In interview, Trump breaks sharply with U.S. foreign policy tradition

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen on day three of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on July 20, 2016. (PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Amid the drama unfolding at the Republican convention on Wednesday night, Donald Trump’s campaign faced a new controversy when the New York Times published an interview with Trump in which he outlined a foreign policy vision that broke sharply with U.S. tradition.

Most notably, Trump suggested that the U.S. wouldn’t defend NATO allies like the Baltic states against Russian aggression if they haven’t “fulfilled their obligation to us.”

Trump has repeatedly made the case that most of NATO’s 28 member countries are not making the requisite financial contributions for their common defense, and he’s said in the past that “the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

Throughout the interview, the Republican presidential nominee seemed to reject core assumptions of U.S. military and foreign policy thinking — including foreign troop deployment and advocating for civil liberties — and argued for an unprecedented global retrenchment, frequently framing his argument in economic terms.

Though he said “I would prefer to be able to continue” existing international agreements, Trump later explained that “this is not 40 years ago.” He also suggested that the massive expense of maintaining an international order that is contributing to trade losses for the U.S. “doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

“We are spending a fortune on a military in order to lose $800 billion,” Trump said.

Trump questioned the forward deployment of American troops when answering a question about the tension in the South China Sea. According to the Times interview, Trump explained that “it will be a lot less expensive” for the United States to deploy military assets domestically.

Trump was also asked about the recent attempted coup in Turkey, praising President Recep Erdogan “for being able to turn that around.”

And Trump suggested that the U.S. shouldn’t chide Erdogan’s administration about potential violations of civil liberties because “when the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.”

“I don’t think we have the right to lecture,” he said.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign put out a statement early Thursday morning following the publication of Trump’s interview, slamming his remarks and saying “it is fair to assume that Vladimir Putin is rooting for a Trump presidency.”

“For decades, the United States has given an ironclad guarantee to our NATO allies: we will come to their defense if they are attacked, just as they came to our defense after 9/11. Donald Trump was asked if he would honor that guarantee. He said… maybe, maybe not,” Clinton said.

The former Secretary of State continued, “Ronald Reagan would be ashamed. Harry Truman would be ashamed. Republicans, Democrats and Independents who help build NATO into the most successful military alliance in history would all come to the same conclusion: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our Commander in Chief.”