WASHINGTON — In a full-throated defense of President Donald Trump's foreign policy, former White House adviser Steve Bannon said Monday that Trump is neither an isolationist nor an Islamophobe and that Trump deserves credit for destroying the ISIS' caliphate in the Middle East.
It was Trump who set the mission by writing a line in his inaugural address — ignoring the concerns of some advisers — in which he promised to "eradicate ... radical Islamic terrorism," Bannon said. When he was warned that was too big a promise to make, Trump replied, "This is my obligation to the American people," Bannon said.
That led to a strategy against ISIS that administration officials looked at as a "war of annihilation" rather than a "war of attrition."
"That's what he accomplished," Bannon said.
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Pressed on that conclusion, the former Trump adviser acknowledged that "it was done with allies" and argued the model shows "it's not going to be America that has to lead" all the time.
Bannon's remarks, delivered in an interview with former Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani at a Hudson Institute conference, were notably more about Trump and less about his Republican adversaries than recent Bannon speeches.
Instead, he offered what might be a preview of the way Republican allies of the president will talk about his foreign policy in next year's midterm elections.
Trump's speech at an Arab summit earlier this year, Bannon said, is evidence that he's neither isolationist nor Islamophobic — and that his supporters aren't either.
That speech "put to bed, or should have put to bed, [the idea] that Trump was an Islamophobe."
The rhetoric of Trump and his allies about Muslims has been cited when courts have blocked repeated White House efforts to implement a travel ban.
The idea that Trump's "America First" slogan signals isolationism is "total nonsense," Bannon said.
"What's in the vital national security interests of the United States is what you should commit to...I don't think there's anything President Trump has done in this administration that makes us look isolationist at all."
On trade, he said, the president simply doesn't want America to be one of many nations at the negotiating table if that means compromising on U.S. interests.
While Bannon largely avoided domestic politics on Monday, he closed with a swing at former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who each gave speeches last week widely perceived as harsh condemnations of Trump. Bannon called their remarks "pablum."