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The Problem With Trump’s Foreign Policy Is It’s Too Much Like Cheney’s

Fresh off his likeness’s appearance on the big screen [1], former vice president Dick Cheney is back in his element dispensing foreign policy advice to Republican administrations.

Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports [2] that Cheney politely but firmly pressed Vice President Mike Pence about President Donald Trump’s deviations from his handiwork during the George W. Bush years. The encounter took place at an American Enterprise Institute confab in Georgia in front of Republicans with deep pockets.

Some of Cheney’s complaints could easily command bipartisan assent: too much policymaking via Twitter, for example, and inartful rhetoric that hasn’t exactly smoothed the path to diplomacy. But that was not the crux of the Bush veep’s argument against Trump and Pence.

“It seems, at times, as though your administration’s approach has more in common with [Barack] Obama’s foreign policy than traditional Republican foreign policy,” Cheney reportedly told Pence. It was an assertion, the kind neoconservatives often make, of total continuity between presidents dating back to at least Ronald Reagan—if not all the way to Dwight Eisenhower—and the architects of the Iraq war. It’s as if history, or at least Republican Party traditions, began circa 2002.


Trump, of course, won the Republican presidential nomination after calling the Iraq invasion a mistake and suggesting that future wars for regime change in the Middle East would be destabilizing. In the process, he defeated Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and other largely unreconstructed defenders of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy.

Pence, no reflexive dove in his own right, made note of this in response to Cheney. “When the American people elected this president, they elected a president who expressed concern about American deployments around the world,” the vice president said [3], according to the Washington Post. “And they knew this was going to be a president that came and asked the fundamental questions about—you know, where are we deployed and do we really need to be asking men and women in uniform to be deployed in that part of the world?”

And while Pence reportedly argued that Trump was governing squarely within the Republican mainstream, he concluded per the Post, “[I]t should come as no surprise to anyone: This president is skeptical of foreign deployments, and only wants American forces where they need to be.”

“Isn’t it fitting that Cheney is the one mad that Trump is ending his reckless and endless wars?” Donald Trump Jr. asked [4] on Twitter. “I never knew peace would be so unpopular!”

Where Trump and Obama do have something in common is that they both understood on some level that forever war weakens rather than strengthens the United States, spending treasure and political capital. They also both wanted a smaller U.S. military footprint in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Trump and Obama also have a third thing in common: they both broke with the Bush-Cheney foreign policy more in rhetoric than in practice (at least so far, in Trump’s case), allowing themselves to be talked out of retrenchment and into more bombings. Their interventions were narrower in scope than Iraq and committed fewer boots to the ground, but also proceeded without the constitutionally mandated congressional authorization.

So while it is rich to read that one of the men most responsible for mainstreaming dubious claims about weapons of mass destruction and ties between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks chastised Trump for “frequently” not listening to the intelligence community, it is Cheney’s main contention that deserves the most skepticism.

Trump’s foreign policy—a hard line against Iran, continually delayed yet supposedly precipitous withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, interventions in Yemen and Somalia, dragging Elliot Abrams out of retirement to saber-rattle against the admittedly awful Maduro regime in Venezuela, all conducted under the watchful eye of John Bolton—is too much like Cheney’s.

Some of this is due to a new Republican administration being overly dependent on the previous one’s retreads for staffing important national security positions. “Trump has rejected the interventionism and democracy-promotion espoused by George W. Bush, who talked during his second term of ‘ending tyranny in our time’” is how Politico summarizes the dispute.

Trump has not rejected the neoconservative foreign policy in the same systematic way that Bush embraced it, however. Nor did he come into office with the same elaborate plan for ending wars [5] that Cheney had for starting them. Like Obama before him, Trump likely realizes he will be blamed for any bad thing that happens that is perceived to be the result of inaction, while the political consequences of ill-advised intervention will either be nonexistent or spread around the Beltway establishment.

Why, then, go after Trump over something like NATO burden-sharing when he has thus far simply been a less enthusiastic and ideologically consistent hawk? One could easily imagine Cheney or other AEI regulars defending in another context the idea of the Europeans spending more money for their own defense and less on their generous welfare states.

The reason is that the debates Trump has started by just talking the way he has constitute a loosening of the Cheneyites’ once ironclad grip on Republican foreign policy. “Guests seemed divided about new ways versus old ways being best,” a meeting attendee told Politico in an email. “I think most felt that while new ways are fine, some old ways—like thoughtful strategy and communicating/seeking advice from experienced players—is a time-tested and valuable piece as well.”

Conspicuously missing was any reference to regime change, the Bush-era “freedom agenda,” or large-scale, indefinite foreign military occupations as the best way of preventing terrorist attacks against Americans. Even among conservative hawks, including some in Cheney’s orbit, there has been a dampening of enthusiasm for democracy promotion. This group was split, for example, over the Arab spring.

Instead of following Cheney’s advice, as first-term W. did, Trump should learn that his failure to follow through on his “America First” campaign promises has won him little credit from the most important GOP hawks. This is similar to how his reticence on immigration has cost him the support of the Ann Coulters without gaining him any new defenders.

Disastrous results aside, Cheney was always a more articulate and consistent defender of Bush’s foreign policy than the 43rd president himself. Perhaps he just made the best case for Trump’s, too.

W. James Antle III is editor of The American Conservative.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "The Problem With Trump’s Foreign Policy Is It’s Too Much Like Cheney’s"

#1 Comment By Barstow On March 13, 2019 @ 4:01 am

The MSM’s gassing about this incident with Pence is out of control. It’s blatantly obvious that Trump’s foreign policy is so screwed up because it’s too much like Bush II and Obama, i.e. too much pointless intervention, too much catering to Israel and Saudi Arabia, incompetent hires like Bolton, Pompeo, and Abrams, not enough taking into account our traditional allies (Canada, Europe, Japan, etc) … and the media wants it to be more like Dick Cheney wants it to be???

As though Dick Cheney is some kind of revered elder statesman? Rather than an embodiment of the corruption and incompetence that wrecked American strategy and military and foreign policy after the elder Bush?

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 13, 2019 @ 8:17 am

And yet the policies of regime have been utter failures, yet,

they continue.

I guess if you embrace the right people, failure is success.

#3 Comment By prodigalson On March 13, 2019 @ 9:05 am

In a just world, or even a just nation, Dick Cheney would be tried as the war criminal he is.

Our society is sick and perverse, we’ll go apoplectic over a college admissions hoax (surely congressional inquiry along the lines of the “crisis” of steroids in major league baseball is due) but allow a man who enabled the butchering of hundred of thousands to not only walk free, but to still feel he’s entitled to be a public entity dispensing foreign policy advice.

Lets be clear, Kissinger, Albright, Cheney, Bush and their ilk are war criminals, until we as a nations confront our history of butchery, and especially those of us on the conservative side push for justice on these issues, our nation will continue to be a sucking chest wound.

#4 Comment By Stephen J. On March 13, 2019 @ 9:36 am

I believe “Trump” is carrying on the warmongering of his predecessors. A former TAC writer sums it it up perfectly:

“Under the rule of our bipartisan war-loving elites the United States has evolved from a bumbling giant into something far more threatening. The completely useless wars since 9/11 have killed nearly 10,000 American soldiers and contractors as well as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the inhabitants of the countries that we have attacked. I would hold Congress, the White House and the mainstream media as directly responsible for those deaths.” Philip Giraldi, April 4, 2017, The Unz Review.

See also:

#5 Comment By PAX On March 13, 2019 @ 9:53 am

All presidents since Johnson have yielded to the wishes of a small but powerful nation and a one-minded lobby. Why wonder about us replicating failed foreign policies and sending our bravest and finest into endless wars for an insatiable need to colonize at the point of the sword. Our media has failed to inform. There are exceptions. When alternative news privateers such as Ryan Dawson present thought-provoking alternatives – they are banned. For this tsunami of wars to continue endlessly the First Amendment must be shredded and folks of honest goodwill vilified. Sad! Many of us will pass and this implosive and counterproductive phenomenon will endure. We cannot borrow ad infinitum to sustain these failed policies and gift, unappreciative recipients.

#6 Comment By Stephen J. On March 13, 2019 @ 10:04 am

Interesting article.
The writer states: “Trump, of course, won the Republican presidential nomination after calling the Iraq invasion a mistake and suggesting that future wars for regime change in the Middle East would be destabilizing.”
Iraq is a war crime that happened before Trump came to power. To which I ask:
“Are The Christians Slaughtered in The Middle East Victims of the Actions of Western War Criminals and Their Terrorist Supporting NATO ‘Allies’”?

Trump’s actions since then have been war business as usual.
Yemen is prime example of a massive war crime which continues under Trump.

And of course Trump with other war criminals fired missiles into Syria.

“A Ménage à Trois of War Criminals”

The “leaders” of the U.S,. Britain and France formed an illegal coalition and bombed Syria April 13, 2018. Their sycophants in the media mostly parroted approval of this illegal act which is a war crime and a violation of international law….
[read more at link below]
And finally:

“Donald You Fooled Us”


#7 Comment By Sid Finster On March 13, 2019 @ 10:41 am

Every winning candidate since arguably Bush 1.0 (“Kinder, gentler America”) has run for office as a non-interventionist, and then morphed into something like John McCain immediately upon taking the Oath of Office. Not only that, but each president has arguably been a more reckless imperialist than his predecessor.

I don’t pretend to know how this transformation process works, or even if it is the same for every president, but the results speak for themselves. Hell, look at Obama, who was elected on a platform of ending the stupid wars. He not only failed to end a single war, he gave us a bunch of new and even stupider ones.

And then there’s Trump. He was arguably an even more explicit non-interventionist than 2008 Obama, and he also hasn’t ended anything (Trump was rolled on Syria and let’s wait for troops to actually come home before proclaiming Afghanistan to be a triumph) and has brought us into new conflicts in Venezuela and Niger, as well as expanded our wars on Ukraine and Yemen.

TL:DR: unless and until the Deep State is eradicated root and branch,  it matters not who is elected.

#8 Comment By One Guy On March 13, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

It’s cute that Antle pretends Trump knows or cares about foreign policy. He doesn’t. He cares about making speeches in front of his adoring minions. His “campaign rhetoric” was a big fat nothingburger. His minions don’t care about foreign policy. Why should they?

#9 Comment By Mark Thomason On March 13, 2019 @ 2:26 pm

“Trump and Obama also have a third thing in common: they both broke with the Bush-Cheney foreign policy more in rhetoric than in practice”

This is key evidence for the suggestion there is a deeper structure to US foreign policy than the elected officials. It wasn’t Dubya or Cheney, and it certainly wasn’t Obama, nor is it Trump. It is The Blob aka the Deep State.

It’s real. It demands and gets blood and treasure. Mostly, it is utterly unrealistic and loses, over and over again, but keeps on doing the same things anyway.

#10 Comment By An American Conservative On March 13, 2019 @ 5:30 pm

How dare Cheney show his face in public? And how dare the media pretend he has any credibility whatsoever?

#11 Comment By Things To Come On March 13, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

“How dare Cheney show his face in public? “

Actually, he didn’t. Cheney was showing his face to a closed-door, invitation-only gathering of Really Rich People, the kind who don’t bring up the painful subject of Cheney’s incompetence and corruption because people like them do the corrupting.

The former vice president interviewed Pence at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum in Sea Island, Ga., an off-the-record confab attended by approximately 200 top-dollar Republican donors, lawmakers and business leaders who flock to the private island every spring.

(via Politico)

#12 Comment By Whine Merchant On March 13, 2019 @ 7:48 pm

I regret that this article fails to highlight Cheney’s own contribution to the Pentagon as the world’s police:
Multi-billion dollar tax-funded no-bid contracts awarded to his former employer, so sweeten his portfolio and raise the value of his retirement stock options so he could buy his daughter a seat in Congress. JFK sending Pierre Salinger to buy-up all the Cuban cigars the day before he declared an embargo is nothing in comparison.

That’s what I like about the GOP: Think big!

#13 Comment By rta On March 14, 2019 @ 10:13 am

And maybe Trump can fill up GITMO and torture “much worse” than waterboarding like he also promised during his campaign. If people would have listened to EVERYTHING Trump said during his campaign instead of cherry picking to fit their hopes that he was actually something different, they wouldn’t be so shocked that he’s no different than Obama and no better than Clinton. Enjoy.

#14 Comment By Jamie On March 14, 2019 @ 2:35 pm

Idiotic comparison. Obama is like Cheney. He destroyed Syria and Libya; whereas Cheney went after Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump is just trying to clean up their mess in the Middle East and has spoken out against endless wars.

As for Venezuela, Obama declared a National Emergency, to formally make them a threat to the US. Trump is not Ghandi and like Bush and Obama, he will invoke the Monroe doctrine and use special ops to overthrow their government.

#15 Comment By Eileen Kuch On March 14, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

You’re right, Jamie. Of course, Obama’s like Cheney with a smiling face. He destroyed Libya and Syria; whereas, Cheney went after Afghanistan and Iraq. Trump’s just attempting to clean up their mess in the Middle East and has spoken out against endless wars.
As for Venezuela, however, Obama declared a National Emergency to formally make them a threat to the US. Trump isn’t Ghandi, and like Bush and Obama, he’ll invoke the Monroe doctrine and use special ops to overthrow their govt, only the special ops will fail and run back to Columbia with their tails between their legs.

#16 Comment By Dr. Ricardo Richards On March 23, 2019 @ 12:00 am

Trump is more like past presidents than you might think