It’s What Was Left Unsaid in
Trump’s Speech that Matters Most
By Judith Miller
April 27, 2016
What was important about Donald
Trump's much anticipated foreign policy speech Wednesday is what he didn't say.
There was no mention by the self-declared Republican Party's presumptive
presidential nominee of his determination to build a wall between Mexico and the
United States and get the Mexican government to pay for it.
There was only a passing reference
to his frequent criticism of illegal immigrants, the theme that helped launch
his presidential campaign last summer.
There was no mention of letting
South Korea and Japan acquire nuclear weapons, or of walking away from the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, the organization which protected Europe from
Soviet aggression which he said earlier had outlived its usefulness.
Though he called the Obama
administration's nuclear deal with Iran a "disaster," he did not say
that he would tear it up on day one or insist that it be renegotiated. He simply
declared that Iran would not be permitted to get a nuclear weapon, which is
precisely what President Obama said prior to signing his controversial agreement
Mr. Trump did not say he would
defend Israel at all costs, though he called the Jewish state "our great
friend and the one true democracy" in the Middle East.
He condemned the Obama
administration's abandonment of Middle Eastern Christians, but said nothing
about how he would protect them from what he called the "genocide"
being perpetrated by ISIS and other jihadi groups.
While he vowed to destroy the
Islamic State "very, very quickly," he gave no clue as to how he would
defeat the group which now has billions of dollars in its coffers, tentacles in
nine states, and tens of thousands of Arab and foreign fighters battling to
build an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and spread the group's perverse
interpretation of Islam throughout the world. And he did not repeat his claim
that President Bush "lied" about Saddam's having WMD to invade Iraq.
The tone of the billionaire real
estate developer's remarks at Washington's Mayflower Hotel was also a departure
from his often stream-of consciousness diatribes masquerading as speeches.
Mr. Trump read the carefully
crafted, but still emotional 40-minute speech on a TelePrompter, inserting some
of his trademark verbal grace notes on an impromptu basis.
The speech, his first serious
attempt to ally foreign and American concerns about his knowledge of foreign
affairs – contained almost none of his earlier jaw-dropping prescriptions for
restoring America's economic and military greatness.
It is unclear whether the speech
will reverse the perception abroad of Mr. Trump as a foreign policy amateur, a
businessman too ignorant of world affairs and ill-disciplined to learn about
them – "Berlusconi with nukes," as one foreign pundit called him, a
reference to Italy's flamboyant, controversial ex-prime minister.
Mr. Trump mainly repeated his
populist themes and his determination to pivot from what he called the
"Obama-Clinton" foreign policy, which he said had alienated
traditional allies and friends and led the nation's foes to loose respect for
While many Republicans and even
some Democrats would agree with his stark critique of some the administration's
contradictory, sometimes too-little, too-late initiatives – a "complete
and total disaster," Mr. Trump called Mr. Obama's foreign policy – he
offered few concrete remedies for restoring the economic strength which he said
underpins America's ability to project power abroad. "I'm on the only one,
believe me, I know them all," he said of his rivals, "who knows how to
fix it." Or, in other words, trust me.
Again and again, he vowed to move
toward an "America first" model in domestic and foreign policy,
seemingly unaware that "America First" was the slogan of the
isolationists who fought to prevent Roosevelt from aiding Britain and other
allies threatened with Nazi and Japanese aggression prior to World War II.
His pledge to prevent American
companies from moving abroad – how legally he would do that he did not say –
and force America's allies to pay more for their own defense by tougher
negotiations with them suggested there remain similar gaps in his knowledge of
American law and foreign affairs. Studies have shown that it is cheaper to base
the 28,000 American troops in South Korea there than it would be to keep them at
home; and South Korea already pays half of those costs.
But critics of President Obama's
foreign policy are likely to dismiss Mr. Trump's gaffes and contextual omissions
as quibbles, and welcome his call for a more robust military, a tougher stance
against Islamic radicalism at home and abroad, and an America-centric foreign
policy. Republican "realists" will also welcome his call to deploy
force "when there is no alternative," a pledge which mirrors the
isolationist mood of part of his party and the country.
One of the toughest sections of
Mr. Trump's speech was his withering critique of Hillary Clinton's expertise and
performance as Mr. Obama's secretary of state.
Predictably, he criticized her
record of having supported the war in Iraq and other military interventions
abroad -- an implicit criticism of President George W. Bush as well. He also
accused of her of having "misled" the nation about the attack on
America's consulate in Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador and "three brave
Americans" were killed. Instead of "taking charge" that night, he
said, "Hillary Clinton decided to go home and sleep. Incredible," he
said. "She was not awake to take that call at 3 o'clock in the
That was not only vintage Trump,
but a precursor of what lies ahead if Mr. Trump, indeed, wins the nomination.