WASHINGTON, D.C. Feb. 4, 2020 – As President Trump prepares to deliver what — if Americans show up in November — will be his final State of the Union address, he is certain to outline his hollow case for re-election. We know precisely what the contours of that case will be when it comes to foreign policy and national security — because he has been making it for the past two years. 

A review of Trump’s political rallies since the start of last year reveals foreign policy and national security themes that are just as deceptive as they are consistent. 

Among the key themes:

Trump Claims to Break the Mold by Putting Regular Americans First

  • “Our failed ruling class believed it was their right to rule over you, to take your money, to take your jobs, to redistribute your wealth all over the globe, wherever they wanted it. But I don’t like that … The great sellout has ended, and it ended the day I took the oath of office … After years of building up foreign nations, we are finally building up our nation. We are finally putting America first.” (Dallas, Texas, 10/17/19)
  • “Before my election, our leaders used the great American middle class as a piggy bank to fund their delusional global projects all over the world. We take care of other people. We take care of other countries, but we don’t take care of our own. They knowingly decimated American manufacturing to promote economic growth in foreign countries.” (Tupelo, MS, 11/01/19)
  • “No betrayal of American workers has been worse than the Democrat Party’s pursuit of open borders.” (Montoursville, Pennsylvania, 05/19)
  • “We’re reversing decades of calamitous trade policies that led other countries to pillage our jobs, plunder our factories, and devastate Ohio communities and communities in every state. The era of economic surrender is over.” (Cincinnati, OH, 08/01/19)

Reality: It’s Always ‘Trump First’ — Even at the Expense of Our Security and Prosperity

  • Far from fighting for hardworking Americans, Trump has consistently showered concessions on corporate America through tax cuts, deregulation, and sweetheart trade provisions. His erratic trade agenda fails our economy, our workers, and our national security.   
    • According to the chief economist of Moody’s, Trump’s tariffs on hundreds of billions worth of Chinese imports have resulted in the creation of 300,000 fewer jobs. Manufacturing activity continues to shrink and reached its lowest point since the Great Recession in August 2019. 
    • Farm bankruptcies skyrocketed by 60-100 percent across the Midwest in early 2019, even after 13,000 American farms disappeared in 2018. Nationwide, overall farm bankruptcies rose by 13 percent throughout the country from July 2018 to June 2019. 
    • Farmers suffered despite Trump showering $28 billion in subsidies on them — in large part because the top 0.1 percent largest and most successful farm-owners received 54 percent of the total subsidies. 
  • All the while, Trump has consistently enriched himself politically and financially, often at the expense of the national interest:
    • That dynamic was at the core of the impeachment charges; the call transcript the White House itself released — coupled with mountains of evidence collected despite near-total administration stonewalling — portrayed a President who was willing to betray our national security to bolster his own reelection prospects. 
    • Similarly, even Trump’s closest one-time advisors, including his former National Security Adviser John Bolton, have claimed that Trump ignored the national interest by granting personal “favors” to his autocratic counterparts, including the leaders of China and Turkey, where he and his family retain significant financial interests. 
  • All told, Trump’s foreign and national security policy has been contoured to his own political and financial interests, casting aside what makes everyday Americans safer, more secure, and more prosperous. 

Trump Says Foreign Countries Ripped Us Off Before He Stood Up to Them  

  • “Before I took office, foreign countries ripped us off, robbed us blind, and pushed us around, but America is not being pushed around anymore.” (Cincinnati, OH, 08/01/18)
  • “But now our military is so powerful, we’re taking on countries and trade that the Democrats and Republicans didn’t do anything about…” (Montoursville, Pennsylvania, 05/19)
  • “We’re stopping China from ripping us off. We’re stopping all of these other countries from taking advantage of the United States where we lose our money, we lose our wealth, we lose our jobs, we close our factories. That’s not happening anymore. It’s reversed. We were the sucker country for years and years, but we are not the sucker country anymore, and they all know it.” (Tupelo, Mississippi, 11/09/19)

Reality: Trump Is an Easy Mark for Adversaries and Dictators

  • No President has been an easier mark than Donald Trump. He has broadcast to his foreign counterparts that they need only cater to his own interests — rather than to the broader national interest. And those counterparts have been all too willing to oblige.
    • North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — for whom Trump has professed his “love” — has been able to take Trump for a ride, securing multiple summits, legitimacy, and an unchecked ability to continue advancing his nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Trump, in return, has nothing concrete to show for his fawning over the world’s most brutal dictator. 
    • With China, Trump has similarly granted favors to and heaped praise on Beijing’s authoritarian leader — referring to his “unlimited” respect and friendship for him — even while claiming to stand up to him on trade. And the results have been predictable: Trump’s much-heralded “phase one” trade agreement with Beijing doesn’t even make up for the costs Americans endured from Trump’s trade war. 
    • A litany of other dictators have similarly hoodwinked Trump — from Turkey’s Erdogan, who managed to finagle a greenlight to slaughter our Kurdish partners, to the Saudi Crown Prince, who ordered the murder of a Washington Post contributor and U.S. resident without any consequence. 
  • It’s no coincidence that — far from stand up for the American people — Trump consistently rolls over to his global counterparts when his own financial interests are involved, as they are in the cases of China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and elsewhere. 

Trump Claims to Be Proud to Be Less Popular Abroad, Shows He Stands with Americans, Not Foreigners

  • “In France, President Obama’s more popular than President Trump. Well, I should be. I just taxed their wine and champagne coming into our country because they’re ripping us off on the Internet, OK? If I ever become more popular that means I’m not doing my job.” (Battle Creek Michigan, 12/18/19)
  • “Germany likes Obama better than Trump, a lot better. I said, of course, because I’m making them pay their bills.” (Greenville, NC, 07/17/19)

Reality: Trump Leaves America Less Influential and Less Respected

  • Far from offering an advantage, Trump’s unpopularity around the world has left America less influential and less respected, impairing our ability to rally partners against collective challenges — from terrorism to deadly diseases.
    • In his trade war with China, Trump alienated our allies instead of enlisting them in the fight, leaving Americans alone to bear the costs of a protracted trade conflict while China taps into more economic markets, including those of our one-time partners. 
    • In the Middle East, Trump has repeatedly undercut our allies, making the task of deterring Iran and stemming ISIS’ resurgence all the more difficult. 
    • On global challenges like climate change, Trump does nothing but leave an empty seat at the table, putting other countries in charge of threats that affect our citizens instead of tackling them head on with our allies by our side.
  • On these and so many other issues, the fact that  global approval of U.S. leadership is at 31 percent — the lowest level of any of the past three administrations, lower even than China’s — is a cause for alarm, not for boasting. Even our closest allies don’t trust Trump to do the right thing. 
  • While Trump might revel in his global bully approach, his style means that the toll of addressing threats to our national security falls more squarely on the shoulders of the American people. 

Trump Claims to End Endless Wars and Kill Terrorists Through Decisive Action

  • “While we’re proudly creating jobs and killing terrorists, Congressional Democrats are consumed with partisan rage and obsessed with a deranged witch hunt hoax.” (Des Moines, IA, 01/30/20)
  • “So the very same establishment that sacrificed our prosperity, weakened our military, and tied us down through endless wars that never ended folks, they never ended.” (Montoursville, PA, 05/19)
  • “We’re charting a path to stability and peace in the Middle East, because great nations do not want to fight endless wars. They’ve been going on forever. Starting to remove a lot of troops.” (Orlando, FL, 06/18/19)
  • “But from now on, we want to fight where it is to the benefit of the United States of America, not to the benefit of other countries. And we will only fight to win….We’ve defeated 100 percent of that ISIS caliphate, and no longer have any troops in the area. We don’t have any troops. The troops have been pulled out.” (Minneapolis, MN, 10/10/19)

Reality: His Recklessness and Chaos Have Put More Americans in Harm’s Way

  • Candidate Trump in 2016 ran on a pledge to wind down America’s wars. Instead, he has mired America further in ongoing conflicts while making future ones more likely. 
  • The costs of Trump’s erratic approach have mounted:
    • Americans have nothing to show for Trump’s reckless pressure campaign against Iran except for the deployment of some 20,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East in the past year, an Iran that is now unshackled from key nuclear restrictions, more than sixty American suffering from traumatic brain injuries, and a military that has repeatedly been to the brink of conflict with Tehran. All the while, the “better deal” Trump promised is nowhere in sight.
    • In Iraq and Syria, Trump has given ISIS a lifeline. The aftermath of the strike on Qassem Soleimani forced the U.S. to halt counter-ISIS operations, and the Iraqi Parliament voted to kick out U.S. troops undertaking the fight. Trump’s reckless decision to abandon the Kurds at the request of Turkey’s autocratic leader dealt a devastating blow to our main partner in the fight against ISIS and freed hundreds of ISIS prisoners.
    • In Yemen, now home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Trump has ramped up support to the Saudi-led coalition and increased American involvement in the region. At the outset of his presidency, Trump authorized the Pentagon to more than double refueling support for Saudi Arabia and removed limits on arms sales to Riyadh, while giving a green light to the worst impulses of the Saudi Crown Prince.
    • In Somalia, Trump doubled the number of troops, reaching their highest levels in more than 20 years. The United States has launched 150 strikes in Somalia, a massive increase from 34 under the previous administration. 
  • All the while, Trump has at every turn undermined and delegitimized diplomacy — precisely the tool we need to end endless wars — including by attacking our diplomats and de-funding the State Department. 
  • Trump’s claim to be “creating jobs and killing terrorists” is a cheap imitation of a line — “Osama Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive” — that helped his predecessor win reelection in 2012. The reality in 2020 is starkly different, and Americans can’t afford four more years of a reckless, shoot-first-ask-questions-later President.

We are former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders who have seen first-hand how the U.S. is stronger, safer, and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad.  www.nationalsecurityaction.org