Donald Trump shows dangerously incoherent foreign policy

Donald Trump calls for an ‘America First’ foreign policy in a major speech Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump calls for an ‘America First’ foreign policy in a major speech Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Abaca Press/TNS

Donald Trump, the clear Republican front-runner, accused President Barack Obama of a “reckless, rudderless and aimless” foreign policy that has weakened America.

Then, he gave a rambling, vague and incoherent speech Wednesday full of platitudes and contradictions, and suggested he would undermine international alliances that have helped keep America safe since World War II.

It was billed as a major foreign policy address, but voters looking for reassurances about Trump as commander in chief can’t feel that much more comfortable. Our longtime allies certainly won’t be confident.

He promised to be generous to America’s friends, but then called for our partners in Europe and Asia to pay more to defend themselves. He complained that America has spent trillions on national defense but then called for a major military buildup. He vowed that America would get out of the nation-building business but also called for promoting Western values around the world.

If Trump had a consistent theme, it was “America First” – a slogan with a troubled history. The isolationist America First Committee tried to keep the United States out of World War II.

There are unmistakable isolationist tendencies in a Trump doctrine, along with nationalism and protectionism. While he pledged to have a bipartisan foreign policy, his vision conflicts with a political consensus in support of alliances such as NATO.

Trump rightly said that it’s a dangerous world. But it will be made safer through American leadership, not by pulling back.

While some of Trump’s criticisms about Obama’s actions in the Middle East and against the Islamic State have merit, he didn’t explain how he would defeat terrorist groups. Wisely, he didn’t repeat earlier outlandish statements about killing innocent family members of terrorists, or bringing back waterboarding and even worse forms of torture.

Fresh off a five-primary sweep Tuesday that makes it more likely that he’ll be the Republican nominee, Trump turned down the volume and softened his tone to sound more presidential.

But without the aid of a teleprompter, he shows his true self. In his victory speech, he gratuitously slammed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, claiming that if she were a man she wouldn’t get 5 percent of the vote and accusing her of “playing the woman’s card.” It’s an insult to women that will only widen the gender gap facing Trump.

Based on his campaign so far, that’s the real Trump – a bombastic and bigoted candidate who appeals to our worst instincts, not the more reasonable one who promised a clear-eyed foreign policy that makes America strong.