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Analyzing Trump’s tough-talking foreign policy speech

GOP front-runner Donald Trump articulated his foreign policy approach Wednesday morning, promising to always put American interests and security first. For two perspectives on Trump’s speech, Judy Woodruff talks with Trump foreign policy advisor Walid Phares and former State Department official Nicholas Burns.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now we return to that Donald Trump and the — or Donald Trump's speech that he gave this morning here in downtown Washington. It laid out his foreign policy vision, or at least part of it.

    Here are some excerpts.

  • DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. Has to be first. Has to be.

    That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. After the Cold War, our foreign policy veered badly off course. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama's line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos, and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper.

    I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won't tell them where and I won't tell them how. Our allies are not paying their fair share. And I have been talking about this recently a lot. Our allies must contribute toward their financial, political and human costs, have to do it, of our tremendous security burden.

    And, if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We will discuss how we can upgrade NATO's outdated mission and structure grown out of the Cold War to confront our shared challenges, including migration and Islamic terrorism.

    We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations and must regard them with open eyes, but we are not bound to be adversaries. I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia, from a position of strength only, is possible.

    Fixing our relations with China is another important step. China respects strength, and by letting them take advantage of us economically, which they are doing like never before, we have lost all of their respect. We have a massive trade deficit with China, a deficit that we have to find a way quickly to balance.

    Under a Trump administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of a foreign country.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    I will view as president the world through the clear lens of American interests. I will be America's greatest defender and most loyal champion. We will not apologize for becoming successful again, but will instead embrace the unique heritage that makes us who we are.

    The world is most peaceful and most prosperous when America is strongest.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For two perspectives on Donald Trump's foreign policy approach, I'm joined now by Walid Phares. He's a scholar and terrorism expert who advises the Trump campaign. And Ambassador Nicholas Burns, he's been a top foreign policy adviser and diplomat for both Republican and Democratic presidents. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

    And we welcome both of you back to the program.

    Ambassador Burns, to you first.

    We heard Donald Trump call the current American foreign policy a complete and total disaster. What was your overall reaction to the speech?

  • NICHOLAS BURNS, Former State Department Official:

    Judy, I thought it was a very revealing speech about Donald Trump.

    And, frankly, as a citizen and voter, I think that it revealed that he doesn't have the qualities to be a commander in chief and our top diplomat. If you think about the speech today, it betrayed, I think, a lack of in-depth knowledge, a lack of sophistication and nuance about the very complex world that we face, and a lack of humility about the restraint that America sometimes has to apply in the world.

    Those were the qualities, in my mind, that our best Republican presidents of the last 50 years had, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush. You saw very little of that balance and restraint today.

    Instead, what Mr. Trump did today was, he cast a series of ultimatums and threats mainly against our allies, against NATO and against Japan and South Korea. He was very soft on Russia. I thought it was a very unwise speech.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Walid Phares, a lack of knowledge and a lack of humility.

  • WALID PHARES, Foreign Policy Advisor, Trump Campaign:

    I wouldn't opine on his lack of humility, because that would be basically the position of his critics. That's how they perceive him.

    I would look at Mr. Trump's new policy that he is proposing, that it is something new. His critics usually try to put him in a box. Either they would accuse him of being an isolationist. And he's not, because, precisely, he spoke about many alliances he would like to develop.

    Or they would criticize him that he is an interventionist, precisely because the fact that he has opined on many regions and what to do about it. In my view, this speech is revealing a new school of thought which will develop soon and with other speeches, which is functionalist, meaning the question that he has always asked, why are we doing this?

    Why are we, for example, drawing this policy in Syria and failed? Why did we take that action in Libya and failed? Why haven't we found some joint principles with Russia while we are firm in negotiations? He is trying to propose something new based on a critique, his critique of the past eight years, but also most likely of the last 20 years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Nicholas Burns, why couldn't this be seen as a new approach? He talked about the U.S. shouldn't continue to be involved in the business of nation-building, but he said we need a new rational approach and we need to seek stability in the world.

  • NICHOLAS BURNS:

    Well, Judy, he made a point about three-quarters of the way through the speech. He says, we have to return to diplomacy and he wants to focus on diplomacy.

    And this is the presidential candidate who has maligned the entire nation of Mexico, 1.6 billion Muslims, our NATO allies and our Asian allies. So, it's a curious way to return to diplomacy to basically be very critical of our allies.

    But I want to go back to the point I ended on before. He was quite soft on Vladimir Putin. And, right now, the next American president will face Putin, who has annexed Crimea, divided Ukraine, and threatened our NATO allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

    So, the next American president needs to join with our European allies, with the Germans, British, and French, in containing Putin. We didn't hear any of that today. I think it was a very naive speech in that respect, because he appears to want to try to sidle up to Putin, and yet be so tough on our allies, all of which whom are democracies, that he's going to alienate them from American leadership.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Walid Phares, what about that, Nicholas Burns' point, that he is being tough — or, rather, being soft on Mr. Putin, at the same time he's coming down hard on America's allies?

  • WALID PHARES:

    In comparison with the current administration and maybe the last few years of the previous administration in terms of being tough or being nice with our allies, I mean, you have a feeling in the region, first in the Middle East, but also in Europe, that there has been abandonment.

    Ask the Eastern Europeans about our policy with regard to supporting them and the weapon systems that we withdrew from the area. Ask the Czechs, ask the Poles, but attack also the Egyptians. I mean, an overwhelming majority of Egyptians feel that the Obama administration, which would be continued with the Clinton administration, has abandoned them, has supported the Muslim Brotherhood.

    It's only recently that we have started to change the policy because the people of Egypt have spoken. Ask the Iranians, when they demonstrated in 2009, how we actually abandoned them. So, yes, we can criticize the beginning of a new foreign policy because it didn't develop yet on the ground.

    But to say that he is basically developing something that has been tested before, I don't think so. It's a new policy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But just staying with you quickly, Mr. Phares, what about Ambassador Burns' point that Mr. Trump was soft on Vladimir Putin?

  • WALID PHARES:

    He is soft on Vladimir Putin if the policy would be containment of Russia no questions asked.

    And, yes, he doesn't want to contain Russia with no questions asked. He wants to sit down with the Russian leadership, the same way Reagan engaged them, and when there was an issue, he confronted them. But at the same time, they were joint issues against terrorism, and we saw how it ended, how the Soviet Union ended, when a new policy was developed by Reagan and those who came after him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ambassador Burns?

  • NICHOLAS BURNS:

    Well, I think it's naive to think you can sit down with Vladimir Putin and negotiate the future of Europe.

    President Obama and President Bush before him dealt with Putin from a position of strength. We now have sanctions against Putin because he crossed the brightest red line in international police. He invaded another country and took over its territory. There was nothing in the speech about that.

    There was very little in the speech about Chinese assertiveness in East Asia. And I think, Judy, the thing that bothered me the most about this speech, the lack of humility. Donald Trump castigated 35 years of American foreign policy. That includes George H.W. Bush. It includes Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

    We have had a number of successes over the last 35 years, some failures, too. But to say that we have an entirely — we have been entirely unsuccessful for three decades is simply untrue. And I think it really means to me that he's out campaigning, and he doesn't really have an in-depth sense of how the world works.

    And we need to have that confidence in a commander in chief. Hillary Clinton has those qualities, but he surely doesn't.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mr. Phares, was Donald Trump saying that American foreign policy has been wrong for the last 30-plus years?

  • WALID PHARES:

    He actually said, basically, and gave examples in this speech and in previous statements that there were mistakes made. He didn't say everything made since 1991 until his event has been wrong.

    But he has drawn the attention of the public and the voters and the citizens, because he was addressing the American public at large, to the failures, actually, and I mentioned a few of them, only in Syria and Iraq, the fact that ISIS wasn't dismantled, the fact that we have abandoned the Arab alliance. It was very clear in the media over past few weeks that there was a — sort of a rejection in the region, at least from the perspective of what the Obama administration has abandoned.

    But, also, on the other hand — and I keep going back to that point — Europeans are maybe critical of what they think Mr. Trump is going to do. But if you ask the Europeans of Central Europe and Eastern Europe, the abandonment was done way before.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there.

    Walid Phares, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, we thank both of you.

  • WALID PHARES:

    Thank you.

  • NICHOLAS BURNS:

    Thank you very much.

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