It looks like Donald Trump's presidential campaign is going to be with us for a little while longer, and probably through the first Republican debate. At some point, then, it becomes impossible to avoid talking about Trump's policies — yes, even his foreign policy.
Trump doesn't really like talking about policy, and he doesn't have what you might call a clear policy agenda. But there is one quote that really gets to the core of his foreign policy worldview and what a Trump administration foreign policy would look like. Here it is, from a 2011 TV appearance (emphasis mine):
I very simply said that Iran is going to takeover Iraq, and if that’s going to happen, we should just stay there and take the oil. They want the oil, and why should we? We de-neutered Iraq, Iran is going to walk in, take it over, take over the second largest oil fields in the world. That’s going to happen. That would mean that all of those soldiers that have died and been wounded and everything else would have died in vain– and I don’t want that to happen. I want their parents and their families to be proud.
Yes, Trump believes that America should "take Iraq's oil."
What does this mean? Iraq has proven reserves of 143 billion barrels. Does Trump understand that that's a lot? Does he have a plan for pumping and moving it? Does he envision loading all 20 billion tons of crude onto the Queen Mary II and sailing it through Suez on a deluxe luxury cruise to America? Trump talks a lot about capitalism — does he understand that oil is traded on a global market, and that "taking it" is not really how it works?
This was no one-off quote. Trump has been repeating this idea for years:
"I would not leave Iraq and let Iran take over the oil." —2011, to the Wall Street Journal
"I say we should take it [Iraq's oil] and pay ourselves back." —2013, to CPAC, arguing the US should re-invade Iraq
"I’ve said it a thousand times … we shouldn’t have been there, but if we’re there, take the oil. Take the oil. At least pay back, at a minimum, pay back — take the oil. Well guess what? China is taking the oil, but they didn’t have to fight." —2013, on Fox News
I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2013
Yes, taking Iraq's oil is an idea that Trump is really, really into. So much so that in the first quote I listed, he argues that plundering a bunch of oil would vindicate the lives of families of fallen American soldiers, and that not stealing oil would mean they had "died in vain."
Trump thought this idea was so great, in fact, that he's been applying it elsewhere. You'll notice it's his answer to China's rise. It is also his Libya policy: In 2011, as Libya exploded into civil war, Trump said the US should invade to "take the oil."
This is a way of thinking about the world that, as MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin put it, "puts him somewhere to the right of King George."
It's also just about his only foreign policy idea that he seems to have given much thought; his positions otherwise tend toward standard Republican conservatism. The other major exception is Trump's more recent announcement that he opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion, although it's difficult to place that in a larger context of foreign policy thinking.
So, to review, Donald Trump is a Republican and free market conservative businessman who opposes the free market exchange of fossil fuels, who believes the US should become a mercantilist colonial power that steals natural resources from other countries, and who opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion but believes the US should have re-invaded in 2013.
It turns out that Donald Trump's central foreign policy plank is the same as his central domestic policy plank: that Donald Trump is very successful, and the rest of the world should be assimilated into his successes.