By Philip Rucker and Robert Costa March 21 at 4:30 PM
This post has been updated.
Donald Trump outlined an unabashedly noninterventionist approach to world affairs Monday, telling The Washington Post’s editorial board that he questions the need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has formed the backbone of Western security policies since the Cold War.
The meeting at The Post covered a range of issues, including media libel laws, violence at his rallies, climate change, NATO and the U.S. presence in Asia.
Speaking ahead of a major address on foreign policy later Monday in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said he advocates a light footprint in the world. In spite of unrest abroad, especially in the Middle East, Trump said the United States must look inward and steer its resources toward rebuilding domestic infrastructure.
“I do think it’s a different world today, and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,” Trump said. “I think it’s proven not to work, and we have a different country than we did then. We have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting, probably, on a bubble. And it’s a bubble that if it breaks, it’s going to be very nasty. I just think we have to rebuild our country.”
He added: “I watched as we built schools in Iraq and they’re blown up. We build another one, we get blown up. We rebuild it three times and yet we can’t build a school in Brooklyn. We have no money for education because we can’t build in our own country. At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves?’ So, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that. But at the same time, our country is disintegrating, large sections of it, especially the inner cities.”
For the first time, Trump also listed members of a team chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that is counseling him on foreign affairs and helping to shape his policies: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.
Trump praised George P. Shultz, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s top diplomat, and was harshly critical of current secretary of state John F. Kerry. He questioned the United States’ continued involvement in NATO and, on the subject of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, said America’s allies are “not doing anything.”
“Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we’re doing all of the lifting,” Trump said. “They’re not doing anything. And I say: ‘Why is it that Germany’s not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of Ukraine, why aren’t they dealing? Why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war with Russia.’ ”
Trump said that U.S. involvement in NATO may need to be significantly diminished in the coming years, breaking with nearly seven decades of consensus in Washington. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” Trump said, adding later, “NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”
Trump sounded a similar note in discussing the U.S. presence in the Pacific. He questioned the value of massive military investments in Asia and wondered aloud whether the United States still was capable of being an effective peacekeeping force there.
“South Korea is very rich, great industrial country, and yet we’re not reimbursed fairly for what we do,” Trump said. “We’re constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games — we’re reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing.”
Asked whether the United States benefits from its involvement in the region, Trump replied, “Personally, I don’t think so.” He added, “I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country, and we are a poor country now. We’re a debtor nation.”
Trump cast China as a leading economic and geopolitical rival and said the United States should toughen its trade alliances to better compete.
“China has got unbelievable ambitions,” Trump said. “China feels very invincible. We have rebuilt China. They have drained so much money out of our country that they’ve rebuilt China. Without us, you wouldn’t see the airports and the roadways and the bridges. The George Washington Bridge [in New York], that’s like a trinket compared to the bridges that they build in China. We don’t build anymore. We had our day.”
Trump began the hour-long meeting by pulling out a list of some of his foreign policy advisers.
“Walid Phares, who you probably know. PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives. He’s a counterterrorism expert,” Trump said. “Carter Page, PhD. George Papadopoulos. He’s an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy. The honorable Joe Schmitz, [was] inspector general at the Department of Defense. General Keith Kellogg. And I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do. But that’s a pretty representative group.”
Trump said he plans to share more names in the coming days.
Kellogg, a former Army lieutenant general, is an executive vice president at CACI International, a Virginia-based intelligence and information technology consulting firm with clients around the world. He has experience in national defense and homeland security issues and worked as chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq.
Schmitz served as inspector general at the Defense Department during the early years of President George W. Bush’s administration and has worked for Blackwater Worldwide. In a brief phone call Monday, Schmitz confirmed that he is working for the Trump campaign and said that he has been involved for the past month. He said he frequently confers with Sam Clovis, one of Trump’s top policy advisers, and that there has been a series of conference calls and briefings in recent weeks.
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Papadopoulos directs an international energy center at the London Center of International Law Practice. He previously advised the presidential campaign of Ben Carson and worked as a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Phares has an academic background, teaching at the National Defense University and Daniel Morgan Academy in Washington, and has advised members of Congress and appeared as a television analyst discussing terrorism and the Middle East.
Page, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and now the managing partner of Global Energy Capital, is a longtime energy industry executive who rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch around the world before founding his current firm. He previously was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he focused on the Caspian Sea region and the economic development in former Soviet states, according to his company biography and documents from his appearances at panels over the past decade.
Trump’s meeting with The Post was on the record. An audio recording was shared by the editorial board, and a full transcript will be posted later Monday. Trump was accompanied to the meeting, which took place at The Post’s new headquarters, by his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and spokeswoman, Hope Hicks.