America First?

Press Release

Date: June 20, 2018
Issues: Foreign Affairs

There are basically two schools of thought on whether President Trump's "America First" strategy is the way to go. But either way, no one should be surprised that this is the road Trump has chosen for America. Because after all, in his Inaugural Address, he stated pretty clearly "from this moment on, it's going to be America First."

The case that Trump is right, and that what he's doing is good for America, was put forth quite well by Pat Buchanan recently. According to Buchanan, President Trump is right in believing that we are being "ripped off" by our NATO allies as well as by Japan and South Korea. These allies refuse to pay their fair share for their defense, instead relying on the American taxpayer to foot the bill. The money they would otherwise spend on their own defense, they can plow into their economies and thus better compete with the United States when it comes to trade. They are in essence free riders, and that helps explain why our NATO allies have a $151 billion trade surplus with us. According to Trump, this makes us suckers.

The opposite point of view was espoused by former Newsweek foreign policy editor Michael Hirsh recently in the Washington Post. He thinks President Trump's America First policy is shortsighted and counterproductive. He claims that multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the WTO, NATO, and the G-7 have served US interests, and have generated "more wealth and physical security" than at any other time in history for everyone, including the United States. Hirsh believes that President Trump was wrong in calling out Justin Trudeau of Canada recently, and risking our historically close relationship with our neighbor to the north. Similarly, he thinks Trump has been too rough with President Macron of France and with our other NATO allies. He believes Trump is jeopardizing our long-lasting relationships for some potential trade advantage.

What do I think? Well, I mostly agree with President Trump, with some nuances. I think President Trump is absolutely right to insist that our NATO allies pull their own weight with respect to defense spending. Each of the 28 NATO allies agree to spend at least 2% of their GDP towards military defense -- but only five of them do it. The United States is at 3%. It's high time our allies step up and meet their responsibilities and the American taxpayer gets some relief.

And I completely agree with President Trump that we must not allow the United States to be taken advantage of on trade, whether by our allies, or by our adversaries. Trump's right when he says that trade agreements must be reciprocal and fair. He's right when he says we must no longer ignore currency manipulation, dumping, and government subsidization, that puts American goods and companies and jobs at a disadvantage. It's not fair that we allow foreign countries (like China) to sell their products easily in America, but then block our products from being sold there.

On the other hand, as I've said in the past, I've never been a big fan of the term "America First." Considering that a number of our allies have put their young men and women in harm's way with ours in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd prefer a term which is more collegial, more cooperative, than America First. We can implement a policy that is in America's best interest without attaching a label that undermines the very goal itself.

We are the most powerful nation in the history of the world. Other countries naturally look to us for leadership. And of course we are often a target of criticism, usually, I would argue, undeserved. But rather than be critical of other countries, particularly our allies, I have always liked the model of Teddy Roosevelt, "speak softly, and carry a big stick."

p.s. By the way, it was brought to my attention recently that I've been writing my blog for 10 years now. Thanks to Katie Metz for typing it up for me every week, and thanks to you for being one of my faithful blog readers. (And the price is right!)