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Harvard Professor To Critique U.S. Foreign Policy In San Diego Speech

November 2, 2017 1:51 p.m.

Harvard Professor To Critique U.S. Foreign Policy In San Diego Speech


Stephen Walt, professor, Harvard Kennedy School

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Candidate Donald Trump was very critical of how America was using its military might. He called for a pullback from widespread military intervention and toyed with the prospect of pulling out of NATO. But President Donald Trump is presenting a different attitude toward America's military might. He surrounded himself with military generals and regularly threatens military force. Why was the isolationist campaign talk attractive to segments of the American public and what has caused the apparent change in the presidents attitude? Those are the questions that my next guest will address in a foreign policy speech today at the University of San Diego. Joining me is Professor Stephen Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Walt, welcome to the program.It's nice to be here.You say President Donald Trump said it best got elected in part because presidents were -- Americans are fed up with the foreign policy. The twins turned off voters?There was a sense the United States was overcommitted in the world. April and April 2016 found 57% of Americans thought or agreed with the statement, the United States should concentrate on its problems here at home and let other countries get along as best they can. That's not quite isolationism but it is leaning in that direction. There was a real sentiment in the United States we had taken on too much and many of the things we had taken on had not worked out particularly well. The United States is still mired in Afghanistan after 16 years. The warlock had clearly not going well and cost several trillion dollars. Ultimately leads to the emergence of Isis. We have a financial crisis that has lots of negative impacts on our allies in Europe and elsewhere. So if you looked at the record of American foreign policy, if you look ever reword say in 1993 and 94, people were optimistic democracy would spread etc. You look at where we were in 2016, it was easy for Trump to say as he did, American foreign policy was a complete and total disaster. And lots of Americans rightly or wrongly nodded their heads in agreement. I should add, I don't think that was the principal reason he got elected or the principal reason people were flocking to him. But it was part of it. You will remember Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party was equally critical of U.S. foreign policy and left Hillary Clinton as the defender of the status quo. That with the status quo that wasn't easy to defend.President Trump campaigned on America first. He critiqued NATO and he pulled the U.S. out of the transpacific partnership. Is that the sort of shakeup you wanted to see in America's foreign policy?No. I think hitting out of the transpacific partnership was the biggest blunder he has made this far. Because the United States does have a strategic interest in preventing China from dominating Asia. The transpacific partnership is an important part of maintaining our strategic relations with key Asian allies. It's a great contradiction really in Trump's approach about on one hand he is expressed concerns about China as a potential rival and know about. Yet he took a step that greatly weakened the American position throughout Asia. That is one way where America first it seems to me has left America weaker.If the U.S. is to continue to play a leadership role in the world, doesn't that have to be backed up with military strength?Absolutely. George Cannon once said, you have no idea how much it improves the quality of diplomacy to have a little quiet military force in the background. But the key is, you are putting the emphasis here on diplomacy. On attempting to manage relations, resolve conflicts, get other countries to see things your way, resolve differences where they occur. As your first, second and third resort and your last resort is been to rely on military power. In some respects, when you are forced to use military force, it's a sign you are unable to resolve things in a more -- less expensive but also more likely to be enduring way. I would like to remind people, many of the great triumphs of American foreign policy were diplomatic in nature. The Marshall plan was a brilliant diplomatic maneuver. It was not a military maneuver at all. The Camp David agreements that ended the war between Egypt and Israel was a diplomatic achievement. Not something won by the forced march. One of the things that concerns me about Trump's approach to foreign policy, he seems to think all you need to do is increase the defense budget and let generals bomb whatever they would like. At the same time, you are getting the State Department and placing really no emphasis whatsoever on listening to our allies, finding ways to cooperate with them, and where appropriate talking to adversaries to see if some of our differences can be worked out.You have said, quote, in a competition between Trump and the establishment, the establishment is winning. But you've also said that President Trump is erratic. Wouldn't you want the establishment to win in a competition like that?I think the form policy establishment has actually been responsible for a number of mistaken policies over the last 25 years. Many of them a consensus between Democrats and Republicans. Shifting American foreign policy in certain ways is something I think was right. Trump is not the guy who will be able to do it. What you're seeing now is that establishment raining him in and a variety of different ways. Certainly he has come around to a more conventional view of NATO. He is talking tough on North Korea, but has it to do anything about it. He has talked about tearing up all the trade deals that he says are bad but he has yet to tear up any of them. Except TPP which he did on his third day in office. The one big difference between Trump and all of his predecessors, he has paid almost no attention whatsoever to what I would call, liberal values, democracy, human rights -- any of these things that have been the ideal the United States has used to justify and to some degree directives foreign policy. He never talks about these things. He doesn't emphasize them. He's completely comfortable with dictators, autocrats etc. In ways that no American President has been. I'm a realist. I'm not sort of a big values person. But I think he is sacrificing one of the big things that has been a diplomatic asset for us. Namely the sense the United States does in fact stand for something in the world. It's not just about self-interest. Is not just America first. That's important but it's not the only thing we care about.I have been speaking with Professor Stephen Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School . Thank you very much.It's been a pleasure.