On Wednesday Republican front-runner Donald Trump delivered his first formal address on how he would conduct the nation's foreign policy, and the views he expressed were, not to put too fine a point on it, strange. The mixture of jingoistic bromides, belligerent threats and boastful promises to put "America first" in dealing with other nations constituted a confusing and at times self-contradictory stew of ideas that left one wondering whether the GOP presidential hopeful has any real understanding of how the world works. If he were ever in a position to act on such an unhinged vision, one fears for the future of this country. He would make a terrible commander in chief.
On issues ranging from nuclear weapons to NATO, from the Middle East to China, Russia, Japan and both Koreas, Mr. Trump's foreign policy prescriptions, when shorn of his characteristic bombast, simply don't add up to any coherent plan. For example, he complains our NATO allies aren't paying their fair share for their own defense and that he would demand they put up or shut up if they didn't want to see America "walk" and leave them to their fate. That's contrary to nearly 70 years of bipartisan consensus on U.S. policy toward Europe, and it would instantly make the world a more dangerous place. Stripping Europe of the U.S. defense umbrella would be a virtual invitation to instability and renewed Russian aggression.
In the Middle East, Mr. Trump promises to make quick work of the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. But he refuses to say what he would do differently than what the Obama and Bush administrations already have done on that front. Mr. Trump has backed off earlier remarks suggesting he might consider using nuclear weapons against terrorists in Syria and Iraq, but that's small consolation considering the idea was crazy to begin with. He says he'll force Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to kick in more of their own troops to fight ISIS, but does he really expect them to cooperate at the same time that he's busy banning Muslims from entering the U.S.?
In Asia Mr. Trump has also retreated from earlier suggestions that he would be untroubled if Japan and South Korea developed their own nuclear arsenals to counter Chinese and North Korean aggression. Someone must have told him that nuclear nonproliferation has been a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II and that no American president since then, Democratic or Republican, has ever acted otherwise. Mr. Trump now says he would lean on China to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions and to also curb Beijing's growing military presence in the South China Sea. But why he thinks China's leaders would be interested in such a deal when a Trump presidency would also be slapping a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S. is a mystery. The more likely outcome would be an increased risk of military confrontation in the Pacific and a trade war at home.
Mr. Trump says his foreign policy would put "America first" — an unsettling reminder of the isolationist sentiment that gripped the county in the years leading up to World War II — and at the same time build up the country's military strength, which he claims has been allowed to atrophy during the Obama administration. He seems unaware of the $1 trillion overhaul of the nation's nuclear arsenal that's currently underway, but more to the point his conception of a beefed-up conventional military capability doesn't seem to jibe with his stated reluctance to use military force abroad to advance the nation's interests. If he's not willing to use it to protect Europe, counter Chinese expansion in the Pacific, fight terrorist groups in Syria or engage in "nation building" in Afghanistan and Iraq, what's the point of having it in the first place?
Mr. Trump's address this week was riddled with such paradoxes. What he's offered is a hodgepodge of unfiltered attitudes, biases and assumptions, which all add up to a narrow vision of American leadership that makes no sense in terms of the real-world challenges facing the U.S.