Commentary: Like Reagan, Trump serious about security

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FILE - In this April 15, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Hartford, Conn.

By Faith Whittlesey

There is an argument being widely asserted today that is plainly intellectually dishonest. In the past, Washington politicians, partisan commentators, and foreign policy elites have employed this argument to discredit insurgent candidacies - often accompanied by a studied, sad-eyed condescension and no small amount of eye-rolling. It happened with Ronald Reagan, and it appears to be happening now with Donald Trump.

The argument goes like this: Trump is to be dismissed out of hand as "unqualified" to formulate U.S. foreign policy positions and cannot be trusted to conduct U.S. foreign policy because he has "no experience" and has the "wrong temperament."

Aside from the ad hominem nature of the argument, it appears to be made largely to suit self-interest (by those who, for instance, still advocate the failed policies Trump identifies and wants to reexamine). Or it is made to favor various political veterans (Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, John Kasich and Ted Cruz for the Republicans), those whose views are regarded as "safe," as opposed to a critic from outside the politically anointed. The point seems to be to ensure that no truly fresh evaluation of U.S. foreign policy will take place.

But let's consider on their merits just a few issues Trump raises for reconsideration.

Trump believes security must be the first and highest priority of a president. He argues for an America that is militarily strong and prepared to defend itself and its interests, but he is notably cautious and prudent about the circumstances in which American power should be applied (shades of Reagan). Trump was, for example, a skeptic and critic of the Iraq war.

Trump also points out, correctly, that America carries a disproportionate share (75 percent) of the load in NATO. Any redistribution of that load would change the political calculus in Europe, which enjoys security at a heavy discount, so it's understandable that the rhetoric about his candidacy gets ramped up abroad.

The European press, echoing the U.S. mainstream media, goes overboard in its criticism. For instance, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine ran a cover photo of Trump with the German word for madness - Wahnsinn - in a massive font. But the idea of fair cost-sharing on defense isn't really extreme or provocative, whether applied to NATO or to other areas, such as Asia. And it is most appealing to overburdened American taxpayers.

Trump understands that the securing of borders is a primary duty of the state. He understands that it is wise to welcome legal immigrants and maintain strict border controls. As Europe is witnessing, uncontrolled borders pose huge security and economic risks. Trump, not readily cowed into political correctness, knows the word xenophobic is falsely applied to his proposals because it obscures the distinction between "fear of the other" and "enforcement of the law."

Finally, Trump understands the benefits of trade. But he knows a bad deal when he sees one. When America grants access to its markets, he asserts that its trading partners should reciprocate. When America stops sending so much treasure abroad, Trump concludes, we can afford to spend more where it is needed - in the United States.

Clearly, Trump has hit a responsive chord with American voters - Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike. They demonstrate their enthusiasm at the polls. They sense what foreign policy insiders have failed to grasp.

Trump means to address in a realistic way the security needs, first and foremost, of U.S. citizens - and to reconsider existing international arrangements critically to better attain the future economic and security well-being of the United States.

Faith Whittlesey previously served as chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the Delaware County Council in Media, as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, and as a member of the senior White House staff in the Reagan administration. faith.whittlesey@americanswiss.org