For all the lamentation about the level of rhetoric in this Trumped-up election year, the race between Donald Trump and all-but-certain Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is already shaping up to be a debate over America’s global role of the kind we haven’t had for decades, perhaps since the last “America First” movement of the late ‘30s. And it is a debate that some foreign-policy experts suggest is long overdue, even if it tends to distress U.S. allies around the world. (“The unthinkable has come to pass,” Germany’s Die Welt wrote after Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee this week.)
It is also a debate that, were they still around to witness it, a majority of past U.S. presidents going back to George Washington would probably welcome — and most of them, believe it or not, might well take Trump’s side.
In his big foreign-policy rollout speech last week, Trump declared it was time “to shake the rust off of America’s foreign policy” and drop American pretensions about remaking the world in our image any longer. Or as he put it, in an obvious reference to the failed invasion of Iraq and intervention in Libya, America should abandon the “dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.”