On January 16, the Sankei Shimbun’s Washington bureau chief, Yoshinari Kurose interviewed American lawyer and national security expert Joseph E. Schmitz, one of Donald Trump’s five original foreign policy advisors during United States Presidential campaign. He reviews Trump’s first year in office and discusses the new National Security Policy released just last December. Here are excerpts from the interview for JAPAN Forward:
Trump’s Most Important Accomplishments
One of his important achievements, I would say…is the publication of a new National Security Strategy that Mr. Trump recently unveiled, and Mr. Trump calls it the America First Strategy. I think this is a hugely important accomplishment for the Trump presidency.
Another one of the most important accomplishments Mr. Trump has done in his first year—even before the National Security Strategy—is to travel internationally and to persuade our friends that we will continue to be good friends, and at the same time to send a very clear message to our enemies that we are going to be a stronger enemy while being a stronger friend at the same time.
This was essentially the theme of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy from April 2016. We basically start work on all our foreign-policy issues by focusing on making America strong again, or stronger, which translates into better friends and more formidable enemies, depending upon your perspective. And I would most certainly put Japan in the category of friend.
Approach to North Korean Problem
Well, I would say he is [trying to fix the North Korea problem] in at least three respects. First of all, he has personally reached out to our friends in South Korea and in Japan, who are probably the most important allies in dealing with the North Korean threat, and assured them that we will continue to be good friends.
And at the same time…Mr. Trump has many talents, but one of his very important talents is he listens well. I am very confident that one of the most important things about his traveling to Japan and Korea is that he was listening and receiving input from our friends and incorporating that input into what he is going to do. I think that is hugely important.
It is also very important to clearly articulate not only who our enemies are and how are we going to deal with these enemies in the general sense. Obviously, the National Security Strategy is an unclassified document—and there will be details that will be classified for obvious reasons.
This President is not going to be telling our enemies what we are going to do. He may tell our friends what we’re going to do, but those communications will probably be much more private, if not classified, unlike previous administrations.
All options are on the table, and that is consistent with the idea of not telling our enemies what we’re going to do because once you tell the enemy what you are going to do, the enemy can prepare.
I think what Mr. Trump is going to continue doing is to show strength, to continue to seek what Ronald Reagan called “peace through strength,” and that means being prepared to do whatever is necessary if we are attacked or if any of our friends are attacked. We need to be prepared to take appropriate reactive force and, of course, all of this time we are going to be engaged in diplomacy.
But the point I am emphasizing is the diplomacy will not be bilateral diplomacy. I am very confident that Mr. Trump will continue to engage North Korea through South Korea and Japan and perhaps through some of our not-so-friendly relationships in the area—for instance through China and Russia, both of which have their own vested interests in North Korea.
What ‘America First’ Means
The most important part about this America First National Security Strategy is that Mr. Trump is not only identifying who our enemies are, but he is also reminding both our American citizens and our friends who we are.
According to the ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu, who wrote the book, The Art of War, one of his most famous lessons on warfare is that if you know yourself and you know your enemy, you will prevail in almost all of your engagements. And the logical extension of that is, if you don’t know yourself and you don’t know your enemy, you will lose every battle.
What the National Security Strategy does for Americans for the first time in a long time, Mr. Trump focuses on who we are as Americans. What are our core values? What are those principles underlying our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence, those core values that define who we are as Americans? Principles such as subsidiarity, rule of law, individual responsibility, representative government—these types of core American principles that, frankly, we share with our friends around the world. Most of these principles come from western civilization, but I am very confident that most of these principles we share with our friends in Japan and South Korea.
Will the U.S. Become Isolationist?
I can say from my personal experience that is just complete nonsense. You never heard that concept from any Trump campaign representative; you never heard it from President Trump. In fact, when you read his April 27, 2016 (first foreign policy) speech, you see quite the contrary…in his first year, his actions prove exactly the contrary.
In the National Security Strategy, Mr. Trump…doesn’t maybe use the term “enemy,” but he defines radical Islamic terrorists and that description fits the regime in Tehran.
There are a number of entities throughout the world who have declared war on the United States and, frankly, against western civilization. The key is that the President has literally called out these radical Islamic terrorists, whether it is a regime in Tehran or the other groups. These are words that I don’t believe any one of our presidents has used since Ronald Reagan during the middle of the Cold War in describing what he called “The Evil Empire.” And we know from history how…the Soviet Union literally fell apart without a single bullet being fired.
And this is a direct quote from his [August 15, 2016] speech: “One of my first acts as president will be to establish a commission on radical Islam which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us.” This National Security Strategy lays a very solid foundation for establishing that commission, reaching out to our friends in the Muslim world, getting the ideas, listening very well.
Relocation of U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem
I believe that President Trump is maybe the third or the fourth president to have promised to move the embassy. So, this is not a new idea.
Advice to U.S. and Japan on East Asian Relations
My main advice, both for the U.S. government and the Japanese government, first of all, is to reject the notion of a zero-sum game, and to understand that, just like in any commercial deal, people engage in deals because both parties come out better.
To strengthen the relationship between the United States and Japan, on both sides of the Pacific, we have to understand that improvement means improvement for both sides. The whole idea and the tremendous advantage that we have in President Trump is he is fundamentally a businessman. He understands that people engage in business and diplomacy together so that both sides come out better. It is the old saying that “two plus two equals five.” That would be my message both to the Japanese government and the American government.
The other message, I would say, is the Japanese-American relationship, as important as it is, is not in a vacuum. It is equally important that we improve our relationship with, say, South Korea at the same time we work on improving our relationship with Japan because, frankly, those three countries (South Korea, Japan, and the United States) are probably the most important countries that are allied against the threat in North Korea.
At the same time, Japan and South Korea and the United States need to be open to the idea of working with China and Russia to help control North Korea. Going back to my main point, the relationship between the United States and Japan is not in a vacuum.