The FINANCIAL — U.S. President Donald Trump signaled strong support for NATO, and called for a massive funding increase for the military, as he vowed to oversee the “renewal of the American spirit.”
Speaking February 28 in his first address before a joint session of Congress, Trump repeated many of his election campaign promises that focused on domestic concerns, arguing that U.S. cities are being ignored, American workers are suffering, health care costs are skyrocketing, U.S. infrastructure is crumbling, and crimes caused by immigrants are on the rise, according to RFE/RL.
But in a speech that included few specifics about foreign policy goals, he also renewed his call to destroy “radical Islamic terrorism”— in particular, Islamic State militants.
“I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women and children of all faiths and beliefs,” he said. “We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”
During last year’s election campaign, Trump threw into question his commitment to NATO’s central treaty provision — that an attack on one member would be considered an attack on all.
That worried many alliance members, and during the hour-long speech, Trump took steps to reassure them. But he also repeated his calls that alliance members do more to shoulder the burden of NATO’s costs.
“We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism,” he said to applause from lawmakers.
“We expect our partners — whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific — to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost,” Trump said.
Even with mention of Islamic State and NATO, specific foreign policy concerns or proposals were absent from the speech. There was no mention of Russia, the conflict in Ukraine, the ongoing war in Syria, growing tension with China in the South China Sea, and other simmering conflicts.
“I think in the world we’re in right now, to not mention Iran, other than a brief bit on sanctions, not to mention Russia, not to mention China, not to mention North Korea — he seemed to ignore a lot of the trouble spots that are serious, and things that as American president, he needs to address,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies, at the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank.
“He seemed to cherry pick foreign policy issues, and not really lay out a broader defense of his administration’s position,” Hudak said.
That lack of specificity, or the lack of a coherent foreign policy, will likely pose more uncertainty, Hudak said.
“If I were a foreign minister, I’d be on the phone with [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson tomorrow,” he said.
Trump opened his speech on an upbeat note, a noteworthy contrast to his inauguration address in which he decried “American carnage” and painted a dark picture of the country.
He opened his remarks by condemning recent threats and vandalism targeting Jewish communities, and a shooting in Kansas that targeted two immigrant men from India. He paid homage to the families of law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
And he praised the Navy SEAL who died during a botched raid on an Al-Qaeda hideout in Yemen last month. The man’s widow wept openly as Trump acknowledged her presence in the chamber’s gallery, an acknowledgment that was met with the evening’s most sustained applause.
“To keep America safe we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and — if they must — to fight. And they only have to win,” he said.
“I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense [budget caps], and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history,” he said, again to applause from lawmakers.
Trump’s budget proposals are only the first step in what even in a good year is a protracted negotiation with Congress, which has the ultimate say over the federal budget.
Lawmakers from Trump’s Republican Party control both chambers of Congress, but legislators frequently push back against funding cuts to favorite programs regardless of who is in the White House.
Some of the proposals that have already been publicized – a 37 percent cut to U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance — have drawn criticism from lawmakers. Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a speech earlier in the day that foreign aid was a U.S. national security imperative.
“I promise you, it’s going to be a lot harder to recruit someone to anti-Americanism and anti-American terrorism if the United States of America was the reason why they are even alive today,” said Rubio, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member.
David Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, also echoed those comments, as he joined dozens of national security experts in saying that diplomacy was “critical to keeping America safe.”
The speech comes 40 days into his term, which by all accounts has been turbulent and at times chaotic.
The White House has been buffeted by news reports on U.S. investigations into allegations Trump’s aides were in communication with Russian officials during the election campaign.
And it’s been stung by criticism of its hardline national security measures, including a controversial immigration order affecting visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries that was suspended by the U.S. courts.
Trump returned repeatedly to the themes that ran on in the election campaign, what some observers have called “economic nationalism,” and the effort to “make America great again.”
“My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America. But we know that America is better off when there is less conflict — not more,” he said.