Experts And Fact-Checkers Blast Donald Trump's “Incoherent” And “Fact-Free” Foreign Policy Speech

Foreign policy experts and media fact-checkers highlighted the numerous false claims and contradictions in GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech, noting that his speech was “fact free” and “incoherent.”

Donald Trump Delivers Speech On Foreign Policy

Trump Claims His Foreign Policy Will Put “America First.” On April 27, Trump gave a speech on his vision for foreign policy, criticizing President Obama and Hillary Clinton for what he described as “missteps that have disillusioned the nation’s allies and emboldened its rivals":

Donald J. Trump, exuding confidence after his resounding primary victories in the East, promised a foreign policy on Wednesday that he said would put “America first.” He castigated President Obama and Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and a possible opponent in the general election, for what he described as a string of missteps that have disillusioned the nation’s allies and emboldened its rivals.

Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, pledged a major buildup of the military, the swift destruction of the Islamic State and the rejection of trade deals that he said tied the nation’s hands. But he also pointedly rejected the nation-building of the George W. Bush administration, reminding his audience that he had opposed the Iraq war. [The New York Times4/27/16]

Foreign Policy Experts And Media Fact-Checkers Say Trump’s Foreign Policy Is “Incoherent"

Politifact Gives Trump Two “False” Ratings For Statements He Made During Speech. On April 27, Politifact discredited Trump’s claims that he warned war in Iraq would “destabilize the Middle East” and that ISIS is “making millions of dollars a week selling Libyan oil.” [Politifact, 4/27/164/27/16]

Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf: Trump’s Speech Was “Incoherent” And “Fact-Free.” On the April 27 edition of CNN’s CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, Foreign Policy CEO and editor David Rothkopf derided Trump’s foreign policy speech as “incoherent” and “fact-free,” and pointed out Trump’s factual errors in his foreign policy proposals:

DAVID ROTHKOPF: I think if the objective was to establish that Trump's serious on foreign policy, he failed at every level. This speech was incoherent, it was fact-free, you know he -- his solution to almost everything was, let me handle it. You know, Russia, I'll talk to them.China, I'll talk to them. ISIS, I got a plan, I'm not going to tell you what it is. But, you know, saying that, you know, your personality is going to solve every problem isn't a foreign policy.It's really a kind of narcissistic personality disorder.


BROOKE BALDWIN (HOST): [I]t is also sort of interesting how this is resonating among Republicans. We have a couple of tweets, and let me just read a couple of them and you can see how this is resonating among former U.S. House Speaker -- actually, let's begin with Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been quite harsh already. So in typical Lindsey Graham humor, “question number one for Trump, are we sure the guy running the teleprompter has the pages in the right order? #Notmakinganysense.” So, from one extreme from Senator Graham, to -- let’s go to Newt Gingrich, who supported him, and he tweeted, “This was a serious foreign policy speech by Trump. It is worth reading and thinking about it. It will be ridiculed by Washington elites.” And it is.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: Well, it deserves to be ridiculed. You know, he was talking about facts or specifics, there weren’t any. You talk about a room full of foreign policy specialists, clearly everybody in the audience knew more about foreign policy than Trump. His delivery reading this thing off the teleprompter was halting. You know, he started out with a reference to America first. Well, that was pretty ill-considered. You know, the America firsters made their names in the 1930s when they preached isolationism in the face of Hitler. And the result of that was the setup for World War II. That America first policy was a failure. That was more specific than this one was. And when it came to facts, some of the facts he offered were wrong or misleading. He talked about a manufacturing trade deficit without mentioning the surplus in services. He talked about oil being shipped to ISIS from Libya when that isn't actually what's happening. He talked about, you know, Obama beating up on our allies, and then proceeded, as the governor noted, to beat up on our allies, and say, look at how they are not supporting us in Japan or Korea. Look at how they are not supporting us in Europe. I'm going to go after our allies. So it was either fact-free or it was incoherent. And most of it was fact-free and incoherent. [CNN, CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin4/27/16]

NY Times' Reporter On China: Trump Falsely Claimed Obama Has “Allowed China To Continue Its Economic Assault” On The United States. The New York Times' Michael Forsythe noted that Trump's criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward China ignored the fact that the “administration has launched a volley of punitive trade actions against imports from China since 2009, including on tires, and, last month, on certain types of steel”:

When Mr. Trump said that President Obama has “allowed China to continue its economic assault” on the United States, he could point to a few figures to back him up. According to the Census Bureau, the United States ran a record $365.7 billion trade deficit in goods in 2015. In 2009, his President Obama’s first year in office, the deficit was $226.9 billion.

But at the same time, the Obama administration has launched a volley of punitive trade actions against imports from China since 2009, including on tires, and, last month, on certain types of steel. Much of the deficit can be explained by the global supply chain. Apple, for example, makes its iPhones in China, contributing to the deficit, but the profits are realized by the company back in the United States. [The New York Times, 4/27/16]

NY Times' Moscow Bureau Chief: Trump’s Plans To Cooperate With Russia Are “Easier Said Than Done.” The New York Times' Moscow bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar explained that Trump’s call to have Russia and the United States “cooperate in fighting terrorism globally” ignored that “the Obama administration has been trying to figure out for months whether the Kremlin sincerely wants to fix the problem in Syria, or is merely trying to shore up its main Middle Eastern ally” and that question of whether to cooperate with the country “remains ambiguous”:

In general, Russian officials avoid endorsing candidates in the American elections. But when they do express a preference these days, it tends to be for Mr. Trump. That his because he echoes President Vladimir V. Putin’s call that the two countries cooperate in fighting terrorism globally — as Mr. Trump just did again in his speech.

Mr. Trump said he would rapidly find out whether the Russians were ready to find common ground and, if they are not, “quickly walk from the table.”

Likely easier said than done. In Syria, for example, Russia intervened militarily last September, saying it was taking the fight to the terrorists themselves. Yet it continues to press attacks mainly against groups challenging the Syrian military controlled by President Bashar al-Assad.

The Obama administration has been trying to figure out for months whether the Kremlin sincerely wants to fix the problem in Syria, or is merely trying to shore up its main Middle Eastern ally. Washington has not walked away from the table yet because the answer remains ambiguous. [The New York Times4/27/16]

Politico: “Trump Fails To Impress Foreign-Policy Experts.”  On April 27, Politico’s Michael Crowley reported that “even among natural allies, Trump's speech received a failing grade for coherence and drew snickering and scorn” from the very audience it aimed to persuade:

But across the ideological spectrum, and even among natural allies, Trump's speech received a failing grade for coherence and drew snickering and scorn from foreign policy insiders who remain unconvinced that Trump is up to the job.

“It struck me as a very odd mishmash,” said Doug Bandow, a foreign policy scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, who shares many of Trump's beliefs about scaling back America's role abroad.

Trump's speech was “lacking in policy prescriptions,” and its “strident rhetoric masked a lack of depth,” said Robert “Bud” McFarlane, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan who attended the speech.


The speech was “completely contradictory in the sense that the first message is that we should make allies pay not just for the cost of having troops in their countries but for the entire defense that the U.S. provides to Europe and Asia, which he estimated at trillions of dollars. And then in the next breath, he said that the U.S. can't be relied on and needs to be a better ally,” said Thomas Wright, a Brookings Institution fellow. [Politico4/27/16]

The Guardian Highlights 10 Inconsistencies In Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech. On April 27, The Guardian reporter Dan Roberts pointed out 10 contradictions in Trump’s foreign policy speech, including criticisms of Obama’s “humiliations” on the world stage and Trump's “tension between its isolationism and its interventionism": 

Here are 10 passages that suggest Trump may instead be doing what all politicians like doing best: having his cake and eating it.

  1. Some groups “will never be anything but our enemies”, Trump said after attacking Obama for doing deals with Iran. Only he claimed shortly afterwards: “The world must know we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”

  2. Trump also blasted Obama for letting down existing overseas partners, promising “America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again”. Yet he delivers warnings about paying for Nato membership that might sound more like blackmail to some. “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense – and, if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

  3. He was also ambiguous about America’s role in promoting democracy in the world, claiming “we are getting out of the nation-building business” but then adding: “I will work with our allies to reinvigorate western values and institutions.” He also argued that promoting “western civilization and its accomplishments will do more to inspire positive reforms around the world”.

  4. Then there is the standard section of any recent US presidential speech that calls on Middle East nations to do more to fight Islamic extremism. “This has to be a two-way street. They must also be good to us and remember us and all we are doing for them,” he said of allies in the region. These comments might have more clout coming from someone who had not recently offended much of the Muslim world by threatening to ban their citizens from entering the US. [The Guardian, 4/27/16]