Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Wednesday accused US President Barack Obama of capitulating to Iran at the expense of Israel’s security, and of ignoring the dangers posed by a nuclear deal signed between the Islamic Republic and world powers.
Trump charged in his first foreign policy speech that the Jewish state was “snubbed and criticized by an administration without moral clarity” during Obama’s presidency, whereas Iran was treated with “tender love and care.”
“[Obama] negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran and then we watched them ignore its terms even before the ink was dry. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said during a highly anticipated foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.
“Under a Trump administration Iran will never be allowed to have that nuclear weapon,” he added.
“Israel, our great friend and the one true democracy in the Middle East, has been snubbed and criticized by an administration that lacks moral clarity,” Trump said.
“President Obama has not been a friend to Israel. He’s treated Iran with tender love and care and has made it a great power,” Trump went on. “All at the expense of Israel, our allies in the region and, very importantly, the United States itself. We pick fights with our oldest friends, and now they’re starting to look elsewhere for help.”
In the first part of his speech, which was dedicated to critiquing the Obama administration — including Democratic front-runner and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton — for its foreign policy failures, Trump cited the administration’s criticism of Israel.
Trump complained that “just a few days ago, Vice President Joe Biden again criticized Israel, a force for justice and peace.”
Trump further stated that he wanted to “shake the rust off” American foreign policy and place a new, unyielding focus on what’s best for the US. “America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” Trump said.
Trump was speaking from prepared remarks with the assistance of teleprompters — a rarity for the billionaire businessman who is known for his off-the-cuff style and who had previously mocked rivals for reading their speeches from the popular devices.
During the speech, Trump outlined a vision for US foreign policy that focuses on rebuilding alliances, charting a new course with Russia and Iran and tackling the threat posed by the Islamic State.
In a speech heavy on bold statements but thin on detail, Trump promised to defeat IS, “rebuild” the US military and support America’s allies abroad. But he declined to disclose his strategy for defeating IS, said “the power of weaponry is the single-biggest problem we have today in the world” and that America’s relationship with allies must be a “two-way street.”
“We’ve lacked a coherent foreign policy,” Trump said.
“In the Middle East, our goals must be, and I mean must be, to defeat terrorists and provide regional stability, not radical change,” Trump said.
“We should work together with any nation in the region that is threatened by radical Islam, but this is a two-way street. They have to be good to us. They have to appreciate what we’ve done for them.”
The candidate reiterated his alarm about immigration from Muslim countries.
“We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies,” Trump said, invoking the San Bernardino shooting, which was carried out by an Islamic militant couple. “We have no idea where these people are coming from. There’s no documentation, there’s no paperwork, nothing.”
On IS, Trump said, “I have a simple message for them: Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where, and I won’t tell them how. We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We’re too predictable. We’re sending troops, we tell them. We’re sending something else, we tell them.”
The United States should seek common ground with Russia and China based on shared interests, Trump said.
Trump also said the United States should only wage wars it will win.
He said he’d bring fresh faces to foreign policy positions. “We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
“This is all part of the normalization effort, or the mainstreaming of Donald Trump,” said Lanhee Chen, who served as 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s chief policy adviser and advised Marco Rubio’s campaign before the Florida senator dropped out.
Trump has a lot to prove when it comes to calming foreign leaders and policy professionals. They’ve been stunned by his often brash policy proclamations, like his vow to temporarily bar foreign Muslims from entering the country, and an apparent disregard for some long-standing alliances. Those concerns were amplified when Trump introduced a foreign policy team last month that left many scratching their heads.
Already, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign is trying to ensure that voters don’t forget about Trump’s previous statements. Her team blasted out a news release saying Trump has used “the most reckless rhetoric of any major presidential candidate in modern history.”
The speech came as Trump has been working to professionalize his campaign with the addition of several new and experienced aides who have stressed a need to expand his policy shop and offer more specifics on his plans.
Senior aide Paul Manafort said last week that he’d met people at a number of think tanks and members of Congress to talk about bulking up the team’s policy component, which is smaller than that of leading campaigns in the past.
“We’re finding there’s a lot of interest in working with him, coming on board,” he told reporters.
Manafort spent about an hour at the Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington last week meeting policy experts at the conservative think tank. Heritage officials cast the meeting as part of a series of briefings for candidates and their advisers.
While Trump’s speech marks a departure from his usual rally routine of speaking off the cuff, consulting only hand-scrawled notes, his remarks in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last month provided a test run of sorts, with Trump speaking from a prepared speech using a teleprompter.
While Trump largely stuck to his speech at the AIPAC event as he declared his support for Israel and railed against the Iran nuclear deal, he veered off-script when referring to Obama’s last year in office.
“Yay,” Trump said, drawing cheers. “He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me.”
The asides prompted an unprecedented apology from the lobby group’s president the next day, saying the committee took “great offense” to criticism of the president from its stage.