By Ralph Peters, New York Post, Mar. 1, 2017
In his politically adept address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump largely ignored foreign policy and spoke only generally — though warmly — about our armed forces. That was a good thing. It might have been disastrous had the president attempted to lay down a “Trump Doctrine” on national security and international relations prematurely. He and his team long have been engaged on domestic issues, but, true to the pattern of recent administrations, they regarded global affairs as an annoyance and national security primarily as a stick for poking opponents.
Now, in office, Trump is learning how complex the world is and how confounding the collision of security, diplomatic and economic interests can be. Mr. President, take your time. Listen to premier advisers, such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Hear out the senators who’ve studied national security for decades. Recognize that politics truly ought to end at water’s edge.
The president does need to make a defining foreign-policy speech to guide his administration. But it should come no earlier than this summer, allowing time to overcome preconceptions and face reality. Trump needs to get this right.
Meanwhile, his brief remarks on global issues were reassuring. His declaration of solidarity with NATO was welcome and vital. Even though new funding isn’t yet “pouring in” from our allies, there are earnest discussions in European parliaments about making greater contributions to the alliance.
But we must recognize that NATO has been the greatest security bargain the United States ever got. Peace is a great deal cheaper than world war.
Trump’s dramatic support for our troops and their families provided a healthy morale boost — and a welcome change from the grudging acknowledgments of the Obama era. The president repeated his determination, if without specifics, to renew our military. All good.
But for those of us who take a broader view of national security, his emphasis on supporting domestic law enforcement and making ravaged minority communities safe, with quality schools, cut to the core. It matters little if we’re safe abroad if tens of millions of our fellow citizens must fear a walk to the corner store, don’t know if their children will return safely from the playground or cannot educate the young to advance and rise from poverty.
The Democratic Party’s unforgivable confinement of minorities to a permanent underclass is a national-security crisis of the first order, a virtual imprisonment of millions.
But beyond mixed metaphors and an addiction to adverbs, there were three problems with the president’s remarks on security.
First, the various proposed initiatives — tax cuts, massive infrastructure spending, more social benefits and a higher defense budget — would add enormously to our national debt. We’ll see what the budget wonks can do, but a sound economy and sustainable debt are fundamental to national security.
We have to learn to live within our means, make hard decisions and take responsibility.
Second, the president began by announcing that our country will again play a leadership role in the world and that our allies can count on us once more. But, later, he veered toward “America First” and a retreat from the global stage.
As many a former president learned the hard way, disengagement simply doesn’t work. When we don’t venture into the world, the world comes to us — as on 9/11, or at Pearl Harbor or as far back as the War of 1812.
Third, although the president never uttered the name “Putin,” the Russian dictator’s ghost floated by when the president pointedly noted that old enemies can become friends.
Beware. If any single issue has the potential to ravage the new administration, it’s the Russia connection. Trump needs to state, openly and firmly, that Vladimir Putin threatens our values, our interests, human rights, freedom and common decency.
Grave political danger lurks, as some on the extreme right insist Putin’s a natural ally in the defense of our civilization against Islamist barbarism. But Putin’s a barbarian himself. It’s naked bigotry to give him a pass on the grounds that he’s nominally Christian: His regime exploits a pliant Orthodox Church for cynical ends, as did the Soviet Union Putin worships.
Putin isn’t an embattled defender of “our” civilization. He’s its enemy. His values aren’t our values; his interests aren’t our own; and yes, he’s a war criminal. Civilization begins at the Polish border.
On Tuesday, Trump disarmed political opponents by calling them out. He reassured our allies. He opened the door to cooperation and change.
Now the hard work begins.
Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst.