by Daniel McCarthy
Wednesday, 27
July 2022
Analysis
15:00

Donald Trump refuses to go hawkish on Ukraine

The former president paid no lip service to his neoconservative hosts
by Daniel McCarthy
Credit: Getty

The day before Donald Trump took the stage at the America First Policy Institute conference in Washington — the premier gathering of MAGA Trump supporters — the audience heard a call for war with Russia. Sen. Joni Ernst insisted that America’s goal in supporting Ukraine should be that “we absolutely annihilate the Russian forces, and we get them to crawl back into Russia so bloody and bruised that they can’t come back.”

AFPI’s conference even featured the late John McCain’s closest colleague in the Senate, Lindsey Graham, who has remained true to his friend’s Neocon ways. Notably absent from the two-day event were Republican voices in support of realism and foreign policy restraint.

At a time when even the most venerable conservative institutions in Washington, such as the Heritage Foundation, are calling for more scrutiny of how taxpayer dollars are committed to foreign conflicts, AFPI’s blustering foreign policy seems oddly like a throwback to the days of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Yet Trump chose AFPI as the venue for his first speech in Washington since he left the White House. Does MAGA in 2024 mean war rhetoric against Russia?

But when Donald Trump spoke yesterday, he surprised onlookers by saying nothing whatsoever about Ukraine. In fact, the former president’s messaging since the war has emphasised the need for diplomacy, as he said in April:

It doesn’t make sense that Russia and Ukraine aren’t sitting down and working out some kind of an agreement. If they don’t do it soon, there will be nothing left but death, destruction, and carnage. 
- Donald Trump

And just days before his return to Washington, Trump told an audience in Tampa, Florida that:

America is being taken advantage of by Europe. If you look at Ukraine now, we have so far given $60 billion to Ukraine. Well, the European countries, who are obviously more affected than us, have given a tiny fraction of that number.
- Donald Trump

He doubted that U.S. arms for Ukraine would win the war for Kiev — and he said the invasion simply wouldn’t have happened under his watch. 

The dissonance between Trump’s views and AFPI’s is a reflection of the divisions that characterised Trump’s White House — divisions that Democrats have been capitalising upon during the Jan. 6 hearings. The Trump administration was filled with MAGA types alongside more traditional neoconservatives and hawks. This extended even to appointing John Bolton as his national security advisor.

AFPI now represents the Republican members who have hitched their hopes to Trump for career purposes. And despite signs that Trump wants to staff a theoretical administration with people closer to his own politics, the former president is nowhere near as ruthless as his neoconservative and Republican establishment rivals. If AFPI celebrates him, Trump is not going to shun them for embracing the Bush dynasty’s foreign policy.

That foreign policy was a disaster in Afghanistan, and what the tough talk of politicians like Ernst amounts to in practice seems to be something equivalent for Ukraine. All the arms and trillions of dollars America committed to Afghanistan for twenty years went to waste and failed to stop the Taliban from retaking power the moment U.S. forces left. Yet Republicans like Ernst appear to believe that blank cheques and an unlimited supply of arms will “absolutely annihilate” the Russians.

The ‘blob’ has been galvanised by the Ukraine war, and “America First” will have to be more than just a monicker that a clique like AFPI is comfortable appropriating.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 months ago

I remember a former conservative local councillor telling me how worried he was about Trump being elected President and having the key to the nuclear button. I told him at the time that Trump was a negotiator not an ideological warmonger. I said I thought we would be safer than with a Democratic ideolog in the White House and so it proved. Trump has his faults but being an aggressive war-monger is not one of them.

Jonathan Lau
Jonathan Lau
2 months ago

I’ve watched the speech. He did mention Ukraine. Maybe not as much as the neocons want but he did.
Trump is reasonable on Ukraine imo, more so than both the neocons and the hard realists. The neocons are not reasonable (ie blind support, allowing europe to freeload) and the hard realists seem to pessimistic if not pro russian (ie denying Bucha, selective realism but only for America, not Russia, and while they rightfully criticise Zelensky ie photo opts, authoritarian control/centralisation of media, they never criticise Putin).
I think both neocons and its antithesis  are both using Trump for their careers. Trump in reality had the pros of both extremes of the GOP on that in my view. He’s def not a neocon but also not some isolationist for the sake of it.

Last edited 2 months ago by jonathankylau
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Lau

Yes, very reasonable – if, by “reasonable”, you mean appeasing and accepting a thug-led invasion of a peaceable country. Chamberlain was mocked; but it seems his brand of appeasement is back in fashion. Trump’s a 5-times draft-dodging coward. His kow-towing to Putin continues. One wonders what Putin has on him. Or perhaps it’s more simple – Trump wants to be like Putin, bomb your enemies when you feel like it, and eternal power with none of this tedious voting nonsense. Takes one to know one.

Ian S
Ian S
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

So would you also describe Muhammad Ali as a “draft-dodging coward”? Or are you simply reflecting Trump derangement syndrome? Here‘s Ali on the subject of the draft: “I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow…”

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian S

Muhammad Ali has this thing called ‘personal ethics’. Moreover, as a direct near descendant of slaves, he was not all that keen on being sent abroad, by powerful white Americans to do a dirty dangerous low paid job. Trump on the other hand…..

Trump derangement syndrome? I could go with that as a thing – so long as we recognise ClintonDS, BidenDS and PelosiDS…and that Trump is a malignant narcissist and a very poor leader (except at getting voted….but then again, just the once). So says the US electorate, members of his family, a full range of world leaders, most people who have worked or done business with him, and various security chiefs and prosecutors.

Given all that, we need to recognise TDS type I (frothing at the mouth with anger -liberals); and TDS II (swooning cultists, who as The Great Man Himself pointed out, would still love him if he murdered someone on 1st Av).

Jonathan Lau
Jonathan Lau
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I thought appeasement means biden?
Trump warned about Germany/Europe being too reliant on Russian gas. B*den cancelled the sanctions on Nord Stream 2.0.
Most of the weapons prior to the 24th were sent by trump.
Maybe you are right. Trump did say a ‘minor incursion’ won’t matter and won’t have a response….oh wait, that was B*den.
Pot calling the kettle black?

Jonathan Lau
Jonathan Lau
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

How is trump not reasonable. Both the neocons but also the hard realistists would hate him. The neocons openly and the hard realists seething behind the scenes.
Trump had the best foreign policy: America FIRST (principled realism/unilateralism/etc). It used to be ‘always intervene’ or hippie peacenick (from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan).
Trump towards China, Iran and North Korea is like this (and for the most part rightfully so).

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 months ago

Interesting perspective. Just one quibble: I don’t think you can compare the Afghan ‘kept’ army with Ukrainian fighters.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I struggled to see the similarities in the conflicts as well. Afghanistan was a campaign with no clear goals and little local public support. Ukraine is simply arming a country to allow them to fight off a foreign invasion, and severely weakening a rival in the process

David George
David George
2 months ago

“It doesn’t make sense that Russia and Ukraine aren’t sitting down and working out some kind of an agreement. If they don’t do it soon, there will be nothing left but death, destruction, and carnage.”  
– DONALD TRUMP
Quite so Mr Trump. And the fool that said this? “we absolutely annihilate the Russian forces, and we get them to crawl back into Russia so bloody and bruised that they can’t come back.”
What does Russia, a fully armed nuclear power, losing even mean; are they just going to “crawl” back home and that’s the end of it.
Here’s a great wee (59seconds) clip from Jordan Peterson on this. https://youtu.be/rLtjuQwuyuE

Chris Cope
Chris Cope
2 months ago
Reply to  David George

Completely agree that some of the rhetoric is out of control. But Russia has been getting deals for years and it’s only promoted more aggressive behaviour. Give them what they want this time and they will take more before looking at the next target.

David Werling
David Werling
2 months ago

Not surprising at all. DJT understands and intuits quite well the attitude and trends running through the American culture outside the beltway, and he knows that hawkish foreign policies, be they originating from neocon Republicans or imperial Democrats, are simply not popular. In fact, most Americans despise the constant US meddling in the affairs of foreign countries. The Cold War is over, and most Americans don’t want it back, no matter how many beltway elitists want to drag us back to it kicking and screaming. The aid packages to Ukraine during a inflationary explosion were obviously unpopular, and, thankfully for DJT, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
2 months ago
Reply to  David Werling

Correct. Which is why a common European army is now more necessary than ever. The Americans are in retreat from world affairs, and Europe needs to act as one.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

And call it the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation” perchance?

michael harris
michael harris
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

And the actions of the Burmese junta are absolutely unacceptable! All the more need for a common European army! As for the situation in Ecuador…

Jonathan Lau
Jonathan Lau
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Europe is the one in retreat. The US has rightfully raised concerns about (western) Europe freeloading of the anglosphere and the USA taxpayer. EU relies mostly on Russian gas while the US is energy independent since Trump and still is (to a lesser extent) today.
Most Americans in polls were less supportive of ukraine than (western) europeans prior to the invasion, but now it’s vice versa. Shouldn’t Europe be more concerned than the USA since it’s their neighbour? The anglos are right to pivot to Asia since its the greater threat. Russia is more of a side show relatively.
Now Germany is rationing gas. The UK/USA/anglos while having issues are no way as bad as Western Europe right now.

Chris Cope
Chris Cope
2 months ago

Pointless comparing Afghanistan to Ukraine, two very different conflicts. In the former the presence of well equipped Nato forces kept the Taleban at arms length even if the country was far from stable. Politically however the ability to form good governance destroyed the country.

In Ukraine there is a government that is energetically resisting a foreign invasion, supported by the majority of its people. With our help they can beat back the invader, but only if we keep our support intact.

Similarly looking at this like it’s a business investment is the wrong approach. The next Russian target could be a nato member country. Far better to support Ukraine now rather than risk that.

Jo Nielson
Jo Nielson
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris Cope

While they are two very different conflicts, the problem is that the American people spent their trust and good will on the Military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have a family member who fought in both places and it was completely pointless. He’s still active military. I’m a ‘hell, no’ when it comes to giving military aid and resources to Ukraine. Im just disgusted watching Biden clear out of stockpiles to help the Ukrainians and continuously sending more money to Ukraine. We don’t have ‘blow money’ these days. This is only going to end one way, if we can’t figure out a diplomatic solution. I’m with Trump on this. I really don’t care how energetically Ukraine is fighting. I care that this is being prolonged so NATO can stick it to the Russians. A lot of us haven’t spent the past decades looking for an excuse to go to war with the Russians. War with Russia is a different thing than a war with Afghanistan or Iraq. People don’t seem to want to see that.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jo Nielson

The voice of 1938 echoing down the years. Thank goodness for FDR

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
2 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Yes!,Let’s march on Moscow! Do it now! We only have to kick in the front door and the whole rotten structure will come tumbling down (as a certain person in Berlin said back in 1941).

michael harris
michael harris
2 months ago

I can’t see Liz Cheney’s sour face on the bench of the January 6th committee without remembering that her daddy was the long term ‘consigliere’ to the Bush family and, as his vice president, egged W on to the invasion of Iraq.
And that one of Trump’s best accomplishments has been the overthrowing of the US’s two royal families, the Clintons and the Bushes.
Remember the mocking of the Bush dauphin? ‘Low energy Jeb Bush!’
Liz Cheney doesn’t forget.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 months ago

Trump has always been anti-war. He’s always been a ‘builder’.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

He’s a grifter – others did the building, and he didn’t always pay them. His fortune is likely no bigger than if he’d just invested his inheritance in the stock market, and he remains one of the few people ever to have lost money running a casino.

Americans have been groomed for decades by false preachers – Haggard, Bakker, Gothard, Applewhite, Jones, Alamo, Coy, Phelps, Phillips, Swaggart, Driscoll, Duggar, Coyle, Koresh, Roberts etc – they were Trumps’ fluffers.

Vince B
Vince B
2 months ago

Let it be known that Trump is a lot of things, but he is not a war monger. And he is absolutely correct to be hard on the Europeans, who will naturally never get out from under the American security umbrella and take on their own duties until they are forced to do so.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago

After all, Trump invented The Art of the Deal!