President Donald Trump’s break-the-mold “America first” diplomatic style has defied skeptics to make the world safer and more prosperous — and he should get serious attention for a Nobel Peace Prize, his national security adviser said Thursday in Salt Lake City.
“I came out and said he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize” after brokering an accord to normalize relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told an Orrin Hatch Center symposium on global security at the Grand America Hotel.
He said leaders of those Middle Eastern counties who signed the agreement should also receive joint consideration for the Nobel Prize.
“It took tremendous courage for all those leaders to make that step towards peace,” said O’Brien, who also was a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney when he ran for president in 2012, and is the highest ranking member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Trump administration.
O’Brien said that unlike many U.S. leaders, Trump has been willing to build up political capital with all parties, and then spend it to push steps toward peace.
“President Trump had built up capital with the Israelis by moving our embassy to Jerusalem, something that everyone predicted would lead to strife and turmoil," he said. “We recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and again were told by foreign policy elite that was something that would create instability.”
He said Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal made by the Barack Obama administration, which he said that country was not following. “By pulling out of those accords, we gave tremendous confidence and credibility to our gulf area allies.”
O’Brien said Trump then spent that political capital with all sides.
He said too many diplomats and politicians take such political capital and “hold and protect it, maybe even put it in a safe and lock it away.” Instead, he said Trump used it to prod Israel and the Arabic gulf states “to make tough decisions and move them towards peace.”
He added, “It’s a lesson for all of us and in negotiating.”
O’Brien said Trump has made many international gains that have surprised skeptics by pushing an “America First” policy in diplomatic relations.
“Every time the president makes a decision on foreign policy, his first question is how does it affect the American people?” O’Brien said, adding that he also believes in Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of achieving peace through strength.
“The Trump administration deals with the world as it is. We deal with authoritarian and totalitarian governments as they are — not as we would hope they would be or not because we think they might change.”
He added, “The United States will not stay party to a treaty where the other side is abrogating the treaty. … The United States will not remain in an international organization that is corrupt or that’s actively working against American interests.”
He said an example was Trump threatening to pull out of NATO because he believed other members were not paying their fair share — which brought pledges from them for more spending.
Another example of “America First” diplomacy is that in Afghanistan, “We signed a peace deal with the Taliban for the first time in 19 years,” which he said led to a significant reduction of U.S. troops there and casualties.
“The president would like to see all of our troops home,” he said, adding that conditions may allow that soon.
In sum, O’Brien said, “We think as a result of these activities and others, the world is demonstrably much more peaceful and more prosperous.”
O’Brien’s view clashes with widespread condemnation of critics, who say that Trump’s disjointed and isolationist foreign policy has damaged the standing of the United States internationally and made the world a more dangerous place.
Most recently they point to new controversial sanctions imposed on Iran and note that Tehran has enriched more uranium than previously and there has been an increase in attacks by Iranian-backed militias.
More broadly, critics point to a series of presidential actions, from pulling out of the Paris climate agreement to shaking the confidence of the most staunch U.S. allies, the NATO members, including Trump’s planned withdrawal of more than a quarter of the 34,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. At the same time, the president has praised and refused to publicly confront dictators, most notably Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and, until recently, China’s Xi Jinping.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican standard-bearer, has repeatedly attacked Trump’s foreign policy moves as detrimental to the country and to the international community. Specifically he has criticized the plan to withdraw troops from Germany, Trump’s “fawning praise” of China’s leader and his flirtations with Venezualan dictator Nicolás Maduro, who refused to leave after losing an election.
Meanwhile at the Hatch global security symposium Thursday, Jon Huntsman — the former Utah governor who was an ambassador to Russia and China — said America has a secret weapon that ultimately is the most powerful in its arsenal against authoritarian governments: its values of liberty and freedom.
“When we’re able to practice more appropriately our American values, which emanate for all the world to see, no one can beat us,” he said.
That’s because “most people, even under authoritarian governments, aspire to liberty and freedom,” he said. “It is an individual yearning to break through, particularly in countries where they can’t. It is our nation’s most powerful weapon.”
He said Americans must actively practice and protect those values. “That’s the only weapon in our arsenal that we need to worry about.”