Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s "narcissistic foreign policy" would be devastating to America’s international interests, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said Thursday.
Trump’s foreign policy proposals, which, when taken together, would result in the United States withdrawing from the national stage, according to Kinzinger. The congressman described Trump’s ideas as both unrealistic and depressing on the same day that the business mogul secured enough delegates to capture the GOP nomination outright.
"When you have leading candidates for president, and one says [that] countries should pay us to defend them—I call that a narcissistic foreign policy, and I call it that because it doesn’t recognize the reality that troops in South Korea [are] not just for the benefit of the South Koreans. It’s for the benefit of the United States of America," Kinzinger said during a discussion of Middle East policy in Washington, D.C.
"Our involvement in NATO is not just because we want to defend Europe out of the goodness in our heart, but because without NATO, we never would have been able to drop the Iron Curtain and bring freedom to millions of people and make us safer," Kinzinger said.
"When you talk about leaving NATO and you talk about NATO being the past doesn’t recognize the contribution that NATO has made to the war on terror since September 11, 2001, and continues to make today in Afghanistan."
"I don’t think we have a right or an ability to withdraw from the world," the congressman said.
Kinzinger, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the comments during a wide-ranging discussion with political columnist Josh Rogin sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative.
Kinzinger called Trump’s "America first" foreign policy "cute" and described the presumptive Republican nominee as an "isolationist."
"When you have a frontrunner that’s, in essence, to the left of Democrat Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, that’s a frightening thing," Kinzinger said. "When you have somebody that says he’s going to have a bad relationship with England because David Cameron was a meanie to him, but then he’s going to have a really great relationship with Vladimir Putin because Putin ran the KGB playbook of flattery on him and he fell right into it."
Trump has praised the Russian president and defended his leadership despite Putin’s interventions in Ukraine and Syria, in addition to other military provocations.
"This is a guy that’s tearing Europe up, by the way," Kinzinger said of Putin. "This is the guy that’s throwing the international order aside. This is a guy that’s basically a dictator in a very powerful country, of course with an economy the size of Italy, I need to reiterate."
Kinzinger said that he hopes Trump is merely "acting" and not serious about his foreign policy positions. The alternative, he forecasted, would be devastating to U.S. international interests if Trump were elected.
"If what he says, he implements, it’s devastating. Think about it. He wants Japan to have nuclear weapons. … He wants Korea to pay us for troops in South Korea," Kinzinger said. "When America retreats from the world, chaos follows, strongmen follow, dictators follow. I expect that [if] Donald Trump carries out what he says, you will see more of that."
Kinzinger also said that Middle East leaders, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, have expressed "concern" about Trump’s rhetoric and particularly his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
"It’s not just because it’s offensive to them to hear that we should ban all Muslims," Kinzinger, who recently met King Salman, explained. "Saudi Arabia and [United Arab Emirates] just dealt a major blow to al Qaeda in Yemen a couple weeks ago. That’s work that we don’t have to do now. We have to have Muslims [as] allies."
"When Trump makes comments like ‘ban ‘em all’ it does real harm to our international affairs," he added.
Kinzinger also criticized President Obama for a general lack of leadership when it comes to solving conflicts in the Middle East and made the case for stronger U.S. policy toward Syria. He said that Bashar al-Assad should "absolutely" be removed from power—either voluntarily or by force—and called for a no-fly zone, the creation of a safe zone in Syria where aid can safely reach individuals oppressed by the regime, and troops to defend that area.
Kinzinger would not rule out putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria to accomplish those goals.
"I think if we can do it with Arab troops, that’s way better. If not, I think at the end of the day there has to be some level of it, whether it’s to protect the safe zone or otherwise," the congressman said, later adding, "Nobody is for a quarter million troops in Syria."
Trump, in contrast, has said he would never have gotten involved in the Syrian civil war at all, though he would continue to combat ISIS.
"I would have stayed out of Syria and wouldn’t have fought so much for Assad, against Assad because I thought that was a whole thing," Trump said during a recent interview on MSNBC. "You have Iran, which we made into a power. Iran now is a power. Because of us, because of some of the dumbest deals I have ever seen. So now you have Iran and you have Russia in favor of Assad. We’re supposed to fight the two of them. At the same time, we’re supposed to fight ISIS, who is fighting Assad."
But Kinzinger, who recently traveled to a refugee camp in Turkey, said that the war-torn area in Syria is a "fertile recruiting ground" for terrorist groups such as ISIS because of Assad’s dictatorship.
"When you see displaced populations and you see children that are not going to school, that is fertile recruiting ground for the next generation of extremism," Kinzinger said.
"When you do that in certain areas, when you subject children to not being able to read and write, not understanding the bigger world out there, they can easily be whispered into walking into a café with a bomb on and blowing themselves up," he added. "That is how you drain the next generation of terror, is make sure people have an education and opportunity."