Trump’s Address to Congress: ‘A New Trajectory’

US President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on February 28 marked “a new trajectory” for the administration by reassuring allies while ensuring continuity of US foreign policy when it comes to international alliances, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

Trump’s speech “covered some ground that needed to be covered, NATO, commitment to allies, working with Muslim allies… and so this was a necessary and critical first step,” to address uncertainties about US commitment and reassure US allies, according to Barry Pavel, Atlantic Council senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. In light of Trump’s statements, Pavel said the new administration “will pursue a lot of continuity in US foreign policy.”

“A lot more needs to happen,” said Pavel, “but this is a step we’ve all been waiting for, and now we can get going.” Pavel joined Alex Ward, associate director of the Scowcroft Center, for a Facebook Live discussion on March 1.  

“[Trump is] a lot more on the continuity of American foreign policy,” said Ward, noting the more optimistic tone of the president’s speech as compared with his inaugural address. However, he said that the idea of “America first,” one of Trump’s campaign slogans, still prevailed in his address to Congress.

To achieve an “America first” approach to defense, Trump said he would execute the largest military buildup in history, funded by a $54 billion increase in defense spending. However, both Pavel and Ward agreed that this amount is insufficient to meet Trump’s stated goals. Pavel described the variety of expenses—from technological advancements to personnel benefits to biodefense measures—involved in a strategic military and defense buildup. “You’re talking money that we haven’t talked in a very long time,” he said. “That’s a big, big bill.”

In his initial proposal, Trump said the additional funding for the military would come at the expense of foreign aid and other domestic programs. Pavel said US foreign aid is essential for conflict prevention and crisis management—an alternative form of strategic defense. “The military really wants a robust State Department, a robust development budget because if that’s done right… it reduces the need to deploy the military to deal with combat and real threats.”

However, according to Pavel there is a variety of emerging security challenges that must be addressed, and increased defense spending is not necessarily indicative of an overtly aggressive US stance on the world stage. “I would hope that the next set of statements from the administration would link the need for defense… with the challenges that we see out there, and with our allies,” he said.

Rachel Ansley is an editorial assistant at the Atlantic Council.

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Image: Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) applaud as US President Donald J. Trump (C) arrives to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (Reuters/Jim Lo Scalzo)