Trump’s foreign policy speech a Rorschach test for elites

The headline of the day on Donald Trump’s foreign policy address yesterday comes from Politico, the arbiter of Beltway conventional wisdom:

Trump fails to impress foreign-policy experts

Few disciplines of public policy turf are more fiercely defended than foreign policy.  After all, there are endless facts and personalities and histories to be mastered.  Henry Kissinger is perhaps the outstanding example of a figure that dazzled with his knowledge of the intricacies and thereby earned credibility.  Ronald Reagan, in contrast, was mocked as an ignoramus.  When in a presidential debate he was asked about his strategy versus the USSR, he said, “We win; they lose” and was denounced as a simpleton.

So if you are a member in good standing of the foreign policy establishment, there was no way you were going to be impressed by what Trump had to say (transcript, video).  A good example would be CNN foroiegn policy “expert” Fareed Zakaria, who called it “rambling” and “truly bizarre.”

In contrast, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who may see a career opportunity in a Trump administration, found the critique of Obama administration policy “absolutely right.”


It is easy to find what could be called “inconsistencies,” as in Trump’s call for non-intervention and his call to destroy ISIS.  If a member of the foreign policy club were speaking, these would be called “nuanced.”

It is pretty clear to me that Trump is staking out territory favored by a large majority of war-weary Americans.  It is also clear to me that he would not be pusillanimous isolationist.  In his first address, he did not go into detailed policies and decision rules.  That’s exactly what a president in waiting should do.

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