International Man: In a broad sense, how would you describe the foreign policy of the US?
David Stockman: Well, in two words: Empire First. I contrast that with what Donald Trump thought he wanted to seek as a candidate, America First.
Now these are obviously simplifications and slogans, but there is an underlying substance that’s really important.
I think the basic idea behind “America First” is reaching way back to Robert Taft in the 1950s. He said that we cannot have a permanent warfare state in America, because our foreign policy doesn’t require it and our fiscal capacities can’t afford it.
What Taft basically said is the US sits between these two great ocean moats in a nuclear age, where the number-one threat is a nuclear threat, not an invasion of conventional forces. The way you deal with that is to have overwhelming retaliatory capacity, to keep the other side at bay.
As a matter of fact, he was totally right. It worked for 40 years. The Soviet Union finally crumbled under its own weight in 1991, and therefore the case was proved. There was no industrial society, high-tech conventional military threat left in the world. The opportunity arose in the early 1990s to go really full out America First.
Why did we keep all of these aircraft carriers, battleships, all this forward power projection capability, air refueling capabilities, 100 bases or more all over the world? None of that was needed throughout the entire Cold War, but most especially after 1991. That’s the direction we should have gone.
Where we ended up was in the opposite direction of what I call “America First.” Instead of dismantling NATO, we expanded it from 15 to 29 countries.