Trump's foreign policy scatters GOP’s hawks and doves

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Joshua Roberts | Getty Images

Donald Trump's candidacy has scrambled traditional political coalitions, both in support of and opposition to his campaign, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

Trump's aggressive and at times shifting proposals to wall off Mexico and intervene directly in Syria, mixed with his opposition to the Iraq War and seeming embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have united the Republican Party's foreign policy establishment against him while drawing a unique mix of supporters to his side.

When Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, endorsed Hillary Clinton in late June, it marked the latest GOP foreign policy leader to come out against his party's own standard-bearer. However, Scowcroft was certainly not the first.

An open letter published online in early March and signed by 121 GOP national security leaders announced the group was "united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency" despite previous internal disagreements over issues like the Iraq War and Syrian intervention.

"His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence," the letter noted as one of the group's objections. "We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office."

The letter was coordinated by Eliot Cohen, a former State Department counselor under George W. Bush, and Bryan McGrath, a defense consultant and former naval officer.

McGrath called Trump dangerous as a candidate, and said his foreign policy "attempts to relearn all the old lessons that we thought we'd learned about how great powers act in a multipolar world." However, he predicted that over time more Republicans will publicly align themselves with Trump, though it won't be a "tidal wave."

As of now, Trump has drawn a small and enigmatic group of Republican foreign policy thinkers to his side. McGrath said that traditional categorizations like "hawk" or "dove" do not apply when it comes to Trump's candidacy.

"They don't work with him, he has no principles, he has no set positions. Everything is negotiable, and this is the essence of his danger," McGrath said. "The bottom line is that no matter where you are on the ideological scale if you wait long enough he'll say something that appeals to you."

When Trump first listed a handful of foreign policy advisors in an interview with The Washington Post's editorial board, it left many experts puzzling over the lower-profile names. The list included people like Walid Phares, a regular contributor to Fox News who has advocated for greater intervention in the Middle East, and Carter Page, an investment banker who supports closer ties with Russia,

Other people have also voiced approval for the New York real estate tycoon, like John Bolton, an outspoken hawk and former ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. Even Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator who has advocated for a reduced role for America on the world stage, offered his tacit support in April.

Paul Vallely, a retired major general in the U.S. Army, also said he is supporting Trump and advocates for a more proactive approach against Islamic extremism and cooperation with Russia.

Vallely called classifications like hawkish and dovish "outdated."

"Hawkish and dovish don't mean anything," Vallely said. "Trump, whether people believe it or not, is really looking at it through the reality prism."

But Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton and a CNN contributor, said that he does not think the effect Trump has had on the Republican foreign policy thinkers has rendered the hawk and dove divide outdated. Rather, his wide-ranging and at times contradictory opinions make it unsurprising that leading Republicans in the foreign policy community have not embraced him, Zelizer said.

"They are more than anyone scared and upset about him," Zelizer said. "Overall, the Republican foreign policy community has been I think pretty silenced, if not like a [Brookings Institution fellow and neoconservative] Robert Kagan, pretty hostile."