‘America First,’ a think tank’s foreign policy for Trump’s second term

The ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation advocates for unwavering support to Israel, conditional aid to Ukraine and a strong rivalry with China

Donald Trump
Former U.S. president Donald Trump in court in New York last week.Steven Hirsch (via REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez

Ideologists, members of Congress, former senior officials of Donald Trump’s presidency and aspirants hoping to be part of the billionaire’s possible return to the White House are preparing the script for what they consider should be a second Trump presidency. A few months ago, the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation launched a broad catalog of measures, called Project 2025, to inspire the future presidency. And last week, the Trump-affiliated America First Policy Institute released its proposals in a book focused on foreign policy and national security issues. Unwavering support for Israel, conditional aid for Ukraine and hostile competition with China are included in its approach, dubbed “America First” just like the think tank and Trump’s slogan in his first mandate.

If the former president wins the November presidential elections and returns to the White House on January 20, he will have a script to follow on the Oval Office table. Although the Trump campaign has always said that it only follows and commits to its own proposals, it is important to consider the initiatives being raised by these conservative think tanks as they have a close relationship with Trump and his team.

The new book — called An America First Approach to U.S. National Security — is critical of Trump’s “tumultuous transition” to power in 2016, arguing it slowed the implementation of his policies. According to the book’s authors, before the elections, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s transition team had submitted more than 1,000 names for future security clearances, while Trump’s had only submitted 25. To prevent a repeat of this situation, the think tank says that the new Trump administration should be ready to fill approximately 1,200 national security-related positions with Trump loyalists who adhere to the “America First” approach.

The book also addresses the international situation and confronts critics who say that the United States would no longer be one of the world’s leading powers if it adopted an “American First” approach. “America First foreign policy is not isolationism. America First does not mean America alone,” said Lt. General (Ret.) Keith Kellogg, former Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary of the National Security Council and Chair of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Security.

Unwavering support for Israel

Edited by Fred Fleitz, former Trump administration National Security Council Chief of Staff, the book addresses the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hamas’ attack on Israel, and the threat posed by China. It offers reflections and guidelines, and does not always provide concrete proposals. One issue it is firm on is the importance of giving unwavering support to Israel, in line with Trump’s position on the subject. The former president harshly criticized Joe Biden for pausing a shipment of high-powered bombs, calling the decision “disgraceful” and accusing the president of aligning himself with Hamas terrorists, in a new baseless hyperbole.

Ellie Cohanim, Trump’s former State Department deputy envoy against antisemitism, advocates for a policy on Israel that “honors America’s historical commitment to the Jewish state and is premised on the understanding that Israel is our leading ally in the region.” According to Fleitz, the U.S. relies on Israel “for intelligence sharing, defense, and other technology co-development — and most importantly — for preserving America’s interests in the region.”

Cohanim argues that the United States must quickly provide Israel with 25 new F-35 advanced fighter jets, a squadron of Boeing F-15 EXs and a squadron of Apache E attack helicopters. She adds that Washington should pressure Arab states to foot the bill for rebuilding Gaza and accept that Israel postpone any political talks with the Palestinians pending an indefinite period of “compulsory deradicalization” for the Palestinian people.

There are fewer details about how to put into practice Trump’s statement that he would end the war in Ukraine in one day, if elected. The book spends more time blaming Biden for the conflict. “The war in Ukraine is an avoidable tragedy that resulted from President Biden’s incompetence as a world leader and his chaotic foreign policy. The war has divided Americans and the conservative movement over what America’s involvement in this conflict should be and how the Ukraine War affects European and global stability,” write Kellogg and Fleitz.

Kellogg and Fleitz say that the United States should reject a foreign policy that keeps it “mired in endless wars to the detriment of the country by putting idealistic principles ahead of the interests of the American people.” The U.S. role in Ukraine must be through “decisive” leadership, “where bold diplomacy paves the way to an end-state for this conflict,” they add. “What we should not continue to do is to send arms to a stalemate that Ukraine will eventually find difficult to win.”

The authors argue that the United States should condition future military aid on Ukraine’s participation in peace negotiations with Russia. The approach seem to endorse a framework in which Ukraine “would not be asked to relinquish the goal of regaining all its territory” but would agree to diplomacy “with the understanding that this would require a future diplomatic breakthrough which probably will not occur before [Russian President Vladimir] Putin leaves office.”

China, “the most pressing threat”

As for China, the book says that the United States should seek to decouple from China’s “malign influences” to ensure the policies of the Chinese Communist Party are “largely irrelevant to American life.” China is described as the most pressing threat to American national security, and the authors advocate for tough policy, especially in economic and technological matters.

The book proposes denying Chinese companies access to U.S. markets in the same way that U.S. companies have been denied access in China. It also recommends banning Chinese citizens from purchasing property within 50 miles of any U.S. government property and placing visa restrictions on Chinese students. In one respect, the proposals clash with Trump’s position: the book supports banning TikTok and other Chinese apps over data privacy concerns, while Trump is opposed to this move. One of TikTok’s major American shareholders is a Republican donor.

The other major issue addressed in the book is the U.S.-Mexico border. “Without a secure border, the United States is not a sovereign nation. While our immigration laws could always be modernized and improved, including overhauling the legal immigration system to better serve the national interest, there are sufficient existing authorities that the Biden administration is refusing to use that the next America First administration should immediately implement to secure the border,” write Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Rob Law, who served as a senior policy advisor in the Trump administration.

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