Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Wednesday delivered a major foreign policy speech at a veterans’ event that urged restraint in overseas military engagements.
In the process he outlined his interpretation of what the Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy means.
His address came at an event that brought together two veteran advocacy groups from the right and the left — Concerned Veterans of America and Vote Vets — to call for the end of costly and limitless war.
Gaetz, who was elected in 2016, has emerged as one of President Trump’s top allies in Congress.
With his district having the highest percentage of active duty service members than any other in the country, he spoke at length about the sacrifice that members of the military have made in fighting endless wars:
Today our military is over-stretched, over-deployed and over-exerted. Growing up where I have, I’ve seen my whole life what endless deployments and unfocused wars really mean for our most patriotic fellow Americans.
Tearful airport goodbyes. Bargaining with God for the safe return of loved ones. Parenting disrupted. Marriages destroyed. Extra physiatrists needed at our schools. Drug abuse. Domestic abuse. Veteran suicide. Shattered limbs, broken hearts and grieving families at Walter Reed Hospital. Caskets draped in flags. Gold Star families in mourning. Roads, parks and halls of learning named in permanent reverence for the fallen.
The ‘fog of war’ is no fog to me, or any of the 700 thousand people I serve. It is not hazy. We see the impact of war everyday among the people we love who shape our lives. It is a stark reminder that the unmatched freedoms we enjoy are not free– they are bought with the blood of American patriots. And it is our solemn duty and highest responsibility to make sure that this sacred currency is spent only when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, prior to the election of Donald Trump, our decision makers have fallen short of this standard, demonstrating a tragic recklessness with the treasure of our nation and the blood of our patriots.
He talked about the high financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at six trillion dollars:
Consider this. Since 2001, the United States government has spent nearly six trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Iraq war alone is estimated to have cost four trillion — not to mention the immeasurable costs of lost and broken lives. To give you some perspective, four trillion dollars was more than our country’s entire tax revenue last year. It would be enough to completely overhaul and modernize our nation’s infrastructure. It is more than the entire market capitalization of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook combined. It is more than the nation’s entire student loan and credit card debt combined. It is nearly 10 times our enormous 419 billion trade deficit with China—a country that was rapidly expanding economically without firing a shot as we were engaged in far-flung Middle East wars.
Gaetz addressed the disastrous consequences of the war in Libya launched by the Obama administration and applauded the decision not to push for regime change in Syria:
One would think the cautionary tales of Afghanistan and Iraq would make the War Lobby and so-called “national security” experts more cautious about US involvement. One would be wrong. Instead, Hillary Clinton, with the support of hawks in the Republican party, launched a regime change operation in Libya, removing the strong-man dictator Qaddafi.
This might sound humanitarian in theory — but there is nothing humanitarian about the slave markets that now thrive in Libya, or the migrant crisis that has wreaked havoc across Europe. The same ‘thought leaders’ were equally desperate for regime change in Syria and the removal of Bashar Al-Assad. Like Qaddafi, there is no question he is an evil human and brutal dictator. The problem with the misguided calls for regime change is the lack of a superior alternative to this dictator — the main beneficiaries of such an intervention would be ISIS, and related terrorist groups fighting Assad.
Luckily, the War Lobby never got its desired intervention in Syria, largely thanks to Donald Trump— the ONLY major presidential candidate who spoke against the idea. The so-called “experts” behind our failed foreign policy have not learned from their mistakes because they have never been held accountable for them. And so today the saber-rattling persists, and is directed toward Venezuela, Yemen, and, most disturbingly, Iran.
He dismissed the “illusion” that the U.S. can bring about democracy through military intervention, even through training partner forces:
In Yemen, Syria, Libya, and beyond, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that unwilling or unreliable local fighters necessitate the involvement of American troops. The examples of Afghanistan Iraq and Libya—just to name a few—teach us that it is an illusion to think that just beyond the life of every dictator lies a peaceful democracy, rather than generations of anarchy, violence, terrorism, and chaos.
He also laid out what he sees as the four pillars of the “Trump Doctrine” of American foreign policy.
First, he said, it means building and maintaining a military edge over everyone:
An America First foreign policy is one of caution, common-sense, and peace through overwhelming strength. I never want to send America’s troops into a fair fight. That means providing the funding, equipment, infrastructure and arms to achieve decisive victory every single time. The United States military must and will remain the biggest, the strongest, and the most lethal fighting force in human history — it cannot even be a question.
Second, he said, American citizens come first. “Foreign nations and special interests, not matter how much we like them, don’t call the shots.” He added:
America First means the American people First. This is a simple yet powerful principle: The interests of American citizens come before the demands of foreign interests abroad and special-interests at home.
It means not invading Venezuela because invasion is a popular idea in Venezuela. It means not fighting a proxy war on behalf of a rich Persian Gulf monarchy. It means not sacrificing American patriots on the altar of multinational companies who need a profit boost. In short, a truly America First foreign policy is not a lobbyist first foreign policy, it is not a military-industrial-complex first foreign policy, it is not an armchair cable-news general first foreign policy — it is an America First foreign policy.
Third, he said, national security begins at home, and national security is always linked to economic security:
An America First foreign policy must recognize that National Security begins right here at home, right here in our great nation.
As the President rightly points out, economic security is national security. This is why President Trump has worked so hard to secure our industrial sector from intellectual property theft, and refuses to allow our nation and our workers to be taken advantage of with one-sided trade deals. I find it rather amazing that our so-called ‘trade war’ — which is really just a matter of demanding a fair and reciprocal trade policy—is the only war the geniuses in the beltway seem to be against. Focus closer to home means the Trump Doctrine would prioritize securing the US border with Mexico before we send Americans to die on the Saudi border with Yemen.
Stronger borders, energy dominance and a thriving American economy do more for American security than ill-fated interventionist excursions in the name of regime change and nation-building. We should focus our nation building right here in America — rebuilding our nation and strengthening our homeland.
And fourth, he said, an America First policy is not an isolationist or utopian policy. “Others must know that we will respond if necessary — and we will win.” He continued:
If our enemies mistook a more precise American focus as a disengaged, disinterested, or recoiled America….and tested our resolve or capability…. They would find us recoiled like a viper: ready to strike instantly and with great lethality. Military action, including intervention, is always on the table — but only as a last resort, and only when there is a direct, concrete, and grave threat to the security of the United States or one of our allies. Just as the threat must be clear, concrete and well-defined, so must be the objectives of military operations. We must know what victory looks like in order to achieve it.
Freedom is the most precious thing in the world — and it is for that very reason that freedom must be fought for and won by those who yearn to live it most. Freedom cannot be America’s gift to the world, purchased with the blood of U.S. service members alone.
Gaetz said for people to live in any lasting liberty, they must fight for it themselves. Only then will they never allow a strongman to take it away ever again, he said.
He blasted neoconservative experts who argue that America has a “moral obligation” to intervene.
“Real morality and real toughness is standing up to the pro-war special interests and globalist power brokers. Real morality is affirming forever that the blood of American troops is not for sale,” he said.
“As policymakers, it is our task to fight harder in Washington to understand the deep consequences of US military force both at home and around the world. President Trump is staying true to the instincts he expressed while campaigning as an America First, anti-interventionist Republican,” he said.
The Trump doctrine means continuing to rebuild our military and maintaining our military dominance. It means listening to the American people, not the siren song of beltway pundits and armchair generals. It means taking a clear-eyed look at American interests, always focusing on the well-being of our own great nation, before we volunteer our brave soldiers to be the world’s policemen. It means knowing that, sometimes, the fight is just, and worth fighting—and knowing that when America fights, America will win.
This plan will make the world safer, more stable, and more self-reliant, instead of expecting — and receiving — American largesse at every turn. The Trump Doctrine means that we must always, always, put America and the American people first. Our heroic servicemen deserve it, and the enduring prosperity of our nation depends on it. Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Watch the full speech here: