(CNSNews.com) – Foreign policy did not feature prominently in President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, but he did pledge “direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world” even while signaling a more hands-off policy, saying that “America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.”
And, in a line that drew strong applause – although only from the Republican side of the chamber – he added, “My job is not to represent the world; my job is to represent the United States of America.”
Taken together with a promise to “respect the foreign rights of nations” (the as-prepared-for-delivery transcript said “sovereign rights”) that portion of the speech marked a departure from doctrines of nation-building, regime-change, and spreading democratic values around the globe, with Trump indicating his administration would not interfere in the affairs of other countries.
It was in line with the “America First” theme in his inaugural address, when he noted that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first” and said that the U.S. does “not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”
While Democratic lawmakers gave a tepid response to that part of Tuesday night’s speech, they did join in a standing ovation when Trump endorsed the historic alliance with NATO, though tempered with a nudge for allies to pay more.
“We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism,” he said. “But our partners must meet their financial obligations.”
“And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that,” he said – then added, in a line not in the prepared-for-delivery remarks, “In fact, I can tell you the money is pouring in – very nice, very nice.”
“We expect our partners,” the president continued, “whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost. Have to do that.”
(NATO member-states in 2006 pledged to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense spending. Only five of the 28 – the U.S., Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia – have done so.)
Other foreign policy-related points in the speech included a vow to “work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy [ISIS] from our planet.”
There were also brief references to Israel, with whom Trump said he had “reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance”; and to Iran – he said he has imposed new sanctions on supporters of the regime’s ballistic missile program.
Strikingly, given that the issue dogged him through his campaign and since the election, he did not mention relations with Russia. Trump may have alluded to that country, however, in saying that “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”
He went on to note that some of America’s former enemies are now among its closest allies – clear references to Germany and Japan.
“This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.”