RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump hasn't talked a lot about his foreign policy priorities. But his budget plan does reveal some clues - cutting the State Department by a third and boosting military spending by $54 billion. We called up a veteran of U.S. foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to get his take.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Oh, I'm not against cuts as a matter of principle. Sometimes cuts can be healthy. But a chaotic proclamation of a number of cuts without some clear articulation of what our foreign policy is and ought to be seems to me not to be the best formula for an effective foreign policy or for a foreign policy staff that has genuine motivation and enthusiasm.
MARTIN: This lines up with how President Trump sees the world. I mean, his OMB director, his budget director, has called this an America First Budget. It's about hard power, not soft power. Do you think we're at a moment where it makes sense?
BRZEZINSKI: Hard power makes sense under some circumstances. But there's not a universal solution to global problems. First of all, a major country like the United States has to have a broadly-conceived program for effective international action, influence and cooperation with others. I see nothing of the sort emerging from the administration and least of all from the president, who in my account has not given even one serious speech about the world and foreign affairs.
MARTIN: How then do you understand Donald Trump's foreign policy? What clues have you picked up? What have you been able to glean about how he sees the world and America's role in it?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, going back to the beginning of your question, how do I understand it, my answer is I don't understand it. I don't see any sense of direction and a set of goals that need to be achieved, any warnings against some potential dangers that have to be faced. And his speeches don't provide any overview.
And his subordinates are I think thereby very limited in their ability to exercise constructive influence. I know some of them. Some of them are very good people. But that certainly is not the case with the majority and certainly not the case with the dominant majority.
MARTIN: He has talked an awful lot about wiping ISIS off the face of the Earth. Does that count as a policy objective?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, it could. But it certainly is not a central, major one for a power of America's capacity, for a power of America's historical ambitions, for a power on which so much of the world relies. Yes, ISIS is a threat. It's more than a nuisance. It's also in many respects criminal violence. But it isn't, in my view, a central strategic issue facing humanity.
MARTIN: What do you make of Steve Bannon and his role in the Trump White House? He's got a seat on the National Security Council, which is unprecedented. And he's got an immense amount of influence when it comes to how Donald Trump sees the world.
BRZEZINSKI: I make nothing of it because I have no idea what he does. And I have no idea of how he is involved in foreign affairs. And if you recall, what I've been saying over the last few minutes, our handling of foreign affairs is chaotic, unclear, unfocused. And if he's part of it, well, God bless him. I hope he doesn't take extra pride for that condition.
MARTIN: Can you attribute any of this to the fact that this is a new administration full of outsiders who aren't political careerists, who are just trying to get their footing? Can you see eventually a more cohesive foreign policy and bureaucratic structure coming into place later?
BRZEZINSKI: From the top down, if there is a from-the-top-down leadership, yes. But I don't see that from the top-down leadership. I have been involved in or an observer of several administration changes and including some very basic disagreements about foreign policy. But these were serious disagreements with clear purposes in mind, even if these purposes were different or clashing.
I don't see any of that. I think the United States is currently a kind of wonder - wonderland with the president speaking on subjects of his choice, some of which are entertaining, but none of which are very strategically substantive.
MARTIN: Zbigniew Brzezinski, thank you so much for talking with us.
BRZEZINSKI: Nice to talk to you. Thank you.
MARTIN: Brzezinski served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.