Can an imperialist superpower wash its hands of its responsibilities, isolate itself from the world, and dominate it at the same time? Donald Trump proposed this squaring of the circle by revealing his foreign policy on Wednesday, April 27 in the speech titled “America First,” a title that, besides bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to Deutschland über alles (“Germany above everything”), the Third Reich’s anthem, more directly (or even intentionally) evokes the America First Committee, an isolationist lobby. This lobby was created in 1940 to try to stop Washington from intervening in World War II, and even from giving material support to England. Although the organization had been supported by sincere (and naive) pacifists, it had as its spokesman Charles Lindbergh, whose discourse was openly anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi.
While promising that the United States would be a “reliable friend and ally,”* Trump warns that the countries that the U.S. protects will have to pay the cost of “protection” or defend themselves alone. For example, South Korea and Japan would need to provide their own nuclear bombs as dissuasion against North Korea, as he had suggested on another occasion, which signifies relinquishing any hope of countering nuclear proliferation. In the same way, if they want to maintain the organization — which he considers obsolete — the European partners of NATO should also assume the major part of the costs, and furthermore, pay for the U.S. soldiers, planes, boats and missiles stationed in Europe without having to be under its leadership.
He speaks of “allies of the Muslim world” while continuing to indiscriminately accuse all followers of Islam as being potential terrorists. And his isolationism makes an exception for Israel and its interests because he attacked Barack Obama for snubbing and criticizing the government of Benjamin Netanyahu while treating Iran with “tender love.”
Once again he brings back the threat of commercial wars and the breaking of treaties, so as to negotiate deals more favorable to the U.S., and promises to win the respect of China and Russia. He promises not to be involved in interventions for “nation-building,” but wants a role of international “peacemaker.”
An even more direct contradiction was made in his speech by saying in the beginning, “[W]e have to be unpredictable starting now,” and later, ”The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.”
His speech apparently pleased his uncritical followers, but the candidate’s presumable objective of conveying a statesmanlike stature failed before the rest of the U.S. media and even more so in Europe. Far from being impressed, European allies were alarmed by the re-affirmation of such a crude and inconsistent strategy.
German Minister of Foreign Relations Frank-Walter Steinmeier openly criticized him: “No American president will be able to avoid this changed reality in the international security architecture. America First is no answer to that. On the one hand it states making America strong again. On the other hand it emphasizes withdrawal of America from the world. These two do not seem to fit together."
Experts speaking to Deutsche Welle were even more incisive: "I am European, and I heard the American version of Le Pen, Orban and other European populists who want to make us believe that working together through pooling sovereignty is the source of all evil," said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"I came away, I must confess, with a vague sense of nausea," said Federiga Bindi, who holds the Jean Monnet Chair in European Political Integration at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. "Trump is the ultimate populist, he managed to mix elements of America-uber-alles, ultra-pacifism, acerbated militarism and gawkiness."
* Translator's Note: The actual quote in Trump’s speech about America is, “It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again. It’s going to be a friend again.”