
He only parted company with Stephens in refraining from attacking the ‘Tea Party Leftists’ too. He might have done. Bitten by an ‘Obama-induced sense of national decline and deep pessimism about America’s ability to make the rest of the world better’ they too have constructed a global retreat doctrine – in the name of the small state.
His speech was serious stuff – the content and editorial bang on – even if the autocue didn’t come quite naturally. It’s time his critics started seeing beyond his hairdo and stopped sneering at his ‘look’. His bouffant belies him. This ‘comeback’ came at the end of a week of media lambasting. ‘His campaign was in meltdown’, the establishment elite crowed.
But as Christopher Caldwell suggests in this week’s Spectator, maybe ‘it wasn’t so much a bad week for Trump as a week of bad press’. If his campaign wound up ‘in confrontations with elite institutions’ – ones that have themselves lost authority – was that such a bad thing? Caldwell asks.
Did Trump wondering out loud why the wife of Khizr Khan, who attacked Trump’s call for a temporary ban on immigration, hadn’t herself been allowed to speak, really do him lasting damage? I doubt it.
And while the bien pensant may cringe at his ideological screening test for immigrants proposal, how many Americans will be disagreeing with him on his view: “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people”?
Was he not just reflecting the ‘original’ view of what it means to be an American, the ’rights doctrine’ and the Constitution that embodies it: that by accepting and recognising man’s natural rights, men find a fundamental basis of unity and sameness and, by the same token, class race and religion disappear in face of common interests?
Before modern ‘liberal’ education made openness, equality and diversity its supreme virtues, the immigrant to America had to put behind him the claims of the Old World or his old culture; he had to subordinate (though not abandon) his old religion and habits to the rights doctrine of the Constitution.
Trump surely is right on this. Unless his country shifts away from Obama style cultural and moral relativism, America will become ever more divided and ever more unsafe.
His speech offered a different and brave vision. Though rejecting Bush’s mistaken ‘freedom agenda’ doctrine, he challenged popular opinion. Americans, no more Republican than Democrat, according to Pew research are much up for America being world policeman anymore.
Trump seems to be on to be the cusp of telling them that security demands they can’t have their cake and eat it. Bret Stephens’s book tells them why.
Donald Trump is not dumb, his is one of the more effective campaigns any US candidate has run for anything claims Christopher Caldwell. What’s more Trump has shown a gift for vaulting ahead with every debate. He may again with this one.
(Image: Gage Skidmore)