CLEVELAND - Howling opposition to trade deals and demanding that allies do more for America, Donald Trump pledged to cheering Republicans on Friday that as president he will restore the safety they fear they are losing, curb immigration and save the nation from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s record of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
Addressing the finale of Republican Party’s national convention, the real estate mogul declared the nation’s problems too staggering to be fixed within existing relationships.
“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said.
The more than hourlong speech was strikingly dark for a celebratory event and almost entirely lacking in specific policy details. Trump shouted throughout as he read off a teleprompter, showing few flashes of humor or even a smile.
Hours earlier, Trump sparked more questions about his readiness to lead by suggesting that the U.S. might not defend America’s NATO partners with him as president. The remarks, in an interview with The New York Times, deviate from decades of American doctrine and seem to reject the 67-year-old alliance’s bedrock principle of collective defense.
Trump reinforced his position from the convention stage, saying the United States has been “picking up the cost” of NATO’s defenses for too long.
On trade, he said he will cease signing deals that “strip our country of its jobs.”
He hammered Clinton on trade pacts made under President Barack Obama, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a free trade pact with South Korea.
“I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers or that diminishes our freedom and independence. We will never ever sign bad trade deals. America first again.”
Trump has named the Japan-U.S. security treaty as among the “one-sided” burdens America shouders. His advisers say he will negotiate for an increased share by Japan of the costs of defense.
“Just like our defense alliances, trade deals need to be re-evaluated so that they actually make sense for both parties,” said Joseph Schmitz, a foreign policy and national security adviser to Trump, speaking on the sidelines of the convention. “Sometimes deals over time change based on circumstances that weren’t anticipated by the parties.”
Citing Trump’s threat to withdraw U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea and saying he might allow them instead to get nuclear weapons, Walid Phares, another Trump foreign policy adviser, said separately that the White House hopeful’s intention is to “negotiate” with Seoul and Tokyo for a hike in their contributions to the costs of defense.
“The goal is not to pull these forces out. The goal is to negotiate,” Phares said in an interview last month in Washington.
“He is not going to initiate a pressure out of the blue on Japan and South Korea and tell them to go nuclear,” Phares said.
Clinton, by contrast, is expected to uphold the arrangements undertaken by the Obama administration.
The aides insist Trump’s policy is not isolationism. Schmitz said it means the United States will have “an intelligent foreign policy that focuses first of all on making sure that America is a strong country economically and militarily.”
“We haven’t seen an American president recently that has an ‘America First,’ and it doesn’t mean a rejection of our alliances and trade agreements,” he said. “Quite the contrary, it means we want to strengthen those alliances and strengthen those trade agreements.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the specific policy agenda of U.S. presidential candidates.
“No matter who becomes the (next) U.S. president, the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy,” Suga said.
Japan “will maintain its policy of closely cooperating with the United States for the sake of the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Suga said Wednesday in Tokyo.
Schmitz, a former inspector-general at the U.S. Defense Department, said Trump will be “honest and fair” with U.S. allies and “honest and tough” to enemies, suggesting that a Trump administration will employ a hard-line stance toward China.
Asked if he thinks Beijing is an enemy to Washington, Schmitz said: “I think when you see what’s happening in the South China Sea, you might understand that PRC is very different from Taiwan in terms of friendship with the U.S.”
Underscoring the adviser’s view, a 2016 Republican platform adopted in Cleveland condemns China’s “preposterous claim” to almost the entire South China Sea and Beijing’s island construction and militarization of outposts in the disputed waters, in an apparent attempt to press its claims there.
The platform attacks the Obama administration’s “complacency” toward Beijing, saying it “has emboldened the Chinese government and military to issue threats of intimidation throughout the South China Sea,” in which the country is locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and other smaller neighbors.
The GOP has criticized China’s currency intervention and its support of heavy industries such as steel and aluminum. “We cannot allow China to continue its currency manipulation, exclusion of U.S. products from government purchases, and subsidization of Chinese companies to thwart American imports,” the party’s platform says.
“It’s important to understand that you can’t just close your eyes and pretend they’re not out there,” Schmitz said. “You have to understand who your enemies are.”