Donald Trump’s coziness with Vladimir Putin, casual talk of taking Iraq’s oil and abandoning NATO, and muddled messaging on whether he'd deploy American troops to battle ISIS makes it easy to assume that the GOP nominee's foreign policy is a jumbled mishmash of ideas lacking any coherent philosophy.
That couldn't be more wrong. In fact, a close look at Trump’s public comments leads to a very different conclusion: Trump has a distinct worldview that knits together many of his specific proposals. We can sum it up in a word: transactional.
To the mogul, all of foreign policy is motivated by assessments of what's better, financially, for the US. Washington should have few if any fixed alliances, allegiances, or even adversaries. Instead, Trump believes that everything comes down to the art of the transaction, with countries that spend their money the way he wants them to getting more than countries that don't.
That sound appealing on the surface; what American wouldn't want to believe that his or her government is doing all it can to benefit them in a material way while leaving other nations to defend themselves rather than relying on the US.
That's particularly true given that the risks of bad foreign policy choices (the costly and seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance) are easier to spot than the gains (stability on the Korean Peninsula, for instance).
The problem is that foreign policy can't be reduced to a question of dollars and cents, and attempts to do so — even in the form of Trump's bombastic campaign rhetoric — can do lasting damage.
Telling Moscow that the US would only defend NATO allies from a Russian invasion if the countries had spent more on their militaries risks pushing away Eastern European allies while emboldening Vladimir Putin. Openly talking of taking Iraq’s oil complicates Washington's relationship with Baghdad and feeds into widespread conspiracy theories in the Arab world about why the US continues to intervene in the Middle East. And casually telling Japan and South Korea that they should develop their own nuclear weapons could trigger a dangerous new arms race in one of the world's most tumultuous regions.
With polls tightening in the waning days of the election, it’s more important than ever to take Trump seriously and examine his actual ideas in details. In this video, we try to do exactly that.