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Pat Buchanan On 'America First' Under Trump


President Donald Trump outlined his governing vision this way.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first - America first.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump used that phrase during the campaign to define his approach to foreign policy. But in his inauguration address, he applied it more broadly to trade, taxes and immigration as well. And it's a philosophy that our next guest shares. Pat Buchanan served as an adviser to three Republican presidents and ran for president a few times himself.

Welcome to the program, sir.

PAT BUCHANAN: Hi, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very well.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to focus on foreign policy for a moment. President Trump said that the U.S. should seek friendship with other nations but should also understand that every country has the right to, quote, "put their own interests first." How would that approach, in your view, refocus American policy?

BUCHANAN: There has been sort of, if you will, a moral interventionism on the part of the United States trying to reshape countries in our own image. Now, we had to go into Afghanistan. We didn't have to go into Iraq. But the idea that you could create a Vermont in the Middle East like that was naive from the beginning.

In other words, nations decide upon their own destinies, and those choices are not the business of the United States if they do not threaten the United States. For example, we have Mr. Putin in Russia. And he appears to be a popular president of Russia. And I don't think it's the business of the National Endowment for Democracy or American diplomats or American foreign policy to try to change the nature of that government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But America first seems to mean, some would interpret, giving up global influence, giving up being a superpower.

BUCHANAN: No, it does not. What America first means is we put the national interests of the United States and the well-being of our own country and our own people first. Our foreign policy, first and foremost, should be focused on the defense of American freedom, security and rights. That, of course, can entail, given the nature of the world, alliances with Great Britain. And during the Cold War, all of us supported the NATO alliance.

But when you have a situation where the Soviet Union disappeared, worldwide communism has disappeared, do you really need the same alliance we needed in 1956? Lulu, does anyone think that all 28 or 29 NATO countries would go to war if the Russians move back into Estonia? Should they? Should we have a nuclear war over issues like that, or should we really be confronting Russia in eastern Ukraine, for heaven's sakes?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But sir, taking that off the table, saying that we will not get involved, that we will not stand by our allies, many argue it makes the world a more volatile, dangerous place because it encourages countries like Russia to make actions that might destabilize an entire region.

BUCHANAN: Well, there's no doubt that an American guarantee to go to war on behalf of however many countries we are committed to now - 28 some in NATO, you've got the South American countries. You got South Korea, Japan. You had Taiwan. You have the Philippines. The point is, the world has changed, and the United States needs to change with it. We cannot commit to go to war on behalf of 50 countries around the world because that is the formula that is one day going to break down and break out into war.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to discuss the phrase America first.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, one historian at CNN described it as the legacy of a, quote, "isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler." She's referring, of course, to the America First Committee, which opposed World War II. You used it in your campaigns. Donald Trump is now using it as well. Is this really the slogan of our times with such a troubled history?

BUCHANAN: Well, troubled history to MSNBC perhaps. But who supported the America First movement in the 1930s? John F. Kennedy contributed a hundred dollars. It began up at Yale, and one of the founders of it was Gerald R. Ford. It was supported by Herbert Hoover. It was supported by the American Legion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It doesn't mean it's not a discredited organization?

BUCHANAN: It's - in your eyes, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not in mine. I'm asking.

BUCHANAN: Well, not in my eyes. I would not have used the slogan if it were some slogan which - to me, it is an honorable group of American patriots who wanted to keep us out of the insane World War II where the British and German - all of them were killing one another - as we had mistakenly gotten into World War I and gotten all those Americans killed so that the European empires could expand.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So there's no war worth fighting in your view? You think Donald Trump, as the new president...

BUCHANAN: There was a war worth fighting, the American Revolution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the American president, your advice to him would be to not get entangled in any foreign conflicts?

BUCHANAN: I would certainly - as I - I told President - or told President Bush - I started a magazine, 2002, along with two other patriotic fellows to keep the United States out of Iraq. We implored him not to go to Iraq. Don't march up to Baghdad because when we get there, we're going to meet some of the other imperialists who've gone before us. That was the greatest diplomatic disaster in my lifetime and perhaps in American history. And it had gotten us involved in a Middle East where it's - there's constant bloodshed going on and no resolution. That was a horrible mistake. People who stand up against wars aren't necessarily always wrong.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pat Buchanan is the editor of The American Conservative. Thanks so much for being with us.

BUCHANAN: It's a pleasure, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.