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Let’s contrast the Founders’ ideas to the foreign policy of the late 20th and early 21st century. American leaders had drifted from realism. At the dawn of the post-Cold war era, hopes were high that enfolding the likes of China and Russia into a so-called rules-based international order would hasten their domestic evolution towards democracy.
We hoped this order – comprised of institutions and agreed upon by codes of conduct – would temper their actions towards neighbors and to our country.
But we can see now 30 years on, after the end of the Cold War, that the Putin regime slays dissidents in cold blood and invades its neighbors; that the Chinese Communist Party has detained more than one million Chinese Muslims in labor camps, and it uses coercion and corruption as its primary tools of statecraft. Both countries have foreign policies intent on eroding American power. We can’t blame our leaders for their optimism, but we can blame them for having misjudged those regimes.
America too had become unrestrained, untethered from common sense. The institutions, the institutions we built to defend the free world against the Soviet menace, had drifted from their original mission set. Indeed, some of them had become directly antagonistic to our interests, while we kept silent.
We bought into trade agreements that helped hollow out our own middle class. We sacrificed American competitiveness for accolades from the UN and climate activists. And we engaged in conflicts without a clear sense of mission. No more.
And to round out this trio, we had lost sight of respect – not for other nations, but for our own people and for our ideals. We cozied up to Cuba. We struck a terrible agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran that put the regime’s campaigns of terrorism and proxy wars on steroids.
And many of our leaders were more eager to delight the Davos crowd than champion the principles that have made us the greatest nation that civilization has ever known. I could also name a certain tech company that's forgotten our first principles too.
I am very confident that the Founders would have been perplexed by those moves.
We had too much confidence in the international system and not enough confidence in our own nation. And we had too little courage to confront regimes squarely opposed to our interests and to our values.
But I bring you good news. One man said, “Enough.” And in 2016, you all sent him to the White House. President Trump’s prescription for foreign policy was very simple, right? “America First.” The media has spun this phrase as a dog-whistle for racists and xenophobes.
America First means that like millions and millions of Americans, President Trump loves this country and wants to see it do well in the world – not at the expense of others, but to the benefit of our people, and by extension, the nations that share our values and our strategic goals. It’s really that simple. If there is a natural law of foreign policy, this is it.
And while he wishes every country enjoyed the freedoms we enjoy here; he has no aspiration to use force to spread the American model. And so importantly − he believes America is exceptional – a place and history apart from normal human experience, the ones that our Founders spoke about. President Trump believes it is right for America to unashamedly advance policy that serves our interests and reflects American ideals.
Certainly, our course of action in this administration reflects a gut-level for love of country. But taking the pursuit of America’s interests up a notch is not just honorable; it’s urgent in this new era of great power competition. The President has taken action to stop China from stealing our stuff.
No longer will American companies be forced to hand over their technological crown jewels as the price of doing business in China. When a deal doesn’t work for the United States, no deal shall be done.
We have bolstered our military presence in the South China Sea, and we’ve put nations on notice around the world that the sale of key infrastructure and technology companies to China threatens their national security.
And we’ve strengthened the group, the entity, that screens Chinese and other foreign investments here in the United States. We are also fighting the battle to make sure that the Chinese Regime cannot burrow into the data of billions of internet users. The internet of tomorrow must have buried within its Western values and must not belong to China.
As I gave a speech in Brussels. I didn’t get any applause. I spoke about international agreements and institutions in which the United States enters, and I said that for us to continue to participate it must be with our consent and must serve our interests and ideals.
Consider our stated intent to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty with Russia. The media mandarins swore up and down that America was putting the world closer to nuclear war. But as the 28 NATO Allies unanimously concurred, Russia is in violation of the treaty, putting Vladimir Putin closer to an asymmetric advantage of his nuclear forces.
Why would one party honor a deal when the other wouldn’t? We chose to abrogate the treaty but not abrogate defending the American people.
We’re also working to ensure that the future of international agreements unambiguously advances American interest. Past efforts, agreements that we entered with North Korea, only produced more North Korean nukes and American diplomatic failure. Our diplomacy with the DPRK is laser-focused on making sure that we never again have to reopen the North Korean nuclear file.
We want to make sure that Americans are safe, and we are determined to get our policy with North Korea and to get our allies, Japan and South Korea, and to convince the Russians and the Chinese that this is in the world’s best interest. And our diplomatic efforts to get the entire world to engage, to see the risk for what it is, and to help us get North Korea to a brighter future, is something that our administration is profoundly proud of.
And finally, putting America First means proudly associating with nations that share our principles and are willing to defend them. It’s true; we had some earlier comments from Washington’s Farewell Address. He warned against permanent alliances, but that same speech praised connections with nations based on “policy, humanity, and interest.” We have reaffirmed America’s historic alliance with the only free nation in the Middle East: Israel.
We are banding together with the likeminded nations like Australia, India, Japan, and South Korea to make sure that each Indo-Pacific nation can protect its sovereignty from coercion. It’s part of a greater commitment to a free and open order. And we ought to help nations protect these first things – and human rights as well.
Countries all over the world are rediscovering their national identities, and we are supporting them. We’re asking them to do what’s best for their people as well. The wave of electoral surprises has swept from Britain to the United States and all the way to Brazil.
We want to cooperate with likeminded democracies who share our vision of the Arctic, and guard against those who don’t – nations like China and Russia. My task as America’s most senior diplomat of building alliances is hard work, but they are essential for securing the rights the Founders sought to protect.
Love of one’s country forces leaders to better honor the will of their own people. President Trump does that every day. America can compete and win against our adversaries on security and any economic issue. But even more importantly, competition forces the best ideas to rise. And among political ideas, there is none better than the American idea.
I want the world to see the unsurpassed attractiveness of the American experiment. I want other nations to take this same path. Our first president desired the same thing. He used words like this. He said, “The applause, the affection, and the adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.”
This outline is a foreign policy that returns America to old truths. President Trump has helped put the world back on track to a nation-first trajectory, and I am confident that this reawakening will last well beyond this, his presidency. For example, look at how both parties now are on guard against the threat that China presents to America – maybe except Joe Biden.
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