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A Mercenary Foreign Policy

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner, and his wife, Assistant to the President Ivanka Trump,at the Murabba Palace with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Kelley Vlahos comments on the president’s willingness to send more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia:

It is time to claw back from this toxic relationship, and the first place to start is to transform our current mission of paternalistic “power projection” to one of “national defense.” Who cares what the House of Saud wants to buy—it’s not what the American taxpayer pays for, and amen to Amash for putting it in such bald terms.

Trump’s statement that he will send more troops to Saudi Arabia in exchange for payment sums up his foreign policy worldview quite well. He has no objection to sending U.S. troops to other countries, and he doesn’t mind putting them in harm’s way, as long as he thinks someone will pay for it. Trump is not interested in whether a particular mission makes the U.S. more secure, and he certainly doesn’t think strategically about what the U.S. should be trying to accomplish. He just wants to get someone to fork over some cash. The absurd thing is that the cash is never forthcoming, but Trump keeps sending the troops to these places anyway.

We saw the same mercenary attitude during the campaign when he talked about setting up a “big, beautiful safe zone” in Syria, which he assured us would be paid for by Arab client states. We have seen it several times when he talks about “taking the oil” from this or that country to compensate the U.S. for our military interventions. As long as the Saudis and Emiratis are paying customers for weapons that they use to kill Yemenis, Trump will happily put their preferences and interests first.

Oddly enough for a self-proclaimed nationalist, the president has no notion of the national interest, but sees everything in narrow terms of wealth that can be extracted from others. This is why he talks about NATO as if it were a protection racket and shakes down South Korea for more money, and it is why he thinks it is acceptable to keep U.S. forces in Syria illegally so that they can control Syrian oil fields. It is why he insists that Iraq pay us for the cost of the installations that the U.S. built during the occupation of their country. It is also one reason why he relies so heavily on economic warfare in his attempt to coerce other states to do what he wants, because he seems to think that everyone is just as preoccupied with getting money as he is.

Contrary to the common assumption that Trump espouses some sort of “Jacksonian” foreign policy, this is an approach that ignores national honor and interest and focuses solely on lucre. Trump resembles nothing so much as a minor German prince from the 17th or 18th century who hires out his soldiers to fight the wars of other countries. This is what a mercenary foreign policy looks like, and it has nothing to do with making the U.S. more secure.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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