‘America First’: How Trump foreign-policy doctrine was named by man who hates it

Imagine being an international-affairs expert, mortified by the views of Donald Trump and you suddenly discover you've helped create his foreign-policy slogan.

WASHINGTON — Imagine being an international-affairs expert, mortified by the views of Donald Trump and you suddenly discover you’ve helped create his foreign-policy slogan.

Welcome to Ian Bremmer’s world.

The author and international-risk consultant recently spotted a consistent concept in a Trump foreign policy most people consider incoherent.

Trump himself brags about its unpredictability — he says he wants to keep rivals guessing.

Build up the U.S. military, but withdraw it from foreign bases encourage the spread of nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea, so they stop relying on the U.S. for defence avoid military adventurism, but take Mideast oil while bombing ISIS build the Keystone XL pipeline, but only if Canada pays more call NATO obsolete cancel trade deals build a wall with Mexico, make Mexico pay.

In all these Trump policies, Bremmer noted a recurring theme: American resentment.

It’s the persistent notion that America is being ripped off. In Trump’s world view, it’s time to make others pay. Bremmer began referring to Trump’s foreign policy in speeches and emails to clients as: “America First.”

He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“I said, ‘This is clearly America First.’ It’s not, ‘Make America Great Again,’ because it won’t make America great again. This is viewing international relations through a purely zero-sum, winners-and-losers kind of frame,” Bremmer said in an interview. “It’s blaming everyone else in the world for America’s challenges. …

“I was not suggesting this was a good thing.”

The term carries deep, negative connotations in U.S. history. The America First Committee was the isolationist group which pilot Charles Lindbergh belonged to that opposed war with Nazi Germany.

The phrase has just been endorsed, however, by a surprising source: Trump himself. A New York Times reporter asked the candidate about the term Bremmer coined.

Trump replied, “I am America First,” he said. “I like the expression.”

The newspaper put the term in the headline. It published the entire interview transcript, to let readers judge for themselves. It includes Trump suggesting, more than once, that he’d be fine with new countries getting nuclear weapons — a drastic reversal in long-standing American policy.

If it saves Americans money, he said, why shouldn’t Japan and South Korea get their own nukes? “We cannot be the policeman of the world. … You may very well be better off if that’s the case.”

“America First” has now surfaced in numerous media headlines.

It’s an unexpected career development for Bremmer — author of numerous books on foreign policy, president of the Eurasia Group and writer for Time magazine.

Bremmer’s latest book, “Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World,” argues the U.S. needs to pick a clear foreign-policy path after stumbling around since the end of the Cold War.

He argues that indecision has had disastrous results. One example Bremmer cites is Russia — while the U.S. was repairing relations with it in the 1990s, it was simultaneously provoking it with NATO expansion. Every recent president has been guilty, he says, of unpredictable vacillation that has confused friends and foes alike.

He suggests the U.S. choose one of three paths: A leader-of-the-free-world approach that aggressively promotes democracy a so-called moneyball approach, where the U.S. makes clear it’ll only pick priorities that serve its interests or a domestic focus, where the U.S. tries setting an example abroad by having an ideal democracy at home.

Bremmer ultimately sides with the third option — which he refers to as Independent America.

He suggests Trump offers a distorted, unattractive version of that: “It’s independence on very large steroids… (We) wouldn’t be an example for the world. (We’d) be a great example for Putin.”

It’s not the first foreign-policy concept Bremmer has named.

He’s coined the J-curve — which illustrates how some countries become more stable with repression, and others with openness. He’s also offered a twist on the G7 — the G-Zero world, a post-Cold War order defined by a dangerous power vacuum.

He notes some irony in his contributions to the language of international affairs.

“Maybe I’m destined to coin terms for things I don’t like,” he said.

The current president isn’t persuaded his would-be successor has put much effort into the conversation. Barack Obama said last week: “What do (Trump’s nuclear) statements tell us? They tell us the person who made the statements doesn’t know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean peninsula or the world, generally.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell is hoping to pick up where he left off last season as the 2020-21 WHL season kicks off Friday in Red Deer against the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels set to host Tigers in WHL season opener

24-game WHL Alberta only season kicks off night Friday at the Centrium

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal's Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Quebec starts COVID-19 vaccination bookings for seniors; those in Ontario must wait

Quebec starts COVID-19 vaccination bookings for seniors; those in Ontario must wait

The corporate logo of Pembina Pipeline Corp. (TSX:PPL) is shown. Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp. says it is "doing what is right for the country and fellow Canadians" by shipping unit trains full to propane to Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Pembina Pipeline posts $1.2 billion loss on petrochemical, LNG project impairments

CALGARY — Pembina Pipeline Corp. is reporting a $1.2 billion net fourth-quarter… Continue reading

Rode
Red Deer College esports league off to a good start

Red Deer College Kings hockey veteran Jacob Wozney has been involved in… Continue reading

This combination photo shows the cover of "Later," left, and author Stephen King. Readers may know him best for “Carrie,” “The Shining” and other bestsellers commonly identified as “horror,” but King has long had an affinity for other kinds of narratives, from science fiction and prison drama to the Boston Red Sox. (Hard Case Crime via AP, left, and AP)
Stephen King talks about crime, creativity and new novel

Stephen King talks about crime, creativity and new novel

Most Read