Mary Kissel

From ‘America first’ to ‘pragmatic realism’

Life in the Oval Office has forced the President to rethink his isolationist stance

So much for Donald J. Trump, ‘America first’ isolationist. Gone is the man who, as a civilian, repeatedly endorsed a speedy withdrawal from America’s longest-running war (2012 tweet: ‘Afghanistan is a complete waste!’), who railed against George W. Bush’s intervention in Iraq and advocated leaving Syria to the whims of the Russkies and others. On Monday night, in his first nationally televised address as Commander-in-Chief, Trump declared that he was ordering more troop deployments to South Asia, for an unspecified period of time, to fight the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan commitment isn’t the only puzzler. There’s Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airport to enforce an international weapons of mass destruction treaty, his declaration of ‘fire and fury’ if Kim Jong-un dares attack the continental US (or Guam), and his refusal to take a ‘military option’ off the table to deal with Venezuela’s ongoing meltdown, and more. All within the first seven months of his presidency.

Perhaps it’s time to reassess what the Trumpian foreign policy is morphing into, what the ‘pragmatic realism’ the President referred to on Tuesday means, in practice?

The Donald didn’t take office with a coherent vision for America’s role in the world, aside from his made-for-TV sloganeering (‘Bomb the shit out of Isis!’ ‘Take the oil!’) and the ‘America first’ mantra. Did anyone really think the Donald was consciously harkening back to Charles Lindbergh’s America First Committee? The only surety was that Donald Trump the candidate disdained failed foreign wars, and didn’t seem to know much at all about anything else related to American foreign policy (or economics, or regulation, or…).

Nor did his initial team of top aides seem much interested in investing in a robust US presence abroad — the kind of presence that’s kept the peace for decades.

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Written by
Mary Kissel
Ms. Kissel, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, is Executive Vice President and Senior Policy Advisor at Stephens Inc.

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