Obviously, Trump has honored many of his promises only in the breach. In some cases his switch has been breathtaking—from chief critic to PR manager for the Saudi royals. His staffing decisions, choosing those who share few if any of his beliefs, often reflect the bizarre. Even where he has consistently proposed bringing forces home, he has allowed his staff to browbeat him into submission. Foreign governments have proved to be particularly adept at playing him, convincing him that he had forced them to adapt significant reforms while they have done very little—essentially the European strategy.
Nevertheless, Trump has encouraged thinking over alternatives to the outdated and moribund status quo. He seems to grasp a few essential principles. For instance, Washington’s principal responsibility is to protect the United States—its citizens, territory, constitutional system, and prosperity. In doing so, allies are a means, not an end. That is, America should not collect defense clients like Facebook friends, but form military relationships which augment U.S. security. Moreover, war is a last resort, not just another policy tool. Particularly important, nation-building, a form of international social engineering, usually is a fool’s errand.
Although the vice president has been loyal to his boss, Pence’s record and rhetoric suggest that he believes in little of the president’s foreign policy. Make Pence president and the differences would be monumental: there would be no criticism of past interventions, no tongue lashings for delinquent allies, no demands to stop endless conflicts, no proposals for troop withdrawals. It likely would be George W. Bush redux, starting new wars, underwriting old conflicts, and feeling good about defending the rest of the globe, rich and poor alike. While American lives and wealth continued to be squandered attempting to achieve the impossible dream of forcing the lion to lie down with the lamb.
There is much about Donald Trump which deserves to be criticized. Still, he is almost alone in proposing a foreign policy which better serves the American people than foreign interests. Despite everything, Mike Pence is no Donald Trump. Whatever happens in 2020, Republicans should find someone other than the vice president to lead after Trump leaves office.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.