Gayle Trotter interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bret Stephens. His recent book is entitled America in Retreat: The New Isolationism & the Coming Global Disorder. Bret is the foreign affairs columnist and the deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Below is the second half in a two-part series from the interview. To read the first part, click here.
Contrast that America First ideology of Trump with someone like Ted Cruz who is, for example, one of the fiercest defenders of Israel, I would say on the national stage. You write a lot about Israel.
Yes, and he’s terrific on Israel. He’s absolutely terrific. One of the great pleasures of Cruz is not only is he terrific in terms of you know he’s going to do the right thing but he also really understands the right thing.
That’s in contrast to President Obama, about whom you make the point that he has squandered a lot of relationships with allies, particularly with Israel, and you make that point that we are seeing an alliance between some of the Sunni nations and Israel. Israel is diversifying its partnerships with other countries. It doesn’t seem like you’re saying that’s bad for Israel. You’re saying that’s a good thing because Israel needs to do this. But it seems like you’re saying it’s a bad thing for America to be allowing this. Holding back from criticizing Obama’s terrible foreign policy, why do you think it’s critical for the United States going forward? Why is that relationship with Israel so important?
Israel should have as many friends as it can get. It’s unfortunate that it’s discovering friends in the Arab world through their mutual disgust with the Obama Administration. You know the great joke is Obama really did bring Middle Eastern peace. Everyone, Arabs, as well as Jews, are united in despising him.
The United States should support Israel, because it’s an outpost of freedom and western civilization and liberal values in a corner of the world where we are going to be engaged, whether we like it or not, for a long time. We know that Israel, no matter what, is always going to be an ally. Can’t say that about many other countries. Never mind the historic debt, the profound personal ties, everything else.
We also should support Israel because we’ve found over the years that when we come to the support of embattled little outposts of freedom, whether it’s South Korea or West Berlin, over the long time, that support redounds to our credit. Half of America has a Samsung phone in his or her pocket. That’s all because we defended Korea from communist aggression 65 years ago. We made sure that Stalin couldn’t force West Berlin into submission in 1948. We defended a militarily unattainable position in that city for 40 years and low-and-behold, when the wall came down, it came down in Berlin, because East Berlin could look over and say, “Why is it so much better just across that wall?” Why are they so much richer, happier, freer, more prosperous?” West Berlin became a giant billboard for capitalism and freedom smack in the heart of the communist world. So it was not an accident that when the wall fell, it fell there.
The point is that these investments in our values turn out over time to be investments in our interests. I would say the same thing for Israel. That’s not to say that you can’t exclude the pure interest calculation in foreign policy, but you shouldn’t forget the values calculation as well. In the case of the Arab world, we should have a president who understands that it’s better to have the Egyptians, the Saudis, the UAE, as allies, even if they are free riders, than as adversaries creating their own foreign policy. The one advantage we have in the Middle East is that typically, in the past, when Saudi Arabia was thinking of sending troops into a neighboring country, they would consult us first. But they’ve sent troops into two neighboring countries in the last five years, Bahrain and Yemen, basically while telling us to buzz off now. In Yemen, maybe it doesn’t matter. Bahrain, we’ve got a huge base there. The 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, so we do have interests and above all, we have an interest in a world in which we are the buffer between the free world or at least the semi-free world against the enemies of freedom and that’s Iran, that’s China, that’s Russia, principally today, and ISIS, of course.
If we’re not that buffer, then you have a world in which everyone is in play and countries freelance their foreign policy, often in ways that don’t suit us, and might be dangerous, and create a kind of disordered world from which we might find ourselves in trouble. We’ve seen this movie before; it was called the interwar years. It was the twenties and the thirties, and it ended in the greatest disaster for the United States.
This is why early in my book somewhere I quote that conversation that Churchill had with Franklin Roosevelt when Roosevelt asks Churchill, “What should we call this war?” And Churchill says, “We should call it the Unnecessary War. There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” That’s a great observation. I think one of the great mistakes we make…historically is when we talk about World War II is somehow the greatest generation. This was the generation that actually blundered into war and had to pay a terrible price in order to prevent totalitarian disaster.
The lesson of the greatest generation is “Don’t repeat the mistakes of the America First Committee,” and here we are.
Excellent. Thank you.
Gayle Trotter is a columnist, political analyst and attorney who regularly appears on TV, most recently on Fox News Channel’s The Kelly File and MediaBuzz, contributes to The Hill, The Daily Caller, Townhall and other well-known political websites, and is a frequent guest on radio shows across the country. Gayle has an insider’s view of Washington, D.C., serving as Vice President of the Kirkpatrick Society and the co-founder of a law firm in the metro D.C. area. She received her B.A. and J.D. from the University of Virginia, where she served as an editor of the international law journal. Gayle and her husband are the proud parents of six children, and make their home in Washington, D.C.
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