Why Trump’s veep pick matters for foreign policy

By Bonnie Kristian

As fans of HBO’s Veep well know, the modern American vice presidency often functions as something of a vestigial organ—the appendix of the White House, if you will. While Pres. Obama signs laws and goes to weighty international summits, Vice Pres. Joe Biden has weird interactions with ladies and is somehow supposed to totally fix cancer.

There are, however, exceptions. Dick Cheney springs to mind, for instance, as a vice president who so thoroughly inserted himself into the policy-making process that his enemies accused him of puppeteering a clueless commander-in-chief.

It’s the potential for a recreation of that model in fact more than rumor which makes Donald Trump’s 2016 veep selection so important, particularly where foreign policy is concerned. Trump has little in the way of bedrock foreign policy principles: He has been all over the map on key issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, how to deal with ISIS, and nuclear proliferation; and has expressed ignorance of important groups and figures in America’s Mideast entanglements. 

Trump’s main foreign policy advisor to date is himself, “because I have a very good brain.”

This changeability suggests that Trump’s VP pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, could well wield considerable foreign policy influence—and not in a good way.

With an activist vice presidency from Pence, who served in the House of Representatives until 2013, a President Trump would undoubtedly be pulled toward his more hawkish inclinations. Pence has cast himself as something of a foreign policy buff, and has long been a consistent advocate of an aggressive, reckless interventionism which refuses to learn from past mistakes.

An avid supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and a favorite of the Republican and neoconservative establishment, Pence is a hawk’s hawk who voted against any timeline for U.S. troops to come home after ousting Saddam Hussein. Where Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and everyone in between now recognizes the role of American intervention in the rise of ISIS, Pence continues to insist that it is some fictional U.S. disengagement which is at fault.

He embraces wholeheartedly a future in which America polices the world—forever—refusing to reorient our foreign policy away from nation-building and toward restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to ensure U.S. security.

Writing at The Week this past March, conservative columnist Michael Brendan Dougherty cautioned that after a Trump win, “American foreign policy would turn on public opinion, causing Trump and his hyper-aggrieved sense of honor to involve our nation in military commitments he doesn't bother to understand or have patience to see through.” That may well prove true, but the risk of a veep-dictated foreign policy is real, too. With the detailed knowledge Trump lacks and an aggressive tone Trump likes, this VP nominee—a man who has not been personally picked or vetted by primary voters—may well become the next director of American foreign policy. And since that nominee is Pence, it is sure to be a wrongheaded policy indeed.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time, Relevant, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.

This piece was originally published by The Hill on July 20, 2016. Read more HERE