As a primary candidate, Donald Trump championed a quasi-isolationist foreign policy. At one Republican primary debate, Trump argued that America had “done a tremendous disservice to humanity” in the Middle East.
“The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away – and for what?” the mogul asked. “The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess. I wish we had the 4 trillion dollars or 5 trillion dollars. I wish it were spent right here in the United States on schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart!”
Trump still insisted that America must defend itself against attack (or, potentially, disrespect) with overwhelming force, up to and including deliberate war crimes. But his overriding foreign policy message was, nevertheless, that America should trim its imperial sails, and reallocate resources to the home front.
President Trump’s foreign policy has been decidedly different. Since taking office he has escalated American involvement in virtually every foreign conflict while calling for cuts to domestic spending and massive increases in the Pentagon’s budget. He regularly touts the necessity of a global military presence and preemptive wars with bromides like, “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.” If the budget currently before Congress is passed, we will spend $716 billion on our military next year.
And yet, when it comes to non-military overseas spending, Trump has retained the isolationist outlook of his early campaign – calling for sweeping cuts to both the State Department and foreign aid. Which is to say: He has embraced a foreign policy that increases America’s involvement in policing the planet – while reducing the diplomatic and “soft power” tools it has for doing so. The result is a geopolitical strategy that is no more nationalist or isolationist than the one Trump inherited, but simply more violent and stupid.
Observe how the Trump doctrine is playing out in post-ISIS Iraq:
The United States does not plan to contribute any money at a conference in Kuwait next week to fund Iraq’s reconstruction drive after the war against Islamic State forces, U.S. and Western officials said, a move critics say could deal a new blow to American standing internationally…Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said his country needs up to $100 billion to fix crumbling infrastructure and cities devastated by the conflict against Islamic State.
A shortage of reconstruction funds could increase the danger of reinvigorating grievances among the minority Iraqi Sunnis against Iraq’s Shi’te-led government.
… In response to a query to the State Department about the lack of a U.S. contribution, a U.S. official pointed to the billions of dollars the U.S. has committed to financing loans and restoring basic services to Iraqi towns and cities in the immediate aftermath of fighting.
“The immediate stabilization needs remain vast, and limited U.S. government resources alone cannot meet these current and pressing needs, let alone consider supporting long-term reconstruction,” the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The administration argues that private-sector investment, combined with aid from Saudi Arabia, should be able to meet Iraq’s long-term reconstruction needs. But Jeremy Konyndyk, former head of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, told Reuters that private capital would want “to see the risks of their investments in Iraq mitigated by U.S. government contributions.”
If Trump’s position were that America simply has no interest in expending resources on the internal affairs of Iraq, then this policy might be strategically coherent (if perhaps, morally objectionable). But that isn’t his position. This White House believes that countering both ISIS and Iranian influence are both vital national security interests for the United States. Thus, the administration had no problem spending billions upon billions of dollars fighting ISIS in Iraq – and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again, were the militant group to regain territory.
In short, President Trump is happy to spend billions on a pound of cure, but not millions on an ounce of prevention. If killing bad guys is the objective, then money is no object; if stabilizing wartorn regions through humanitarian aid is the proposition, then “limited U.S. government resources alone cannot meet these current and pressing needs.”