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Victor Davis Hanson addresses Hillsdale College stu­dents. Courtesy | The Col­legian

 

“Pres­ident Donald Trump isn’t an iso­la­tionist, but a realist,” Victor Davis Hanson said in a speech at Hillsdale College on Sep­tember 3. 

Hanson, an author and his­torian whose latest book is “The Case for Trump,” spoke about foreign policy under the Trump admin­is­tration at Plaster Audi­torium Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at an event hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Insti­tution as well as the Wayne and Marcia Buske Dis­tin­guished Fellow in History at Hillsdale College.

“You can see that he’s not an iso­la­tionist because an iso­la­tionist does not allow 170,000 troops to be posted overseas,” Hanson said of Trump. “That’s the largest foreign expe­di­tionary force of any major country in the last 75 years.”

Trump’s foreign policy involves more than a big stick, however. According to Hanson, the United States has 30,000 diplo­matic per­sonnel posted all over the world. Iron­i­cally, one of Trump’s most “iso­la­tionist” policies his threat to withdraw from NATO resulted in approx­i­mately $100 million for the orga­ni­zation. 

According to Hanson, achieve­ments like that weren’t pos­sible under the Obama-era policy of being “loud with a twig.” Instead, Trump took appro­priate action by cracking down on coun­tries that weren’t pulling their weight.

“Why didn’t those coun­tries pay their fair share? The European Union, to which they all belong, has about 90% of the GDP of the United States,” Hanson said. “The answer is, they didn’t want to. They assumed that no one would ever question NATO. Trump did, and all hell broke loose.”

Trump’s tough stance on China was also heavily crit­i­cized by the media until the COVID-19 out­break.

“The Chinese Com­munist Party’s agenda is world hegemony in 20 years, which they announced at their own party con­gress in 2017,” Hanson said. “Trump came along and said ‘We’re going to use tariffs.’ Everybody was aghast.”

Despite the world’s dis­belief that Trump could affect change via tariffs, Hanson said he believes that China was on the verge of cre­ating a deal with the U.S. when COVID-19 crippled the country. 

“Is that iso­la­tionism? I don’t think so,” Hanson said. 

Mary Greco, a junior studying inter­na­tional rela­tions who attended the event, agreed with Hanson that Trump’s toughness ben­efits the inter­na­tional com­munity. 

“The U.S. is so involved worldwide, but we’re not obsessed with con­trolling other areas of the world,” Greco said. “Our job is to get regional powers to control their regions so that we don’t have to be the world police.”

According to Greco, Trump’s hands-off approach to foreign policy empowers other nations to form coali­tions and control their regions. Indi­vidual gov­ern­ments know their people best, and coun­tries that share similar culture can cater to their pop­u­la­tions more effec­tively than the U.S. ever could. 

“We have an oblig­ation to help other coun­tries, but we don’t have an oblig­ation to destroy our­selves,” Greco said. “The various deals that we’ve had with Iran, Russia, and China have all been hurting America, and that’s why he’s pulled out of them.”

Hanson empha­sized that many coun­tries involved in deals with America, such as Germany, are vir­u­lently anti-American. 

“German people poll the most anti-American of any European country,” Hanson said. “That’s not a tenable sit­u­ation to have 35,000 troops there. NATO was not going to be viable if nobody met a meager 2% investment.”

Trump also faces fierce resis­tance from within the U.S. But his worst critics often share his views. According to Hanson, center-left think tanks such as the Brookings Institute and Freeman Spogli Institute say that the Trump-Pompeo foreign policy is in shambles while par­roting his ideas.

“If you say to them, ‘What should be the policy with China?’ they would say ‘We should be very skep­tical of China, about their expla­na­tions for the virus, about their human rights record, about their treatment of the Uighurs,’” Hanson explained. “They will say every­thing this admin­is­tration is saying, but if you ask them about Trump’s policy, they’ll say it was ter­rible. But they’re mim­icking exactly what Trump is doing.”

Hanson said that the con­tro­versy sur­rounding Trump’s foreign policy is due to two things: his per­son­ality, and his dis­ruption of the post-World War II status quo. According to Hanson, Trump’s sit­u­ation is reflected in the parables of Aesop. 

“It’s kind of like the Aesop’s fable of the cat that keeps eating the mice,” Hanson said. “All the mice get together and say, ‘Someone has to put a bell on the cat, so every time it comes to eat us up we can hear him and hide.’ But then they realize that the one who puts the bell on the cat is going to be devoured, and they say ‘We don’t want to do that after all.’ In other words, somebody had to put the bell on all these foreign policies, but the person who did it would be doing some­thing anti­thetical to the foreign policy con­sensus of the last 75 years, and they would be hated. And that’s where we are today.”

Sophomore Eliz­abeth Brady, who attended the talk, agreed with Hanson that Trump’s polar­izing per­son­ality con­tributes to the resis­tance his policies face. 

“People aren’t willing to look past who he is as a person, and he’s def­i­nitely not your typical diplomat,” Brady said. “He’s tweeting up a storm, and if you get stuck on that, and don’t look at what he’s actually doing, it becomes hard to say that you agree with him. If you say that you agree with him, the assumption is that you’re endorsing every­thing he says with his tweets, which isn’t true. You have to look at the policy he’s actually enacting.”

Hanson believes it was Trump’s uncon­ven­tional stance on foreign policy actually helped him win swing states back in 2016. 

“Donald Trump ran on a series of policy issues that dif­fered not dra­mat­i­cally from a tra­di­tional Repub­lican agenda, except in four or five areas,” Hanson said. “One of course was getting tough with China. Another was avoiding optional wars that didn’t result in a U.S. advantage. But they were enough to draw out people from the Midwest, from states like Michigan that had not voted for Repub­licans in a long time.”

Hanson argued that ulti­mately, Trump’s record is a pos­itive one.

“We can adju­dicate whether all of the crazy tweets and the tough guy talk was con­ducive or coun­ter­pro­ductive, but if I look at what he’s done, I think he did most of what he said he was going to do.”