Our Danish correspondent Henrik Clausen provides a European perspective on last month’s foreign policy speech by Donald Trump.
Donald Trump names the enemy!
by Henrik Clausen
In his foreign policy speech delivered on August 15th in Youngstown, Ohio, Donald Trump did something remarkable: He named our enemy. Also, he offered a detailed criticism of the foreign policy mistakes made by the Obama administration, and proposed a series of security policy initiatives to make America safe again. This article will quote and comment on key points of the speech.
Disclaimer: This article is not an endorsement of one candidate or another for the November elections in the United States. As the Russian President Vladimir Putin elegantly pointed out in context of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, voting is a sovereign decision of the American people, and no one else. This article is about political issues, their background and possible reactions, not about who takes care of them.
So, let’s get into the speech and look at what we’re talking about here:
Today we begin a conversation about how to Make America Safe Again.
That’s clear — and a worthy goal for the President of the United States of America. Now, what is the key point of making America safe again? The point is that currently America isn’t. The systematic undermining of police authority, as explained in books like The War on Cops is one major problem, but that’s an internal one, and would be a topic for a different speech. This one is about foreign policy, and how to rework it to obtain the peace and security anyone would desire.
Trump goes on to set this into a historical context:
In the 20th Century, the United States defeated Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Now, a different threat challenges our world: Radical Islamic Terrorism.
The topic of this speech is threats from abroad, whether by Islamic State warriors, lone wolf terrorists, or agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. And given events in recent years, like the massacres in Fort Hood, Orlando and more (In the speech, Trump gives a long list of such attacks), it’s obvious that America is not as safe as it used to be. The Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has not achieved domestic security.
But Trump does falls into a common trap here: He names “Terrorism” as the challenge. It really is a method employed by radical Islamists, not the heart of the problem. Daniel Pipes wrote a very entertaining article I Give Up, There Is No Terrorism, There Are No Terrorists about this problem — and how not using “Terrorism” actually improves the clarity of political analysis.
Dealing with the Middle East
The Middle East has been at the heart of the Obama/Clinton presidency, and Trump pulls no punches listing the destabilization caused by intervening there, and the results we have seen. Even Turkey, routinely supported as a primary ally of the United States, is now moving towards building alliances with Russia instead. The Middle East is clearly in a worse state than when Obama took office in 2009, to a degree that the Nobel Committee has expressed regret about awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of much better results. The Obama Administration, including of course Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not achieved peace security in the Middle East.
Here is a line frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted in the press:
The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.
That has been interpreted to mean that the Obama Administration created the Islamic State, as some conspiracist thinkers seem to believe. But the sentence actually says that Islamic State came into being as a result of policy decisions, which would include the situation in Iraq and support of the insurgency in Syria.
Trump then mentions a lot of Middle East failures, and sums it up in this unsettling account:
ISIS has spread across the Middle East, and into the West. In 2014, ISIS was operating in some 7 nations. Today they are fully operational in 18 countries with aspiring branches in 6 more, for a total of 24.
The need for change of policy should be clear.
So, what does Trump suggest?
If I become President, the era of nation-building will be ended. Our new approach, which must be shared by both parties in America, by our allies overseas, and by our friends in the Middle East, must be to halt the spread of Radical Islam.
All actions should be oriented around this goal, and any country which shares this goal will be our ally. We cannot always choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies.
That is pretty clear. We need all the friends we can get, and we need to recognize our enemies. And that does involve Russia:
I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS.
Such common ground would probably include no longer escalating the situation in Ukraine, and bringing an end to the war in Syria — which can hardly be categorized as a “civil war” anyway.
An end to interventionism
But there’s more to this. The quote above is a challenge to the interventionist policy advocated by parties such as Council on Foreign Relations, and executed with great zeal by Obama and Secretary Clinton.
Our current strategy of nation-building and regime change is a proven failure. We have created the vacuums that allow terrorists to grow and thrive.
That must be considered a very fair point, considering the situations in Iraq and Libya.
Trump goes on to mention his original opposition to invading Iraq. It was a principle of Winston Churchill to not criticize bad policy decisions he had not argued against. Trump does likewise:
I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning — a major difference between me and my opponent.
The issue of interventionism has haunted US foreign policy for decades, if not more. The difficult question is: Does military intervention in other countries improve security and prosperity of the United States — and if it does, at what cost in money, lives and moral high ground? There is a quite a range of views on this:
Ideological purists such as Ron Paul, who know little about Islamic law or the Project to Islamize America, believe that all our problems in the Middle East are due to interventionism. This point of view actually buys into the gripes presented by Jihadists, doesn’t identify the deception at play here, and ignores the strategic aims of Islamist thinkers and organisations.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have interventionist hawks such as George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. Here’s one interventionist decision mentioned by Trump:
According to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the invasion of Libya was nearly a split decision, but Hillary Clinton’s forceful advocacy for the intervention was the deciding factor.
Such policy decisions, and the responsibilities for nation-building they create, have been expensive and clearly lack the desired results: Peace and security abroad and at home. Exporting dollars, guns and trouble does not make for a safer world. Thus, the opposite point of view — and end to nation-building and the military engagement that precedes it, will make sense to many Americans weary of countless military engagements in remote countries.
One of the great press controversies surrounding Trump has been his suggestion, made just after the Orlando massacre, to halt Muslim immigration until it is clear precisely what is going on. The problem with that statement is that it would target quite a few innocent and peaceful people, where the problem really is ideology, not individuals — but most reporting on this remark failed to include the ideological perspective. In this speech, Trump says:
To put these new procedures in place, we will have to temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.
A Trump Administration will establish a clear principle that will govern all decisions pertaining to immigration: we should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people.
That’s a bit of backtracking. In particular, Trump avoids identifying the problem as being Islamic, but he does go on to assert that the United States has the right to control who enters and settles there. There is much debate on this topic in the US and Europe. Trump settles this quickly by framing it as a security issue, and then moves on.
Naming the enemy: Sharia
Finally — and it took a while — Trump names our real enemy — the ideology, not the tactics employed. And proceeds to take a stab at the Clintons’ acceptance of a suspicious amount of money from donors in Islamic countries:
But we must use ideological warfare as well. Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.
While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in Foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.
Trump goes into a lot of detail, including an important point that is rarely made:
Beyond terrorism, as we have seen in France, foreign populations have brought their anti-Semitic attitudes with them.
That is a problem that should have been dead and buried in Berlin, May 1945. But it isn’t.
And then he goes to the heart of the problem: Sharia, and the intent to impose Sharia in America:
In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles — or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.
Sharia vs. Western law
Everyone with a clear mind and a heart for freedom must be against Sharia, as this legal system — also in its own understanding — is opposed to such ideas as civil liberties, inalienable right and man-made laws (also known as ‘democracy’).
Countering this ideology makes a lot of sense, and cannot rightly be seen as an affront to the Muslims living under it — no more than countering Communism could be an affront to those people forced to live under it, and who were liberated from 1989 onwards. In his speech, Trump specifically mentions the so-called “honour killings” (Note: According to Sharia law, there is no punishment for killing your children or grandchildren):
This includes speaking out against the horrible practice of honor killings, where women are murdered by their relatives for dressing, marrying or acting in a way that violates fundamentalist teachings.
Over 1,000 Pakistani girls are estimated to be the victims of honor killings by their relatives each year.
Although President Obama has a degree in law, the profound differences between Western and Islamic law are willfully ignored by the Obama Administration, even in the face of direct evidence. The official report about the Fort Hood massacre, which disregarded evidence given by the shooter himself, is probably the clearest example of this.
Sharia is a totalitarian body of law entirely opposed to human rights, freedom and democracy. This has been made clear from the beginning of the work on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where Saudi Arabia stated that it is incompatible with Sharia Law, and later in the February 2003 Refah ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. Anyone serious about protecting human rights and democracy must work against any introduction of Sharia law, including against any organisation having such aims. Trump does well in naming this, which can be a guiding principle for what aspects of Islam and Islamic organisations cannot be tolerated.
Ideas that deserve debate on their merit
Summing up, these suggested measures do address real problems, real threats to the security of the United States and its allies, including the nations here in Europe. Independent security experts can usefully engage in discussions on these topics, analyze the background for them, challenge any problems found, and propose better alternatives where needed.
While some of the suggestions may seem provocative to those who do not understand the nature of our challenges, and in particular challenge the worldview of interventionist hawks, they are all of a practical nature aiming at solving actual problems. As such, they deserve serious coverage in the press, and to be challenged on their merits by other candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the independent candidate Gary Johnson, who can usefully follow up on these topics in mainstream media.
Closing prayer: May this help the media move from the personal to the important: Political ideas.
— Henrik Clausen, Denmark