By Sir Ronald Sanders
WASHINGTON, United States, Friday April 29, 2016 – Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech on April 27 did not once mention the Caribbean. The Caribbean should be grateful, or there might have been a price tag for his attention. He did say, after all, that: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defence – and, if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.” Whew!
And he was talking about US friends in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) such as Britain, France and Germany. In the same breath in which he said these countries would have to pay the US for defending them, he also said: “America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again.” It seems, therefore, that in a Trump America, there is a dollar tag for the US to be a “reliable friend and ally”.
It’s a shame that he did not say anything, in his much vaunted foreign policy speech, about Latin America, except for a reference to the Presidential plane, Airforce One, being “disrespected” in Cuba. The regret about his not talking about Latin America is that we still don’t know how his now notorious “wall” between the US and Mexico will be built and how he expects Mexico to pay for it.
The truth is that Trump’s speech was a jumbled text obviously written in part by persons trying desperately to set out a real foreign policy and Trumpisms. Trumpisms won the day, causing any sensible thoughts to perish. Witness, for instance, the perfectly sensible statement that: “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.” And, contrast it with the Trumpism: “Some groups will never be anything but our enemies.” Those groups, alas, appear destined to always be enemies and this spits in the face of the speechwriter’s attempts to make “friends” of “old enemies”.
What was significant about this speech is that Trump read it from a teleprompter – something that he frequently mocked Hillary Clinton for doing. Anyone who has endured the constant television coverage of Trump’s town hall meetings and his participation in the so-called Republican debates for the party’s Presidential nominee, knows that his thoughts are unconnected and his vocabulary is limited. He could not speak the more erudite passages in the text written by a scriptwriter. Apart from the obvious Trumpisms, which he really means, the rest of the text was merely obligatory – something he had to say to show that he has some kind of foreign policy.
Here’s an example of the speechwriter as against Trumpism: The speechwriter’s words in arguing for a more transparent and principled approach to foreign policy were: “The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy”; and here is the Trumpism: “We have to be unpredictable and we have to be unpredictable starting now”. The two ideas contradict each other.
Contradiction and inconsistency were the hallmarks of Trump’s foreign policy speech which could have left no one with any sense that, should he make it to the White House, the world would be a safe place. That sense of alarm was summed up in this sentence: “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.” In other words, multilateral approaches through organizations, such as the United Nations and the Security Council, are “false”; unilateralism and an all-powerful US that bends the world to its will is the chosen Trump path, reflected in the telling declaration: “We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned”.
And he showed his contempt for the notion of global warming when he attacked Barack Obama’s military policy and threw in the scornful observation: “Our military is depleted, and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming”. That, incidentally, was the only reference to climate change which threatens the existence of small island states such as those in the Caribbean.
The speech was much more an assault on the policies of the present Obama administration than it was a description of a credible foreign policy for the most powerful and pervasive nation on the planet. At the end of the speech, we knew less about where a Trump Presidency would take America and the world than we knew from his many outrageous statements before it. Those statements included: building a wall to keep out Mexican rapists; banning Muslims from entering the United States; winning victories to make America great again; forcing China, India, Japan and Vietnam not to compete in trade with the US; carpet bombing and water boarding enemies such as ISIS.
His speech did have a ring of authoritarianism about it for everyone, including the business community of America. The impression of autocracy was encapsulated in the following statement: “NAFTA [the North America Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico], as an example, has been a total disaster for the US and has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs. Never again. Only the reverse will happen. We will keep our jobs and bring in new ones. There will be consequences for companies that leave the US only to exploit it later”.
It seems businesses will have to conform to the dictates of a Trump government, their freedom will be constrained and failure to comply will have untold consequences. America will be a different place if this comes to pass. So will be the world.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and OAS, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University and Massey College, Toronto University.