Donald J. Obama

On Tuesday, April 26, Donald Trump won impressive primary victories in five states, victories that would seem to make it difficult (though not yet impossible) to deny him the Republican nomination. On Wednesday, in Washington, D.C., Trump read from a teleprompter a foreign policy speech designed to make it easy for Republican officeholders and apparatchiks to come around, to pretend to discover that, “Gee, Trump really isn't that bad!" On Thursday, those Republican elites dutifully (if still somewhat halfheartedly) proclaimed that very discovery and began to slink around to supporting Trump.

Trump's speech is in fact predictably unimpressive. The parts of it that are true are utterly unoriginal and strikingly superficial regurgitations of conventional conservative criticisms of the Obama administration, presented in a simple-minded way. There are also vague platitudes about America and the world indistinguishable from those that inhabit most such speeches.

Meanwhile, the parts of the speech that are striking aren't true. The most distinctive passages are bowdlerized remnants from the writings of Pat Buchanan—bowdlerized because Trump lacks the courage of Buchanan's convictions and thinks he can get the upside of Buchananism without paying any price in popularity. Thus Trump's vague invocation of "America First" without being willing to explore the implications of this historically charged phrase. Thus Trump's de facto appeasement of dictators without going out of his way to express sympathy with them. Thus Trump's hostility to intervention around the world without considering the consequences of nonintervention. Thus Trump's contempt for any attempt to foster freedom or democracy around the world without a willingness to acknowledge what kind of world he would thus be inviting.

Pat Buchanan never really came close to becoming president. But there is a president whose policies Donald Trump's would in fact resemble: Barack Obama. No intervention against dictators? Check. No action to prevent mass slaughter? Check. Another reset with Putin's Russia to break what Trump calls the "cycle of hostility" for which the United States and Russia are apparently equally responsible? Check. "Getting out of the nation-building business, and instead focusing on creating stability in the world"? Check! Trump's agenda turns out to be Obama's all-too-familiar agenda of national retreat masked by a rhetoric of America First bellicosity.

Obama justified his policies of retrenchment and retreat with appeals to gauzy global liberalism. Trump justifies his policies of retrenchment and retreat with appeals to chest-thumping Americanism. But there would be far more continuity between the two presidents' policies than not. It would be like the Conservative Stanley Baldwin succeeding Labour's Ramsay MacDonald in Britain in the 1930s: a new man, a different party, sometimes even contrasting rhetoric—but the same disastrous retreat in the face of the gathering storm.

 Read more at The Weekly Standard

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