Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech has been called “radical,” “imprudent,” “narrow-minded,” and “incoherent” by policy elites on the right and left. His “America First” vision terrifies people like Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is ever-anxious to see hundreds of thousands of American troops sent back into the Middle East. Trump rejects the nation building that neoconservatives love, but most voters reject. (Just ask Jeb Bush.) Instead, he prefers a more pragmatic approach to managing the myriad challenges America faces. Protecting the homeland requires a strong economy to fund a strong military. Remember Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine?
To hear the caterwauling of the critics, one would think that Trump’s views were far outside the mainstream.
Yet consider what Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, said as he advised Americans on how to fight the Cold War:
“Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defenses, development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture, a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research — these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.
“But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs, balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages, balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual, balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. Lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration. The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of threat and stress.”
Now compare Eisenhower’s emphasis on caution and prudence with the fantastical thinking of George W. Bush in his second inaugural address:
“We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
“So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
Is this balance? Or does it rest on the feeling “that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties”? The record from George W.’s second term confirms that Eisenhower and Reagan were right, and Bush (sorry) was wrong. The voters know this, which is why they have rejected Bushism. Trump knows it, which is why he seeks to lead the party in a different direction. The Republican Party — the conservative party — must be the party of prudence and common sense.
Let the liberals have fanaticism. Let the liberals take on impossible causes. Let us use our intelligence and talent to steer this beautiful and fragile country through the dangerous seas that surround her. Let’s never again wreck ourselves on the rock of false hopes and empty promises.