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Trump’s foreign policy adviser on nukes, NATO and China

How does Donald Trump see the world? And how would he approach foreign policy as president? Walid Phares, foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the candidate’s stance on using nuclear weapons, reviewing the future of NATO, fighting ISIS and confronting China.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We return now to politics, and a look at where the candidates stand on foreign policy.

    Tonight, we focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump. He met with his foreign policy team earlier today.

    And we are joined now by one of the advisers in that meeting. He's Walid Phares. He was an adviser to Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign.

    And, Mr. Phares, welcome to the program.

  • WALID PHARES, Foreign Policy Advisor, Trump Campaign:

    Thank you very much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You were just telling me the meeting went on for two hours.

    Let's just get this on the table. There's been a lot of criticism lately that Mr. Trump is not well-informed when it comes to international affairs. How well-informed is he?

  • WALID PHARES:

    Well, in this meeting, we felt that he was informed about many actors and players in the world.

    Of course, he has to be informed by his advisers now, and, hopefully, if he wins, by the actual agencies. So he is collecting that information, collecting the assessment, and focusing on the most important and priorities for him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He's gotten some headlines lately for comments he's made about the use of nuclear weapons both in the Asian theater and in Europe toward ISIS. Would U.S. policy about the use of nuclear weapons in any way change under a President Trump, do you think?

  • WALID PHARES:

    Well, let's pay attention to his words. He said, I won't rule it out. It won't be off the table, but then there would be an exception.

    And the exception would be if in a case that terrorists would obtain nukes, then maybe his adviser will tell him, we would need that. But it is not going to change our whole posture with the Russians and the Chinese and others as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that because he doesn't want to take them off the table? What is behind that thinking?

  • WALID PHARES:

    In his doctrine and probably his in approach to all issues, he doesn't want to let go of any of the options. It doesn't mean that he's going to use that option.

    So, his new doctrine of national security is going to be one a little bit wider in scenarios, how to build those scenarios, and how to react to these scenarios.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He's also made news in the last few days with his comments about NATO, saying he thinks NATO should pick up more of the cost of its own defense. Is that because he thinks NATO is not under serious threat from Russia?

  • WALID PHARES:

    Actually, that's another example of how probably the perception of what he said is different from what he meant.

    That's why these important meetings are very helpful. What he meant by a NATO review is that NATO was created under — during the Cold War, and the posture changed. Most of the crises now are in the Levant and North Africa and other places. So, he wants to restructure the NATO alliance on the one hand and then restructure the policy towards Russia as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that because he thinks Russia is not a serious threat?

  • WALID PHARES:

    He does believe that Russia — we and Russia have serious problems, serious tensions, and he recognized them in Ukraine, in Crimea.

    But he also knows that Russia is also threatened by the jihadists or by ISIS. And it's threatened even more than us. So he thinks that that could be an area where we can collaborate with the Russians against the jihadists, while we maintain our friendship and alliance with our partners in Europe.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, speaking of the jihadists, you were telling us that one of the things discussed today was a new approach toward ISIS. What could that look like?

  • WALID PHARES:

    That new approach could be, number one, having something to do with a collaboration, not just with Russia, but also maybe with China, with India, with other African countries, with Egypt.

    So, increase the series of coalitions in the region on the one hand. On the other hand, the most important element against ISIS may well be an Arab coalition, and a serious Arab coalition that would actually do the job on the ground, but we need to be helpful with them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, as you know, this administration has tried to put together an Arab coalition, tried to get countries in the region to work together toward ISIS. It hasn't happened. How would Mr. Trump be able to make it happen?

  • WALID PHARES:

    Because maybe the reason for why it didn't happen, one of the reasons, is the Iran deal, in the sense that the administration was very nervous about not endangering the Iran deal. And, therefore, the Arab coalition was very nervous about the Iran deal.

    Now it has been signed, so a new era could be opened with the Arab leaders.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, finally, I want to ask you, Mr. Phares, about a comment made today by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, where I'm just now seeing on the wires he's saying words to this effect, that he's not going to allow other nations to violate China's sovereignty in the South China Sea.

    Of course, he's referring to the dispute over the islands there. How would a President Trump address China under these circumstances?

  • WALID PHARES:

    Well, we're in the primaries. That's very, very early. And even if he clinches the nomination, it is going to still be early, because for these kind of strategic decisions, he would definitely need the information available at the agencies, within the government, within the defense agencies, and other, of course, allies.

    But the posture is going to be, national security of the United States comes first.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Walid Phares, who is an adviser to Donald Trump, we thank you very much.

  • WALID PHARES:

    Thank you for having me.

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