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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nixon versus Nixon's foreign policy

Trump's second major foreign policy speech (after his unabashedly pro-Israel AIPAC speech) won over some critics, and turned some critics against his host. Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, defended his decision to allow Trump to use the Center for the National Interest as a vehicle for the speech.

From Heilbrunn:
His speech did not deviate from the themes he has already enunciated and it showed that he is willing to go very far indeed. Nothing like this has been heard from a Republican foreign policy candidate in decades. Trump doesn’t want to modify the party’s foreign policy stands. He’s out to destroy them. In his speech, Trump declared that U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War has been “incoherent” under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He said it’s been a “complete and total disaster. ... No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.”
Trump made it plain in his speech that his implicit No. 1 credential for becoming commander in chief is that “although not in government service, I was totally against the war in Iraq, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East.” This represents an assault against Hillary Clinton as well as the neoconservative establishment in the GOP.
This is why perhaps his most significant statement was: “I will also look for talented experts with new approaches, and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” What Trump is talking about is dispensing with an entire wing of the GOP that has controlled the commanding heights of foreign policy over recent decades.
At bottom Trump made it plain that he views America like a business. He’s going to engineer a takeover of the American government, fire the current staff and create a "foreign policy based on American interests." U.S. foreign policy, Trump said, had elevated "the false song of globalism" over American self-interest. “Businesses,” he said, “do not succeed when they lose sight of their core interests and neither do countries.”
But there were no details. Trump was opaque when it served his interests. Like Richard Nixon, he apparently has a secret plan to end the wars in the Middle East. According to Trump, “there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how.” Again, no details — and as a matter of declared policy.
What is emerging is a candidate who is not a dreaming ideologue either from the right (romancing the Cold War) or the left (apologizing for wining the Cold War). Given that the last two presidencies have run foreign policy from those two extreme positions -- with the left throwing cruise missiles whenever its manhood gets questioned -- many Americans now look forward to a less active foreign policy.

From Heilbrunn: "As I read him, the Trump that revealed himself today was quite disciplined when contrasted with some of the antics at his rallies. Indeed, I think he is having a salutary effect in forcing open a long-overdue debate in the GOP over foreign policy. Magazines like mine have long urged the GOP to confront its tawdry history in Iraq and to take a second look at the foreign policy approach espoused by the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush. Trump is a far more blunt instrument, but the appeal of someone who can rip away the moth-eaten drapery that has occluded the GOP from accepting basic realities about American foreign policy seems obvious. He may be the ultimate realist, conducting himself as a ministate — maneuvering for advantage and knocking off his opponents one after the other, much as Bismarck unified the German Reich by launching three successive wars."

This will be an interesting race in the fall. On the one side you will have all that paranoia and conniving that Nixon indulged in politically. And then on the other side you will have Trump resurrecting Nixon's foreign policy.

Nixon versus Nixon's foreign policy.


  1. This is well written but analogies to 19th century Germany are a stretch. Bismarck unified Germany but he left behind a dysfunctional political system that only he could make work. The forces within Germany that made her aggressive were enhanced but Germany even less secure after he ceased being Chancellor and his devious genius was lost to them.Trump will find that while he wants to avoid unproductive conflict,unless he is willing to be remembered as another Obama,active engagement and real risk will be necessary.Does he have the guts JFK had vs Krushchev? Also I don't remember Trump bad mouthing Bush after he won in Iraq. He seems to have shut up like eveyone else. But he is quick to remember his opppsition when Clinton is on stage.

  2. JFK flashed weakness to Nikita in Austria and a month later, The Wall went up. Two months later, Cuban Missile Crisis. Weakness can lead to war. Trump needs to tread carefully. ANd you are right on Trump and Iraq

    1. Exactly. If the sainted JFK hadn't shown weakness, the Soviets wouldn't have tried to put missiles in Cuba and the missile crisis wouldn't have happened. He also stabbed the Cubans in the back and left them to be slaughtered on the beach at the
      Bay of Pigs. He was a mediocre president at best. Getting assassinated allowed the media to turn him into a martyr and a "great" president.

  3. Re wall and Cuba Your memory is better than mine Don.I was no fan of JFK but the Cuban thing was his finest hour.Trump may surround himself with smarter people than Obama or JFK but in the end he will have to decide what to do and it won't be for a ratings hit.

    1. It was actually George Ball's finest hour. In counseling the president, he bested Robert Kennedy, who advised all out war in retaliation. In any case, Krushchev played the young Kennedy like a violin, and eventually achieved his goal of getting the US to remove its missiles from bases in Turkey as part of the deal to end the standoff in Cuba. Kennedy ordered it done quietly, of course, to avoid having to admit he'd been rolled by the Soviets. But rolled he was.

    2. Kennedy was all of 45 and trusting his younger brother? One reason I am nyet to Cruz and Rubio.

    3. Jack trusted his younger brother Bobby enough to make him the AG and to share the same mistress.

    4. One thing people always leave out of the analysis of the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis is JFK's state of health. He was Addisonian. No endogenous corticosteroid production. Back then the treatment was subcutaneous hydrocortisone pellets that were replaced monthly. At the start of the month just after placement one would be full of energy and on a corticosteroid high, with tons of energy and a voracious sexual appetite. By the end of the month it was like being on the down side of manic depression. I think this is part of the reason he was so easliy addicted to sleeping pills and speed. He needed the soporifics at the beginning of the month and the amphetamines at the end, eventually using both all the time. The Russians probably knew his pattern and were able to play on it. I think the Bay of Pigs hit at the end of the month, as reason for his inexplicable lack of resolve at the last moment. The Soviets probably had their timing right on the Missile Crisis and we got lucky.

    5. Regarding the age of Cruz and Rubio, it seems Surber was for them before he was against them.

      Surber: "The Democratic front runners are Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren. Average age? 68.
      Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker average 45 in age.
      Throw in Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush, and the average is still only 52. That's prime time for a presidential candidate, unless you are Ronald Reagan.
      Today's Republicans are different. They are young. They have ideas."

  4. I have always thought that Nixon would have made an excellent president in 1961, a better one than Kennedy and a better one than Nixon himself made in 1969. The early 1960's might not have been the right time for the China gambit.

    But Nixon had already confronted Khrushchev in the "kitchen debate" and the meeting in Vienna would have gone differently than Khrushchev's meeting with Kennedy.

    Nixon would have provided air support for the Cuban invasion. Even if the invasion had failed, the Soviets would have thought twice before later trying to sneak missiles into Cuba in the first place.

    Nixon likely would have healed the rift with Eisenhower and consulted with him regularly, keeping the Vietnam conflict manageable and not expanding American involvement in the war.

    In 1961, Nixon's native paranoia would not have been inflamed by the turbulence of the 1960's and while his administration -- like others before it -- might have weathered its share of financial scandals, it probably would have avoided political scandals like Watergate.

  5. I think I must be dreaming defending JFK.Well I'll just keep keep winging down the slumber road. JFK did not go to war with Russia but took better advice so he gets the credit not the adviser. He could have listened to his brother but did not.
    Also, this just in from some other part of this dream, my Communist ex has emailed me and told me Trump will win.(this is true too) Please don't let me wake up.