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When It Comes To Foreign Policy, Trump Promises To Put America First


We will spend a good part of this hour exploring the foreign policy ideas of Donald Trump. In a speech yesterday, the Republican presidential candidate summarized his ideas by using the phrase, America first.


DONALD TRUMP: My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else, has to be first - has to be. That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make.

INSKEEP: That was Donald Trump yesterday in Washington, delivering his first formal speech on foreign policy, which we're going to talk about with Walid Phares, who is one of Trump's foreign policy advisers. Welcome back to the program, sir.

WALID PHARES: Good morning and thank you for having me today.

INSKEEP: Trump called for a coherent foreign policy. Do you believe his ideas are now coherent?

PHARES: I think his ideas are coherent. What needs to be done is an explanation to the public and a debate about these ideas because these ideas are coming between two different set of ideas, one that is very isolationist and another which is very interventionist. He chose the middle ground, which is, as you just said in the introduction, America comes first. But America is not alone in this, and that's the novelty.

INSKEEP: Well, that's is an interesting way to think about it, trying to be between isolationist and interventionist because Trump made a number of statements that observers have seen as totally contradictory.

Here's an example. He says he wants to keep our agreements to U.S. Allies, makes sense. But he also says the United States quote, "must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves" if they don't do what Trump demands. Which is it?

PHARES: Well, it could be both at the same time. I mean, we have to be able to (unintelligible) conflicts in dealing with a sophisticated situation worldwide. The allies with whom we have agreements working, we're going to continue to work with them. And the allies with whom we have partnership that needs to be revised, including all the way from NATO to all the other bilateral agreements, those have to be re-examined.

Re-examining does not mean we're going to divorce (ph) unless these parties, unless these coalitions, unless these countries actually do not want to continue in that same direction. Of course, Mr. Trump has the financial aspect on his mind. But also there is the strategic aspect with regard to NATO, for example.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that though because he says you have to be prepared to walk, which means you have to be prepared to leave Japan alone and let them go develop nuclear weapons. You have to be prepared to dissolve NATO. Is he really going to be happy doing that if he doesn't get a budget number that he wants out of them?

PHARES: No. He did not say basically we're going to dissolve NATO. He said we're going to sit down, negotiate and there are - you know, negotiators have multiple ways of engaging and presenting different - different forms of agreement, including with NATO. NATO is a historic organization, is a transatlantic organization.

Mr. Trump wants actually to meet with the leaders of NATO. And he hears from them. And he heard from them even before he entered politics. And he knows that those who are in central Europe, Eastern Europe have had concerns. Those who are in Western Europe also are divided and those want to actually improve it or keep it as is. So he wants to do a formal review, a deeper review, of the agreement that produced NATO.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another thing here, Dr. Phares. He says he wants to get out of the nation-building business. Makes sense, but Trump also says that he wants to quote, "create stability." And two straight presidents have found out that if you try to do one, you end up doing the other, that creating stability calls for intervention in countries. Doesn't one thing demand the other?

PHARES: Look, both things demand a review. Number two, sometimes we have intervened in partnerships that were not helpful. In the case of Egypt, I mean, there was a majority of civil society in Egypt that was not very happy with going from a revolution against a dictator to the Muslim Brotherhood regime. So he would give this as an example.

The second example would be in Syria. The early stages in Syria, we allied ourselves with some of the factions that ended up becoming - (unintelligible) ended up becoming Daesh or ISIS. So he basically wants to look at these situations, make sure that the people with whom we are partnering have similar ideas, comparable ideas and we don't end up building nations for people who are going to be against us at the end of the day.

INSKEEP: I feel like you're telling me that Trump has made some very strong statements but actually left all of his options open, all the doors open. And he's just going to figure things out. Is that what you're telling me?

PHARES: Well, the Trump strategy is about not allowing any option to be philosophically, you know, put aside. He is saying, I have the interest of the United States - and by the way, when he talks about the interest of America, not of the elite, of the public, he's very keen on making sure that the public is satisfied with these options. If we confront a threat, the public needs to be with us. If we basically make an option, the public needs to be with us. But yes, all options are open.

INSKEEP: Dr. Phares, one other thing. And we've just got about 30 seconds here. He uses this phrase, America first. It's got a particular historical resonance. He's borrowing a phrase that was used by people who opposed U.S. Involvement against Germany in World War II - 1939, 1940, 1941. Very, very briefly, is there a message here?

PHARES: If you are criticizing Mr. Trump, you will find all the bad connections. Walid is very optimistic, and he is very positive none of these sentences that he pronounces go back to dark ages or go back to negative aspects at all.

INSKEEP: OK. Walid Phares, thanks very much for joining us, really appreciate it.

PHARES: Thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: Walid Phares is a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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