By Adam Lomax
On Wednesday 15th February 2017 the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Dr Brendan Simms, Professor of History of International Relations at Cambridge University, to discuss his new book Donald Trump: The Making of a World View. The event was chaired by Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director at HJS.
Dr Simms began by stating that the book’s main objective is to challenge the assumption that Trump’s beliefs are incoherent and contradictory (although he is certainly not a profound thinker). Dr Simms added that Trump’s own books are not the most accurate insight into his opinions since they are largely ghost written. However Trump has given numerous interviews since the 1980s which do indicate a more consistent insight into his political views, particularly on foreign policy.
For example, throughout the 1980s Trump was especially critical of Saudi Arabia, Japan and NATO for not appreciating the security that the US provided them; this remains a priority of Trump’s in the present day. Trump has also maintained a relatively consistent view on nuclear arms and the danger they pose to the world. In 1984 he volunteered to act as a negotiator to the USSR in order to discuss bilateral disarmament, stating “it would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles”. In 2004 he reiterated his concern on the matter by claiming that “humanity is in tremendous trouble” due to nuclear weapons.
A more worrying recurrence in Trump’s rhetoric is his lack of concern with either the USSR or the current Putin regime. In point of fact Trump is generally much more critical of America’s allies than of its enemies, such as when he expresses admiration for Putin yet advocates higher tariffs on foreign cars that are imported into the US. Putin has clearly exploited this rhetoric in the past and will likely continue to do so in the future. Dr Simms concluded his talk by reiterating that while many people may be concerned by Donald Trump’s comments in recent months, they cannot claim to be shocked or surprised given that he has been making similar remarks for the past thirty five years.
The floor was then opened up to questions from the audience. The first questioner asked why it was exactly that Trump appeared so unconcerned with either Russia or the USSR. Dr Simms responded that Trump’s desire for American greatness is based primarily on trade and economic power and so he is mainly concerned with countries that either rival the US economy (e.g. China) or that undermine American strength by exploiting relations with the US (e.g. NATO).
Another questioner asked whether Trump’s America First policy contradicts his Make America Great Again policy since the original Reagan slogan was largely based on hard power and aggressive foreign policy. Dr Simms replied that Trump does not see any such contradiction and that, to clarify, Trump does not see himself as an isolationist. He simply rejects the notion of US exceptionalism and wishes to use US power in order to correct this imbalance.
Another questioner asked which policies did Trump actually support given his preference for criticising them. Dr Simms prefaced his response by saying that critiques were not unusual in political discourse. As for his support of certain policies, Trump did state that he would back the Iraq War provided WMDs were a legitimate threat. Furthermore, Trump’s support for harsher political and economic measures on Iran dates back to the 1980s.
Once all the questions had been answered, Dr Mendoza thanked Dr Simms for coming and the lecture was adjourned.