In his inaugural foreign policy speech, Donald Trump set out to put “America First.” Trump’s vision includes a large expansion of the United States’ military, increased investment in manufacturing, and a position of renewed strength across the globe. His speech also aimed to critique President Obama for an overall lack of leadership. However, Trump relies too heavily upon wishful perceptions that fall short of the tangible, real-world achievements of the Obama administration.
Unlike Trump, President Obama understands the lasting consequences of the United States’ foreign policy decisions. This long-term thinking enables the President to meet the myriad challenges facing the United States. President Obama’s accolades include the modernization of the nation’s defense systems, a reinvestment in advanced manufacturing, and a bold new doctrine for America’s global interests.
Trump wants voters to believe his administration will strengthen the military without wasteful use of taxpayer dollars and restore manufacturing jobs in the process. His rhetoric ignores an inconvenient truth—the Obama administration already invests carefully in both the modernization of the military as well as manufacturing.
The 2016 budget included $608 billion in national defense spending – hardly the “gutting” of America’s military once claimed by Gov. Jeb Bush. In fact, President Obama’s base budgets for military spending over the past eight years – primarily for weapons systems – surpasses even his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
In his speech, Trump cites the B-52 bomber as evidence of President Obama’s failure to innovate the military. However, the Air Force is already under way with an $80 billion project for a new bomber designed to replace the decades-old plane. And this initiative is a single element of a comprehensive effort to update the military’s broader nuclear force.
Trump also promised to renew America’s manufacturing economy through technologies such as 3D printing. However, the Obama administration already helped establish the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. This public-private network is currently comprised of several institutes, each focused on helping the United States secure a leadership role in emerging technologies. They include America Makes, an Ohio-based institute specifically focused on 3D printing, as well as the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics here in Rochester.
Most importantly, Trump’s speech continues to demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of power. Trump’s take on power resembles a game of checkers. His short-sighted approach will put America behind both its allies and adversaries. Trump’s version of power rests solely upon laurels of the past. In contrast, President Obama plays chess; he embraces the complexity required to advance American priorities on multiple fronts, all while considering the long-term impact for generations to come. This is why President Obama unapologetically says, “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”
“America First” is quintessential Donald Trump. It favors style over substance; falsehoods over facts. By narrowing the nation’s worldview, Trump fails to understand what distinguishes America from other countries. The United States confronts global challenges with a steady eye toward the future. Trump’s tagline, “Make America Great Again,” suggests the country’s best days are behind it. If he insists on a past example of strong American leadership, he need only review the past eight years.