I first met the late Ambassador Faith Whittlesey in Fall 2016, and we quickly got into an argument.
She passed away last month, at the age of 79. Our argument, between two staunch Trump supporters, was about foreign policy.
Numerous obituaries and tributes have been written about Whittlesey and her extraordinary career. She was twice President Reagan’s ambassador to Switzerland, the director of Reagan’s Office of Public Liaison and the most senior woman on Reagan’s White House staff, a Pennsylvania state legislator who helped deliver the state to Reagan in 1980, an ardent pro-lifer and supporter of the Second Amendment, chairman and president of the American Swiss Foundation, and an early and staunch supporter of President Trump.
I got to know her best as a fellow Trump loyalist.
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Last week, President Trump presented his national security strategy to the country, and outlined a crucial distinction from his two predecessors.
“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone,” Trump declared, “but we will champion [American] values without apology.”
While Trump is not interested in former President George W. Bush’s interventionism in the Middle East or promises of ending tyranny in the 21st century, he also rejects former President Barack Obama’s endless apologies to foreign audiences and penchant for “leading from behind.”
To many foreign policy commentators, the president’s foreign policy outlook indicates a total lack of interest in human rights. For Trump, “America First” means “America will lead again,” and that leadership is not value-neutral.
Against conventional wisdom, the Trump administration has revealed in its first year a willingness to advocate on behalf of human dignity, even if in a different fashion from previous administrations.
Haters of President Trump are not known for their capacity for self-criticism. Having waged all-out, nasty battles to defeat him last November, they have decided to blame anyone but themselves for their failure. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton blames Russian hacking and FBI Director James Comey for her electoral loss. The mainstream media, which largely dispensed with any pretense of objectivity in the last election, blames the Trump administration for its hostility toward them.
Other Trump opponents, including right-wing foreign policy professionals who declared Trump unfit for office, are now busy evaluating whether Trump is “normalizing,” or becoming more like them.
Talking heads on television and so-called experts in the Washington policy community concluded long ago that President Trump has no cogent foreign policy and merely changes his mind from one moment to the next.
In recent days, they have pointed to early steps by the Trump administration, on China, Syria and NATO, as proof that Trump is infinitely malleable on policy matters.
While Trump arrived in office with relatively few policy details and is far less ideologically-dogmatic than his predecessors, he did outline on the campaign trail guiding principles for his approach to dealing with the world. For those who were paying attention to what he said rather than sneering at his candidacy, his evolving policy positions are not all that surprising.
Hong Kong–Ying Ma spoke to Backchat, a radio program, about isolationism in U.S. foreign policy. The discussion focused on Americans’ opposition to U.S. military strikes against Syria, their overall war fatigue, the importance of executive leadership in shaping public opinion on foreign policy issues, and America’s engagement with Asia.
The following guests also participated in the program:
Mark Michelson, Chairman of Asia CEO Forum
Dr. Glenn Shive, Vice President, United Board, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Alex Montgomery, Chairman, Democrats Abroad Hong Kong
Backchat airs on RTHK, a public broadcast station in Hong Kong. The show provides expert views and lively commentary about current affairs. For more information and to listen to this program, please click here.
(Note: The discussion is approximately forty-five minutes. When listening on Windows Media Player, the audio will appear as if it will end at the half-hour mark, but if left alone, it will restart on the same player.)
With the Obama administration beating the drums for “limited” strikes against Syria last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called for decisive military action and chastised his Republican colleagues who might disagree. On MSNBC, he said, “We’re going to have to have a debate about the future of the party…[about] isolationism versus internationalism.”
However much Christie and McCain might wish to claim the mantle of internationalism, their attacks on the so-called isolationists of the Republican Party actually mask fundamental differences among the GOP’s internationalists, and reveal that the party’s foreign policy debate is still mired in the unhappy legacy of President George W. Bush.
Republicans cannot move past that legacy by taking potshots at libertarians and Tea Partyers who question the prevailing GOP wisdom on domestic and foreign policy issues. Instead, the party will have to resolve internal differences and chart a more coherent course for foreign policy. Welcoming the newcomers who articulate and apply conservative principles to the nation’s priorities would be a great start.