Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and former U.S. congressman Allen West offered praise as well as his own suggestions for President Trump’s foreign policy Tuesday night in a talk hosted by Northwestern University College Republicans and sponsored by Young America’s Foundation.
West stressed the importance of “American strength” when handling foreign affairs.
“Your foreign policy does not have any teeth unless you have incredible military capability and capacity to back it up,” West said.
West also lauded the actions President Trump has taken so far in his presidency in many of the most pressing international issues facing the U.S.
“I think one of the critical things that we have seen change in the past 18 months or so is that we are once again building up our national security capability and capacity,” West said.
He said this recent bolstering of national security capability and capacity has helped to strengthen North Atlantic Treaty Organization. West, who served in the NATO unit while he was lieutenant, continued that by pressuring NATO allies to “pay their fair share,” the U.S. been able to send a message to Vladimir Putin.
“We see a NATO that’s more committed,” he said, citing current military campaigns in Ukraine and the Baltic States, nations that have been under threat from Putin in recent years.
In addition to continuing to show resolve with NATO allies and help train and arm troops in Ukraine and the Baltics, policies need to be changed in order to “undermine the economic sustainability of Russia” through natural gas.
West also expressed his support for Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal.
“Iran has never shown any deference or any compliance whatsoever with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” he said, using the formal name for the deal.
West explained how, according to the deal, Iran is not allowed within the first three years of the deal to be involved with the sale or purchase of conventional weapons, and within the first five years they are not allowed to test missiles. He claimed that Iran has already violated both of those parts of the deal.
He also mentioned how, instead of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons altogether, the deal delays breakout time to 15 years, saying this should not be acceptable for a nation he said is the “number one state sponsor for Islamic terrorism in the world.”
West said more pressure needs to be applied in countries like Iran in order to defeat groups like ISIS, saying, “We cannot allow Iran to be flushed with cash because that cash will go out to groups that are definitely against our way of life.”
He said the U.S. must be wary of Iranian influence and collusion not only with countries in the Middle East, but also with North Korea, before offering his thoughts on how the Korean Peninsula might be able to become united in the near future.
“I would have never thought, in my lifetime, that I would see the leader of North Korea and the leader of South Korea in Panmunjom – and definitely shaking hands.”
West said that North Korea has “backtracked” from talks about denuclearization in the past and that, even though they are currently “at the table,” the U.S. must remain careful with them to ensure they do not backtrack again.
He suggested the U.S. increase economic pressure on North Korea to help accomplish this, but he added that a relationship with China – mainly reversing the current trade deficit with them - is a vital factor in dealing with this issue.
West also included his opinion on what inspired the current violence in Gaza.
“Anyone that wants to stand up there and say that what is happening on the border between Israel and Gaza is because we opened up an embassy, obviously you have never read the charter for Hamas,” he said.
He argued that Israel is currently defending itself against a terrorist group that “exists to destroy Israel." “They’re a sovereign nation. They have the right to protect themselves.”
Following the talk, West participated in a long, and often heated, question and answer session, answering questions on a variety of topics including his use of improper methods during an interrogation of an Iraqi detainee in 2003, his thoughts on discrimination and violence against African-Americans in the U.S, and his own experience growing up in the U.S. including his own ideas of what equality means in this country.
West also received a question about the recent March for Our Lives. The movement was started by survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which is located within the district West represented during his time in Congress. He told the audience that he is a member of the NRA and continued that mental illness is to blame for the tragedy.
Sophomore Dylan Gresik, Second Vice Chair of the Illinois College Republican Federation, was happy to hear a military man’s perspective on international affairs.
“My father was in the military for almost 30 years, and I think that sometimes military personnel have a very different view than the civilian population,” Gresik said.
Former NUCR president David Donnelly thought bringing West to campus was a good move for the group at such an exciting time in foreign policy.
“You’re not going to hear his point of view a lot here at Northwestern, so it’s kind of nice to hear what the other side’s thinking,” Donnelly said.