Judith Miller: It’s what was left unsaid in Trump’s speech that matters most

What was important about Donald Trump’s much anticipated foreign policy speech Wednesday is what he didn’t say. There was no mention by the self-declared Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee of his determination to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and get the Mexican government to pay for it.

There was only a passing reference to his frequent criticism of illegal immigrants, the theme that helped launch his presidential campaign last summer.

There was no mention of letting South Korea and Japan acquire nuclear weapons, or of walking away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the organization which protected Europe from Soviet aggression which he said earlier had outlived its usefulness.

Though he called the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran a “disaster,” he did not say that he would tear it up on day one or insist that it be renegotiated. He simply declared that Iran would not be permitted to get a nuclear weapon, which is precisely what President Obama said prior to signing his controversial agreement with Teheran.

One of the toughest sections of Mr. Trump’s speech was his withering critique of Hillary Clinton’s expertise and performance as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state.

Mr. Trump did not say he would defend Israel at all costs, though he called the Jewish state “our great friend and the one true democracy” in the Middle East.

He condemned the Obama administration’s abandonment of Middle Eastern Christians, but said nothing about how he would protect them from what he called the “genocide” being perpetrated by ISIS and other jihadi groups.

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While he vowed to destroy the Islamic State “very, very quickly,” he gave no clue as to how he would defeat the group which now has billions of dollars in its coffers, tentacles in nine states, and tens of thousands of Arab and foreign fighters battling to build an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and spread the group’s perverse interpretation of Islam throughout the world. And he did not repeat his claim that President Bush “lied” about Saddam’s having WMD to invade Iraq.

The tone of the billionaire real estate developer’s remarks at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel was also a departure from his often stream-of consciousness diatribes masquerading as speeches.

Mr. Trump read the carefully crafted, but still emotional 40-minute speech on a TelePrompter, inserting some of his trademark verbal grace notes on an impromptu basis.

The speech, his first serious attempt to ally foreign and American concerns about his knowledge of foreign affairs – contained almost none of his earlier jaw-dropping prescriptions for restoring America’s economic and military greatness.

It is unclear whether the speech will reverse the perception abroad of Mr. Trump as a foreign policy amateur, a businessman too ignorant of world affairs and ill-disciplined to learn about them – “Berlusconi with nukes,” as one foreign pundit called him, a reference to Italy’s flamboyant, controversial ex-prime minister.

Mr. Trump mainly repeated his populist themes and his determination to pivot from what he called the “Obama-Clinton” foreign policy, which he said had alienated traditional allies and friends and led the nation’s foes to loose respect for the U.S.

While many Republicans and even some Democrats would agree with his stark critique of some the administration’s contradictory, sometimes too-little, too-late initiatives – a “complete and total disaster,” Mr. Trump called Mr. Obama’s foreign policy – he offered few concrete remedies for restoring the economic strength which he said underpins America’s ability to project power abroad. “I’m on the only one, believe me, I know them all,” he said of his rivals, “who knows how to fix it.” Or, in other words, trust me.

Again and again, he vowed to move toward an “America first” model in domestic and foreign policy, seemingly unaware that “America First” was the slogan of the isolationists who fought to prevent Roosevelt from aiding Britain and other allies threatened with Nazi and Japanese aggression prior to World War II.

His pledge to prevent American companies from moving abroad – how legally he would do that he did not say – and force America’s allies to pay more for their own defense by tougher negotiations with them suggested there remain similar gaps in his knowledge of American law and foreign affairs.  Studies have shown that it is cheaper to base the 28,000 American troops in South Korea there than it would be to keep them at home; and South Korea already pays half of those costs.

But critics of President Obama’s foreign policy are likely to dismiss Mr. Trump’s gaffes and contextual omissions as quibbles, and welcome his call for a more robust military, a tougher stance against Islamic radicalism at home and abroad, and an America-centric foreign policy. Republican “realists” will also welcome his call to deploy force “when there is no alternative,” a pledge which mirrors the isolationist mood of part of his party and the country.

One of the toughest sections of Mr. Trump’s speech was his withering critique of Hillary Clinton’s expertise and performance as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state.

Predictably, he criticized her record of having supported the war in Iraq and other military interventions abroad — an implicit criticism of President George W. Bush as well. He also accused of her of having “misled” the nation about the attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador and “three brave Americans” were killed. Instead of “taking charge” that night, he said, “Hillary Clinton decided to go home and sleep. Incredible,” he said. “She was not awake to take that call at 3 o’clock in the morning.”  

That was not only vintage Trump, but a precursor of what lies ahead if Mr. Trump, indeed, wins the nomination.

Judith Miller, a Fox News contributor, is an award-winning writer and author, and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The author of several books, her latest is “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey” (Simon Schuster, April 7, 2015) now available in paperback. Follow her on Twitter @JMFreeSpeech.

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