Election 2024: Trump Talks Foreign Policy With Time Magazine
from The Water's Edge

Election 2024: Trump Talks Foreign Policy With Time Magazine

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Donald Trump gave his most detailed interview on foreign policy yet. He made some dubious claims but didn’t call for America to come home.
Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on May 1, 2024.
Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on May 1, 2024. Brian Snyder/Reuters

Time magazine made news this week with a cover story based on two interviews with Donald Trump. The media’s coverage of the interviews has focused heavily on what Trump said about abortion (states can monitor pregnant women to make sure they don’t have abortions), undocumented immigrants (they “aren’t civilians” and can be rounded up by the U.S. military), and the January 6 rioters (he would “absolutely” consider pardoning them).

What got much less attention was what Trump said about foreign policy. And he said a lot. He confirmed that he is an ardent protectionist, suggested he is not the isolationist he is often made out to be, and frequently did violence to the facts to support his views.

More on:

United States

Election 2024

Elections and Voting

Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy

Trump began his foray into foreign policy by repeating his pledge to impose a 10 percent tariff on all imports and a more-than-60 percent tariff on all Chinese imports:

I call it a ring around the country. We have a ring around the country. A reciprocal tax also, in addition to what we said. And if we do that, the numbers are staggering. I don't believe it will have much of an effect because they're making so much money off of us. I also don't believe that the costs will go up that much. And a lot of people say, “Oh, that's gonna be a tax on us.” I don't believe that. I think it's a tax on the country that's doing it. And I know. Look, I took in billions of dollars from China. Nobody else ever did anything on China.

 Again, tariffs are taxes that American consumers and producers pay on goods entering the country. While Chinese exporters may cut their prices to defray the cost of tariffs, all the money that the U.S. government gets from tariffs comes from individuals and firms in the United States.

Trump went on to insist that sharply higher tariffs won’t spur inflation. When the Time reporter said that calculations showed that his “trade war with China cost the U.S. economy $316 billion and 300,000 jobs,” Trump replied that his critics don’t “know what they’re talking about.” He also said he didn’t think that U.S. businesses would pass their higher import costs along to their customers, though he didn’t explain why they wouldn’t. Businesses, after all, are looking to make a profit, not protect their customers’ wallets. He instead argued that tariffs would eventually encourage domestic production. That could happen, but as the history of protection of the U.S. steel industry shows, it is hardly guaranteed.

When the topic turned to the Middle East, Trump repeated his claim that October 7 would not have happened had he been president and said that Iran didn’t engage in terrorism on his watch. The former claim is debatable, the latter claim is flat wrong. Trump said he once supported a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, but expressed understandable skepticism about its feasibility today:

There was a time when I thought two states could work. Now I think two states is going to be very, very tough. I think it's going to be much tougher to get. I also think you have fewer people that liked the idea. You had a lot of people that liked the idea four years ago. Today, you have far fewer people that like that idea.

The reporter didn’t press Trump on what the alternative was to the two-state solution, but did ask Trump if he would go to war to protect Israel. The former president answered: “I have been very loyal to Israel, more loyal than any other president. I've done more for Israel than any other president. Yeah, I will protect Israel.”

More on:

United States

Election 2024

Elections and Voting

Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy

Asked about NATO, Trump repeated his frequent claim that when he became president, NATO “had no cash, they were dying, we were spending almost 100% of the money on NATO. We were protecting Europe. And they weren't even paying.” While most NATO members in 2017 had not made good on their 2014 pledge to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024, that didn’t mean that Europe spent nothing on its defense.

Trump went on to suggest that he wasn’t looking to withdraw the United States from NATO as much as he was seeking to get NATO members to pull their weight:

I said to them, if you don't pay, enjoy yourselves, but we're not going to protect you. I said it again a few weeks ago, two months ago, I said it again. And I said it, that if you don't pay. Look, that's the way you talk as a negotiator. I'm negotiating because I want them to pay. I want Europe to pay. I want nothing bad to happen to Europe, I love Europe, I love the people of Europe, I have a great relationship with Europe. But they've taken advantage of us, both on NATO and on Ukraine. We're in for billions of dollars more than they're in in Ukraine. It shouldn't be that way.

Trump added that “NATO is fine. See, the problem I have with NATO is, I don't think that NATO would come to our defense if we had a problem.” NATO’s Article 5 self-defense provision has been invoked just once, after the United States was attacked on 9/11. More than two dozen NATO members lost servicemen or women fighting alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Trump also threw Ukraine a potential lifeline. When asked whether he would “continue to provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” his response essentially was, “it depends”:

I’m going to try and help Ukraine, but Europe has to get there also and do their job. They're not doing their job. Europe is not paying their fair share.

Trump also knocked down the claim made by Hungarian President Victor Orban that he wouldn’t give Ukraine “a penny” if he returned to the White House:

No, I said I wouldn't give unless Europe starts equalizing. They have to come. Europe has to pay. We are in for so much more than the European nations. It's very unfair to us. And I said if Europe isn't going to pay, who are gravely more affected than we are. If Europe is not going to pay, why should we pay?

Trump’s answer implied that paying a fair share means Europe needs to spend as much on Ukraine as the United States does. By that standard, Europeans have met the test. Europe is already providing Ukraine with more military and humanitarian aid than the United States has. Europe has also absorbed six million Ukrainian refugees and paid much higher energy prices to punish Russia for its aggression. Conversely, as Europeans like to point out, their switch to liquid natural gas imported from the United States has been a boon to U.S. producers and shippers.

The interview moved on to Asia. Trump was asked if the United States should defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. His answer restated official U.S. policy and could have been taken from an interview with any president dating back to Jimmy Carter:

Well, I’ve been asked this question many times and I always refuse to answer it because I don't want to reveal my cards to a wonderful reporter like you. But no. China knows my answer very well. But they have to understand that things like that can’t come easy. But I will say that I have never publicly stated, although I want to, because I wouldn’t want to give away any negotiating abilities by giving information like that to any reporter.

Trump then went on to say something that further complicates the “Trump-is-an-isolationist” commentary:

That’s a policy of the United States. It’s to help various countries that are in trouble.

 The interview closed with Trump being asked if he would withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea. He answered:

We have 40,000 troops that are in a precarious position. And I told South Korea that it's time that you step up and pay. They’ve become a very wealthy country. We've essentially paid for much of their military, free of charge. And they agreed to pay billions of dollars. And now, probably now that I’m gone, they're paying very little. I don't know if you know that they renegotiated the deal I made. And they're paying very little.

The United States actually has 28,500 troops in South Korea, and the U.S. taxpayer does not underwrite the South Korean military. South Korea has the world’s eleventh largest military budget, spending nearly $50 billion annually. The Biden administration negotiated a deal in 2021 that increased South Korea’s annual support for U.S. military forces in the country to $1 billion, a nearly 14 percent increase over what Seoul paid in the final two years of Trump’s administration.

So what did we learn from Trump’s interview? As always, he sees the United States as a sucker preyed upon by friends and allies. He makes claims that collapse under even the lightest scrutiny and swats away contrary evidence. And he wants to impose tariffs that will upend the global economy and likely cost the U.S. economy—and American workers—dearly.

But he also isn’t dedicated to the isolationist dream of making America “come home.” He instead wants to be the dealmaker who corrects the balance sheet with America’s friends, partners, and allies. His heavy-handed tactics, skewed vision of the costs of U.S. engagement overseas, and refusal to entertain facts contrary to his America-as-victim worldview could, and likely will, mean that any such deals will come only after considerable drama and turbulence. But with a bit of luck and some successful diplomacy by U.S. allies and partners, NATO and other U.S. alliances may avoid the chopping block in a potential second Trump presidency.

Campaign Update

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced on Monday that he will appear on California’s ballot in November as the nominee of the American Independent Party (AIP). The AIP was founded in 1967 and has a long history of running segregationists, like Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968 and Georgia Governor Lester Maddox in 1976. Kennedy defended his decision to run on behalf of a party with that history by saying that it had undergone a “rebirth” and was using “its independent ballot line for good.”

The Candidates in Their Own Words

The Biden campaign responded to Trump’s Time magazine interview by releasing a video of the president criticizing what Trump said. The topic President Joe Biden chose to attack wasn’t one of Trump’s ruminations about foreign policy. It was instead his answer on abortion. The choice signaled the Biden campaign’s assessment of what matters to voters.

Biden created a flap with his remarks at campaign fundraiser on Wednesday night when he said

Look, think about it. Why is China stalling so badly economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia? Why is India? Because they’re xenophobic. They don’t want immigrants.

The remarks likely didn’t win Biden any points with officials in India or Japan. White House spokesperson John Kirby argued that there was nothing to see here: “He’s making a broader point about this country, our country. Our allies know very well how much the president respects them.”

Robert F. Kennedy challenged Biden to take a “no-spoiler pledge.” It would require Biden to drop out of the race if an October 2024 poll of thirty-thousand Americans showed that Kennedy has a better chance of defeating Trump than Biden does. There is a zero-percent chance that Biden will accept the challenge. It is equally unlikely that any reputable polling organization will try to poll thirty thousand Americans. Most national polls survey fewer than fifteen hundred people. In any event, U.S. presidential elections aren’t decided by the national popular vote. They are determined by the outcome of fifty state elections and one district election. The two don’t necessarily correlate, as Trump can attest.

Cornel West appeared on Pierce Morgan Uncensored on Wednesday and renewed his criticism of how Israel has prosecuted its war on Hamas: “You've got genocide taking place... You've got IDF terrorism taking place. You can't say a mumbling word about 12 universities that have been leveled to the ground. Hundreds and hundreds of professors have been killed, students have been killed." 

What the Pundits Are Saying

In the latest on the Trump vice-presidential sweepstakes, Axios’ Sophia Cai and Juliegrace Brufke reported that North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has caught Trump’s eye. Trump, who hosted Burgum for Easter brunch, “sees Burgum as reliable and low-drama,” according to Trump insiders.

Charles Homans argued in the New York Times Magazine that Trump is using significantly darker political rhetoric than he did in 2016 or 2020. Looking at a speech that Trump gave last November on how “2024 is our final battle,” Homans concluded: “No major American presidential candidate has talked like this—not Richard Nixon, not George Wallace, not even Trump himself. Before November 2020, his speeches, for all their boundary crossings, stopped short of the language of ‘vermin’ and ‘enemies within.”

Jonathan Allen, Carole E. Lee, and Katherine Doyle reported for NBC News that the Biden administration is annoyed that Trump has been meeting so many foreign leaders. “In less than two months, Trump has hosted Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and David Cameron, the former British prime minister who now serves as the U.K.’s foreign secretary. He’s also talked with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and others by phone. It’s not unusual for a party nominee to meet with foreign officials — but that’s typically done overseas and with leaders below the level of president or prime minister.” It’s easy to see why Trump is taking these meetings: “As he defends himself against criminal charges in federal and state courts, these foreign officials—most of them far-right politicians—are providing validation for Trump.”

What the Polls Show

Pew released a poll on Wednesday showing that four-out-of-ten Americans see China an enemy, while five in ten see China a competitor. Perhaps unsurprisingly, self-identified Republican are more likely to see China as an enemy; Democrats are more likely to see China as a competitor. Either way, eight-in-ten Americans view China negatively. Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans say that limiting China should be a top foreign priority goal. The poll did not attempt to determine how much of a cost Americans would be willing to bear to limit China’s rise.

The Campaign Schedule

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in seventy-three days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in 108 days (August 19, 2024).

Election Day is 186 days away.

Inauguration Day is 262 days away.

Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons: Some rights reserved.
This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) License.
View License Detail