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Trump Foreign Policy Outlook


President-elect Donald Trump has no firsthand foreign policy experience to draw on when he takes office in January, which is why so many people have been anxiously waiting to see who he nominates for key cabinet positions. Trump chose retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn to be his national security adviser and Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo as his pick for CIA. We're still waiting on the top appointments, though, at the State Department and the Pentagon.

Here to talk about what these appointments might say about Trump's foreign policy is Andrew Bacevich. He is a historian and author of the book, "America's War For The Greater Middle East: A Military History." Thank you for joining us.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Oh, thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Is there anything we know for certain about what foreign policy will look like in Donald Trump's administration?

BACEVICH: No. I would say there's nothing that we know for certain, but I think that these early appointments are at least interesting in what they suggest. And what they suggest to me, above all, is that the notion that President Trump will be an anti-establishment figure is unlikely really to translate into his approach to national security policy.

WERTHEIMER: Because he's looking at people who are - could hardly be more establishment, like generals.

BACEVICH: Precisely. I mean, it's not that all generals think alike, but it's certainly the case that anybody who has become a three-star or a four-star officer is very much a product of the national security establishment and will be highly unlikely to be a figure who somehow is going to challenge or overturn that establishment.

WERTHEIMER: Now, during the primaries, Trump said torture works. And then recently, after a conversation with retired General James Mattis, who's one of the people being considered for the Pentagon job, Trump suggested torture was not a useful interrogation technique after all. Do you see Trump's thinking shifting on a lot of these kinds of issues?

BACEVICH: Well, you know, I think Trump is a person who does not appear to have very many fixed convictions nor somebody who has thought very deeply about matters related to foreign policy. One of the things that seems to be evident is that the last person he talks to seems to be the person that - in which he discovers a certain amount of wisdom.

You'll recall that when he met with President Obama immediately after the election, he came away expressing sudden admiration for President Obama and indeed endorsing some aspects of the Affordable Care Act that he had previously promised to abolish.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you have said that the United States has defined American power through military action for decades. Is that something that you see changing in the next administration?

BACEVICH: Regrettably, no. I mean, to expand the point a little bit, I think in particular, in our efforts to bring stability or spread democracy - whatever we think we're doing - in the greater Middle East, the emphasis on military power hasn't worked and has produced a wide variety of unintended consequences - almost entirely negative consequences.

There's little evidence that Mr. Trump has the capacity or that his military appointees have the inclination to rethink this emphasis on military power, and I think that's quite regrettable.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder, if you had the chance to be the last person who spoke to Donald Trump, you know, for the next few days and so perhaps influenced his thinking on certain issues, what would you want him to be thinking about?

BACEVICH: I want him to ask a very fundamental question with regard to U.S. military policy, especially in the Islamic world. And the question simply is, is it working? Are we winning? When will this war, this semi-permanent war, come to an end? Because I think if you confront those questions directly, you cannot help but reach the conclusion that our military endeavors in that part of the world have failed. And only when we acknowledge that they have failed does it become possible then to consider alternatives to simply pressing on.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Andrew Bacevich. He is a historian, the author of a book called "America's War For The Greater Middle East." Thank you very much for joining us.

BACEVICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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