Making fun of the foreign-policy speech Donald Trump gave yesterday is easy. He said, “‘America First’ will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” thus borrowing the slogan of those Americans who opposed America’s entry in World War II. Then, three sentences later, he praised America’s victory in World War II. He warned that, “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us” while simultaneously vowing to be “unpredictable” and threatening to pull out of NATO. He called for “a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam” while vowing to destroy ISIS “very, very quickly.”
But in evaluating Trump’s incoherence, it’s worth remembering that the more “serious” Republican foreign policy candidates whom he toppled—men like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Lindsey Graham—were incoherent too. Trump’s just incoherent in a different way.
The standard, post-9/11 Republican foreign policy speech—delivered by men like Rubio, Bush, Graham, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan—goes something like this:
America is a force for good. But the world contains evil regimes and movements: Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, Cuba, radical Islam. These evildoers are on the march because America has pulled back from its global commitments. It has pulled back because Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t believe America is a force for good. But when I’m president, America will believe in itself again. We’ll rebuild our military and confront our evil enemies and America will once again win great victories for freedom, as we did under Ronald Reagan.