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Electioneering is over. It is time to begin translating the winning campaign’s discussions and promises into policy alternatives.

Although foreign relations did not receive this consideration during the campaign and debates, the winning candidate did make certain statements.

In the arena of foreign relations, we can expect President-elect Trump to adhere to a conservative line as outlined in this publication back in May. A conservative foreign policy supports a strong military, but does not necessarily support a large, expensive, or wasteful military. A conservative foreign policy does not support perpetual war. It supports necessary wars, after all other non-violent means to resolve international conflicts are exhausted.

A conservative policy respects our men and women in uniform by not assigning them tasks for which they were not trained, such as occupation of foreign lands or carrying out policies of social engineering in other societies. A conservative policy does not believe that we should wage wars on credit; we should budget for wars, discuss publicly how to finance them, and consider rationally both the costs and the returns on our investment in war. Congress has been lax in disclosing “unfunded obligations,” including the cost of wars. It is important to disclose unfunded costs, including those of the security state and foreign wars.



Candidate Trump spent much time and effort criticizing Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. One critique of both presidents is their disregard for constitutional or legislative limits on presidential power to wage war. Much of the blame can be ascribed to Congress in abdicating its responsibility, but President Bush established and dissolved war-related agencies, spent tax monies on them, and never obtained Congressional approval. Both presidents may have violated U.S. and international law regarding treatment of civilians in occupied lands.

President Trump will inherit at least eight active wars. His task will be whether to continue them all, reduce their number, or end them. He could find help in making his decisions if he applies the criteria advocated by Obama before he became president: Is this war posing an imminent threat to the United States? What is the overarching U.S. national interest in this war? Can U.S. objectives be substantially realized without war?

One key issue deals with negotiating international agreements. The multi-national agreement with Iran is considered by many as Obama’s biggest accomplishment in foreign affairs. It would not be easy to pivot away from the position taken during the campaign, but reality demands that the next administration continue to support the agreement, while also trying to involve Iran in solving regional problems. Regardless of how the future president feels about the pact, its unilateral abrogation would not sit well with other signatories, including America’s allies. It would not strengthen international trust in U.S. commitments, but would begin a downward cycle of action and reaction with Iran.

Candidate Trump sent shivers within Europe when he questioned U.S. commitment to NATO. The candidate may have been correct in questioning NATO’s role and its method of financing, but President Trump would need to come up with plans for the future of NATO. Its future role should not include support any European efforts to subjugate African and Middle East people. New finance models include several that could reduce U.S. burden, but each may involve decreasing U.S. influence as U.S. contributions lessen.

There are other serious issues that received minimal attention during the campaign. One is the India-Pakistan confrontation that threatens to engulf both states in extensive violence, perhaps even including nuclear weapons. Economic and security issues relating to China will remain critical.

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Another issue is the matter of peace in the Holy Land. Candidate Trump indicated his willingness to listen to all sides and to play the role of the peacemaker. The failure of Presidents Bush and Obama on this did not make America safer or more respected. For the leader of the most powerful nation to claim that he has no influence in resolving this conflict is an embarrassment to all Americans. The conflict is at the heart of instability in the Arab East, and one of the main impetuses for terrorism. President Trump will assure himself of an historic triumph if he could help resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The so-called “war on terror” has been a conduit for expanding the powers of government, and for increased allocations to security agencies that are not transparent to the public. Conservatives who believe in an open government, limited government, and in the Bill of Rights, may want to reconsider how this “war” is being conducted. Many recent wars in the developing world have been confused in the public mind with fighting terrorism, when in truth they could be efforts by certain U.S. allies to re-establish dominance over countries that were previously colonies of European powers.

Conservatives would do well to assert the proclaimed American view, stated in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal,” meaning that no country has a privileged position in managing other peoples’ affairs. Conservatives can return to the position adopted under Eisenhower, that the U.S. would fight fascism or extremism but would not fight to preserve colonial dominance over others.

While engaging in the war on terror, we have to rely on President Trump to make sure that conflict with militant Muslims does not drag the U.S. into a global religious war. Advocates of such a war are among his supporters, and he must resist their urging for religious war. Our president-elect would do well to recall the policy of our first president, who affirmed that our country would preserve the right to worship “each according to his conscience and his god.” The U.S. is composed of many religions, Americans believe in the separation of church and state, and everyone is entitled to freedom of worship. President Washington wrote that this right is not a matter of tolerance of one group to others; freedom of worship is an inherent right.

Candidate Trump promised to garner more international respect for America. Belief in the U.S. as a dominant world power should not drive him or fellow Americans into arrogance. America is “the most influential and productive nation in the world,” as Eisenhower stated in his farewell address on January 17, 1961: “Undoubtedly proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend not mostly upon our unmatched material progress, but on how we use power in the interest of world peace and human betterment.”

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Dr. Fuad K. Suleiman holds a doctorate in International Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School, Tufts and Harvard universities. He worked for over three decades on behalf of several U.S. government agencies in sixteen Arab countries, most recently Iraq. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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