The Republican Party Platform of the 2016 election cycle was released last week as the first major, joint document requiring the Party and the Trump campaign, two entities that have not always been in sync regarding the direction and future of the Republican Party, to bring their energies together and chart a course for the future. The shift in Foreign Policy that Donald Trump signaled during the campaign, that he would put “America First” and use his skill as a negotiator to solve the challenges America faces, can be gleaned from the platform draft. Language regarding arming Ukraine against rebels was stripped out of the final text at the Trump campaigns request. Support for ethnic minorities in northern Iraq being destroyed by ISIS is also present in the text. Neoconservatives remain behind the scenes ready to influence the Trump campaign’s policy positions. Their influence with party officials could push the campaign to use the language they support. Namely, more robust rhetoric calling for regime change through military force, and further confrontation with Russia. The Trump campaign seems willing to push back against those tendencies for now.
Donald Trump, in stark contrast with Bush Conservatives and GOP Foreign Policy leaders, spoke out against the Iraq war during the primary, which he called in a televised Republican debate “a big, fat mistake” even accusing Bush officials of deceit to a crowd of boos. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction – there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Donald Trump has spoken frequently in favor of fighting ISIS instead of the government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, has promoted cooperation with Russia against Islamic terrorism, and sought to neutralize tensions with the latter over events in the Ukraine.
Some of the presidential candidate’s ideas translated to the party platform. A delegate who supported the former primary candidate, Ted Cruz, sought to amend the foreign policy section to include pledges to arm the Ukrainian government against rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Trump officials stepped in and stripped that language from the text.
Some language in the drafted platform is not very different than what one would expect from a neoconservative. Bashar al-Assad is called a brutal dictator and the Republican platform pledges to support the transition to a post-Assad Syria . These policy positions, if implemented, would be a mistake and only further tensions between the U.S. and Russia, while bringing our military closer to the quagmire in Syria. It is also not in line with Trump’s own thinking about the Middle East. There is still time to promote a more traditional and realist, rather than ideological, direction for the Republican Party’s Foreign Policy. War hawks, who share uniform positions with Hillary Clinton, will be prepared to use their influence in the Party, to steer Trump away from an “America First” policy, and towards a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy.