The intelligentsia go nuts but the people approve.
President Donald Trump articulated both in his campaign and his inaugural speech a foreign policy of America First. In his first week in office his moves in the foreign policy arena are the beginnings of implementing that policy. The chattering class is aghast but according to Rasmussen polling, the voting public approve of that policy 52-37, with 11% undecided.
"My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration." -- Pres. Donald Trumps’ Inauguration speech.
If you’re in the 11%, here’s what you need to know. If you’re in the 37%, you might want to rethink your opposition.
“America First” really means what it says: that our foreign policy should reflect the interests of our country first. This much is common sense. The world is made up of almost 200 competing states, each looking out for their own self-interest. Our federal government, created by what were then 13 sovereign states, was charged with managing the common defense and relations with other nations.
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing. This way of looking at the world goes all the way back to the Thucydides and was the way statesmen managed foreign affairs up through the late 19th century. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, uniter of Germany, coined the term realpolitik (“realistic” or practical politics) to describe this policy.
In the United States, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advocated realpolitik. It had positive results in the opening to China and the ending of our involvement in Vietnam.
Why the negativity?
The facile answer is that the American left is always negative, but it goes deeper than that. Beginning with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist movement has been an internationalist movement based on the conflict between the working class and the ruling class. According to the theory, each class extended across national borders, hence the international Communist movement to overthrow the ruling classes.
In the United States, the Progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson adopted this internationalist viewpoint with his push for the League of Nations.
Thus, in the 20th century there have been two schools of foreign policy in the United States: the Realist and the Idealist.
While there were differences between Progressives and Socialists back in Wilson’s day, in today’s Democrat Party, there’s no longer a hair’s breadth of difference. Those who now call themselves Progressives are firmly in the internationalist socialist camp.
When Trump advocates a realist foreign policy, those on the political left rush to the attack.
What’s the first thing they do? CNN hired an academic to write an article trying to tie Trump’s policy to the infamous America First Committee of the late 1930s—complete with a headline picture of German troops marching through Warsaw in 1939.
This is telling for a couple of reasons.
The begin with, the America First Committee wasn’t about realpolitik—it was isolationist. Trump does not advocate isolationism. The new White House website makes this clear: our foreign policy will be to put our interest first, not to withdraw from the international scene altogether.
Trump is not the first to be tarred with the isolationist brush by the left: they did the same thing to Ron Paul before him.
Secondly, what make this argument telling is that they don’t argue in terms of realist/idealist viewpoints, but rather jump straight to the accusation that anyone not in their camp must be a Nazi. This is based on their worldview—and confirmed by Newsweek in 2009—that “we are all socialists now.” It’s only a matter of whether we’re left (internationalist) or right (nationalist) socialists.
The truth is, there are no national socialists in this country. The American Founding is based on principles and philosophies that predate Marx by centuries and, despite socialists’ claims, remain valid.
The idealist school of foreign policy brought us the impotent League of the Nations and the by now useless United Nations. Lest it be thought that this is just Democrat folly, the nation building policy of George W. Bush was just as much idealist as Wilson’s “Make the world safe for democracy.”
We have wasted enough blood and treasure in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Trump is right to move our foreign policy back to one of pragmatism.
We will see this policy play out in his trade policy, where he advocates not protectionism but trade deals that make sense for our sovereign interest; and in border security where he advocates not an end to immigration, but an enforcement of reasonable immigration rules.
In each of these areas the left has set up false dichotomies—but there is a third way. The American way.
Ties to our allies will not be cut but rather renegotiated on a more equitable basis.
Our relationship to Russia will be changed as well. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we don’t need to be enemies; realpolitik suggests a change in our relationship based on shared interests. After all, we were so friendly with Russia in the pre-Soviet era that they sold us Alaska.
The State Department is understandably not happy about all this. It’s been more than a generation since realism ruled our foreign policy. The entire leadership team quit last week.
Good riddance. It only makes the new administration’s job that much easier.