Donald Trump's stance on foreign affairs has become clearer in recent weeks. During a series of interviews and speeches around the country, the GOP presidential front-runner has held to a recurring theme: skepticism over American engagement abroad. His platform — though he has detailed few policy specifics — rests on repeated assertions that the United States' defense posture and diplomatic engagements should be reconfigured.
The billionaire real estate mogul touched on this during an interview with New York Times reporters David Sanger and Maggie Haberman, which the newspaper published Saturday. Below are several takeaways and key quotes from the interview, the transcript of which was published by the Times.
1) Trump regularly says he believes the United States should not be responsible for protecting its allies. And he believes that countries like Japan, under threat from hostile actors like North Korea, may be justified in developing their own nuclear deterrents.
“Well, you know, at some point, there is going to be a point at which we just can’t do this anymore. And, I know the upsides and the downsides. But right now we’re protecting, we’re basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and ‘Do something.’ And there’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore.”
… "You have North Korea, and we are very far away and we are protecting a lot of different people and I don’t know that we are necessarily equipped to protect them. … I think maybe it’s not so bad to have Japan — if Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.”
2) The billionaire is committed to the idea that American intervention abroad, particularly in the Middle East, has caused more problems than solutions in the past.
“Every bad decision that you could make in the Middle East was made. And now if you look at it, if you would go back 15 years ago, and I’m not saying it was only Obama -- it was Obama’s getting out, it was other people’s getting in," Trump told the Times. "But you go back 15 years ago, and I say this, if our presidents would have just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun, we would’ve been much better off in the Middle East, than all of this tremendous death, destruction, and you know, monetary loss, it’s just incredible.”
3) Trump told the NYT that he believes the United States should pursue a muscular diplomatic stance to compel U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia to dedicate ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State. Pressed on whether he would consider ceasing oil purchases from Saudi Arabia, he said, “probably yes.”
“I think if Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection of our country’s, of U.S. protection, think of Saudi Arabia. I don’t think it would be around. It would be, whether it was internal or external, it wouldn’t be around for very long," he said. "And they’re a money machine, they’re a monetary machine, and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.”
4) During the interview, Trump also doubled down on comments earlier this week that questioned the value of participating in NATO, taking a strong stance that the United States spends too much on it with little payoff.
“I have two problems with NATO. No. 1, it’s obsolete. When NATO was formed many decades ago we were a different country. There was a different threat. ... [R]ight now we don’t have somebody looking at terror, and we should be looking at terror," Trump said. “…. NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.”
5) But he says he is not an isolationist:
“You’re getting close. Not isolationist, I’m not isolationist, but I am 'America First,' he told the NYT, echoing a phrase Sanger used. "So I like the expression. I’m 'America First.' .... We won’t be isolationists — I don’t want to go there because I don’t believe in that."
6) But even as Trump wades more deeply into foreign affairs, questions linger about his grasp of policy specifics. During the Times interview, Trump appeared unaware of particular trade sanctions with Iran.
The exchange is below:
Trump: “[T]hey are now rich, and did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States? They’re buying planes, they’re buying everything, they’re buying from everybody but the United States. I would never have made the deal.”
NYT: ”Our law prevents us from selling to them, sir.”
Trump: “Uh, excuse me?”
NYT: “Our law prevents us from selling any planes or, we still have sanctions in the U.S. that would prevent the U.S. from being able to sell that equipment.”
Trump: “So, how stupid is that? We give them the money, and we now say, 'Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,' right? So how stupid is that?”
7) Trump also appeared to contradict himself during questions about a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
In the first of two interviews, he said: “I think a lot of people are saying it’s going to result in a two-state solution. What I would love to do is to, a lot of people are saying that. I’m not saying anything. What I’m going to do is, you know, I specifically don’t want to address the issue because I would love to see if a deal could be made.”
In the second, however, he walked it back and gave a clear response: “Basically I support a two-state solution on Israel.”
8) Trump would not say during the interview, when asked, what specific books or articles he turns to for insight into foreign policy.
“More than anything else would be various newspapers including your own, you really get a vast array and, you know a big menu of different people and different ideas. You know you get a very big array of things from reading the media, from seeing the media, the papers, including yours.”
9) Trump has revealed an instinct for avoiding policy specifics, which he says is meant to keep rivals from predicting his reaction to hostilities but which his critics say reveals a lack of knowledge on the issues. During the interview, Trump refused to issue a “blanket standard” for sending American troops to fight abroad.
“You may say… it sounds nice to say, 'I have a blanket standard; here’s what it is.' Number one is the protection of our country, okay? That’s always going to be number one, by far. That’s by a factor of a hundred. But you know, then there will be standards for other places but it won’t be a blanket standard."