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Donald Trump's 'Major' Foreign Policy Speech Offered Almost No Specifics

The GOP frontrunner toned down his rhetoric, but was light on details of the Trump doctrine, as he looks to change his image ahead of the general election.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 27 2016, 7:45pm

Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

Just before Donald Trump was due to deliver a "major" foreign policy address on Wednesday, one that his campaign has been promoting all week as a move by the GOP frontrunner into serious policy and campaigning, one of his campaign advisors, Walid Phares, told the Associated Press not to expect "any details in this speech."

It turned out that Phares was right to tamp down expectations. Aside from the typically bombastic Trump's rare employment of a teleprompter — only the second time he's used one on the campaign trail — the speech was mostly a compilation of various musings on world affairs that the Republican frontrunner has already offered, without delving into any actual policy proposals.

"'America First' will be the major and overriding theme of my administration," Trump announced at an event sponsored by the Washington, DC think tank, the Center for the National Interest.

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America's foreign policy so far has been a "disaster," Trump continued, with "no strategic purpose, no direction, no consistency."

Trump blamed most of that disaster on the Obama Administration, but more specifically former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is his likely rival in the general election.

Trump brought up the Benghazi attacks, noting that Clinton was "not awake to take that call at 3 o'clock in the morning," about the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Libya in 2012. The line was a reference to the 3am phone call ad that Clinton ran against then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, implying that he was not ready to handle potential crises as president. There is no evidence that Clinton missed a literal 3am phone call during relating to the Benghazi attacks.

Trump also pointed out once again that he did not support the Iraq War, which Clinton herself voted for.

"Although not in government service, I was totally against the War in Iraq, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East," Trump remarked. "Sadly, I was correct."

The overarching theme to Trump's foreign policy, aside from putting America first, has largely been one of isolationism. He has been highly critical of international treaties such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which he called "obsolete," and he has largely opposed intervention in foreign conflicts in the Middle East. He reiterated those points in his Wednesday speech, but did not elaborate further on how, exactly, he plans to put America first.

"War and aggression will not be my first instinct," Trump said. "You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are signs of strength."

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Trump criticized current US policy, saying that the nation spends "trillions of dollars to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia." And he promised to "no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism that tie us up and bring America down."

But Trump also simultaneously contradicted himself on those very points several times. At one point, he blasted attempts to make "Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western Democracy." While, later in the speech, he vowed to "work with our allies to reinvigorate Western values and institutions."

Despite being skeptical of international alliances, Trump assured that he would be a "reliable friend" to our allies, who "will respect and welcome" the Trump doctrine.

"America is going to be [a] great and reliable ally again. It's going to be a friend again," Trump said, after saying the US would force their allies to "pay their fair share."

As for relations with China: "We can both go our separate ways, if need be," Trump said.

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Senator Ted Cruz immediately pounced on Trump's speech as "the most dramatic evidence thus far that Donald Trump fails the presidential test."

Cruz also accused Trump in his statement of getting the "Washington cartel" (lobbyists and other political elite in DC) to help him to write the speech. Cruz, who lost five primaries to Trump Tuesday night, went so far as to accuse Trump of turning into a DC insider, in a twist of irony for a sitting senator running against a novice politician.

"With this address he is now the foreign policy candidate of the Washington lobbyists," Cruz said. "Even as he proclaims 'America first,' he puts K Street lobbyists first."

Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Services and recently endorsed Cruz, immediately criticized Trump's speech as "not conservative."

"It's isolationism surrounded by disconnected thought," Graham tweeted. It "demonstrates [a] lack of understanding [of the] threats we face."

Usually, when pressed on the topic of foreign policy, Trump defaults to discussing "bad trade deals" and his plan to build a wall on the Mexico-US border. He also once said he would "bomb the shit out of ISIS" and kill the family members of suspected terrorists. On Wednesday, Trump did not mention his beloved Mexico wall even once.

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His speech on Wednesday — the first of a series of policy discussions Trump is expected to give in the coming weeks — are part of a broader push by his campaign to appear more "presidential" as the primary election winds down. Trump spoke slower and with less bombastic energy than during his usual speeches, sticking largely to his script.

But the change in tone wasn't enough for Sen. Graham, who dislikes Trump so much that he has endorsed Cruz, a man he once joked about murdering on the Senate floor. Graham ended his tweetstorm on Wednesday with a final thought: "Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in his grave."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker