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“Trump Makes Neoconservatives Look Good”: Trump Has No Understanding Of The World And The Role We Play

Donald Trump’s foreign policy was poorly received by neoconservatives, as is obvious if you look at the reaction at the Washington Post. Pro-Iraq War editorial board chief Fred Hiatt said that Trump’s vision was incoherent, inconsistent, and incomprehensible. Columnist Charles Krauthammer described the speech as incoherent, inconsistent, and jumbled. While the Post’s resident columnist/blogger Jennifer Rubin expressed concern that, based on Trump’s language, he might be a malleable mouthpiece of anti-Semites.

If neoconservatives come pretty close to being always wrong, the Post’s reaction might be considered the highest form of praise. Unfortunately, most of their criticisms are accurate. This is particularly true when they go after Trump for his looseness with the facts, his contradictory and mutually exclusive messages, and his praise of unpredictability.

For example, Fred Hiatt nailed Trump for insisting that we “abandon defense commitments to allies because of the allegedly weakened state of the U.S. economy” at the same time that he criticizes President Obama for not being a steadfast friend to our allies. Krauthammer wondered how Trump could criticize Obama for letting Iran become a regional power and promise to bring stability to the Middle East without having any commitment to keep a presence there or to take any risks or to make any expenditures.

If there is any remaining doubt about how neoconservatives view Trump’s foreign policy ideas, Sen. Lindsey Graham removed them:

Sen. Lindsey Graham tore into Donald Trump’s speech on foreign policy, calling it “unnerving,” “pathetic” and “scary.”

The South Carolina Republican former presidential candidate told WABC Radio on Wednesday that the speech was “nonsensical” and showed that Trump “has no understanding of the world and the role we play.”

“This speech was unnerving. It was pathetic in its content, and it was scary in terms of its construct. If you had any doubt that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief, this speech should’ve removed it,” Graham said. “It took every problem and fear I have with Donald Trump and put in on steroids.”

He added: “It was like a guy from New York reading a speech that somebody wrote for him that he edited that makes no sense.” And: “It was not a conservative speech. This was a blend of random thoughts built around Rand Paul’s view of the world.”

It’s true that Graham’s response there is a substance-free ad hominem attack, but he did get around to making specific critiques. In particular, he noted that Trump can’t keep his promises to both minimize our presence in the Middle East and destroy ISIS in short order without significant alliances with the regimes in the Middle East. But he won’t be improving our alliances by talking negatively about Islam as a religion and banning Muslims from entering the United States. Graham said that the problem with Obama is that he isn’t seen as a reliable ally by these despots, but that Trump “is worse than Obama…the entire world is going to look at Donald Trump as a guy who doesn’t understand the role of America, that doesn’t understand the benefit of these alliances.”

Graham also blasted Trump’s position on NATO and said that “the idea of dismembering NATO would be the best thing possible for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

It’s not that Graham properly understands “the role of America” or that he gets the downsides of our alliances with foreign dictatorial regimes. But he understands that you can’t win a war against radicals in the Arab world by making enemies of every Arab (and Muslim) in the world. Graham understands that you can’t criticize the president for being a lousy friend and then rip up longstanding and uncontroversial agreements with those friends while demanding both more money and more deference.

A full treatment of Trump’s speech and foreign policy ideas is beyond the scope of this blog piece, but he’s about to become the leader of a party that is filled with neoconservatives.

They aren’t going to pretend that the emperor has clothes on.

And, for once in their lives, they’re largely right.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 29, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Lindsey Graham, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“International Alarm”: World Watches Trump’s Rise With Fear, Trepidation

The United States is not just another democracy on the map. Plenty of countries have elections to choose their heads of state, but given the unique role the U.S. has as a global superpower, and the effects of our policies on the international stage, a global audience keeps an eye on our presidential elections with scrutiny other countries don’t receive.

After all, we’re choosing the “Leader of the Free World.”

But just as the U.S. is not just another democracy, 2016 is not just another election. While international observers tend to watch American presidential elections with a degree of curiosity, this year, the world is experiencing a very different kind of sentiment.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to reassure foreign leaders that Donald Trump is nothing to worry about during a trip to the Middle East last week. “Everybody asked me about Trump in terms of policy changes. I said he is an outlier, don’t look at him,” Graham told reporters Thursday about his overseas trip.

The most serious concerns Graham said leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt expressed raised were regarding Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban most Muslims from entering the United States.

The South Carolina Republican, hardly a liberal, added that many of the leaders he spoke to were “dumbfounded that somebody running for president of the United States would suggest that the United States ban everybody in their faith.” Officials abroad, he added, are “bewildered.”

There’s a lot of this going around. At a White House briefing this week, a reporter asked President Obama whether Trump’s foreign-policy proposals are “already doing damage” to America’s reputation. “The answer … is yes,” Obama responded. “I think that I’ve been very clear earlier that I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made.”

Last week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) returned from a trip abroad and said officials in Israel and Turkey specifically pressed him on the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Republican presidential race.

All of this dovetails with reporting from a month ago about international “alarm” over Trump from officials in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.

A senior NATO official, speaking before the Republican frontrunner talked publicly about abandoning the treaty organization, was quoted telling Reuters, “European diplomats are constantly asking about Trump’s rise with disbelief and, now, growing panic.”

As we talked about at the time, there’s ample speculation about the message the United States would send to the world if Trump was elected president. But there’s probably not enough speculation about the damage the success of Trump’s campaign is already doing to the nation’s reputation.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 8, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, World Leaders | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Are You Liberal Or Are You Conservative?”: I No Longer Have Any Idea What “Conservative” Means

About 20 years ago, when the syndicate that represents this column was preparing to pitch it to newspaper editors, I was called in for a meeting with the sales staff and somebody asked me this question:

“Are you liberal or are you conservative?”

I said, “Yes.”

I wasn’t trying to be a wiseguy. OK, maybe a little. But I was also trying to convey my impatience with our bipolar political discourse, with the idea that I was required to pick a team. I was trying to preserve for myself the right to think a thing through and come to my own conclusion regardless of ideological branding.

But at the same time, I knew what I was being asked. When they said, “Are you liberal or are you conservative?” those words had concrete meaning, embodied real political concepts.

But that is no longer the case — at least where the latter term is concerned.

Once upon a time, when a person identified as conservative, you knew the ideas he or she meant to convey — low taxes, small government, resistance to social change. But a word that once encoded a definite set of values and beliefs now seems utterly bereft of internal cohesion, less a name for an ideology than for a mood: surly, nasty and put-upon.

They don’t like the rest of us. Nor do they seem to like each other all that much, feuding with a bitterness and constancy that would make even the Hatfields and McCoys tell them to tone it down. Yes, ideology still gets lip service, but its importance has become secondary, if that.

How else to explain that people who once considered Christian faith their foundation stone have coalesced behind a candidate who can’t name a Bible verse? Or that people who once valued a grown-up, clear-eyed approach to foreign policy support candidates who want to “carpet bomb” the Middle East and pull out of NATO? Or that people who once decried “a culture of victimization” now whine all day about how they are victims of biased media, bullying gays and political correctness?

How to explain that people who once vowed to safeguard American moral decency from the nefarious irreverence of liberals — think President Bush chastising “The Simpsons” in the era of “family values” — now put forth candidates who tell penis jokes?

A few days ago New York Times, columnist David Brooks professed to be excited by this act of self-immolation — “This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative,” he gushed — because after this debacle, conservatives will be able to reinvent themselves, unencumbered by “existing mental categories and presuppositions.” Like when a comic book or movie franchise gets re-booted, I suppose. One had the sense of a man desperately painting lipstick on a pig.

The right is rotting from within, putrefying on its own grievance and rage. It seems bereft of core values and beliefs unless you count its determination to always oppose anything the left supports, up to and including motherhood and sunshine. That’s as close to principle as conservatives come these days.

Given the way they have spurned their party’s 2012 election “autopsy” report, which called for greater inclusion and a gentler tone, one wonders if these folks are capable of, or even interested in, the reinvention Brooks predicts. Conservatives do not need to be “liberal-lite” — no ideology has a monopoly on good ideas. On the other hand, when your base is the Ku Klux Klan, Ted Nugent and people sucker-punching strangers at rallies, it’s a sign that a little self-reflection is overdue.

“Are you liberal or are you conservative?”

I had a smart aleck answer 20 years ago. But it occurs to me that if they asked that now, I’d have to request clarification. My worldview hasn’t changed.

But I no longer have any idea what “conservative” means.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Ideology, Liberals | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Donald Trump Is Dead Wrong”: America Is A Fabulously Rich And Great Nation

America isn’t broke. Nor is it on the verge of a government debt crisis (whatever “crisis” even means for a nation whose debt is printed in a currency that is both its own and the world’s reserve). America is not in decay, and the last thing the U.S. should do is rashly withdraw from a dangerous world because of those mistaken beliefs.

This should be especially clear after the Belgium terror attacks.

Yet retreat is just what Donald Trump seems to be proposing. In an interview with The Washington Post editorial board Monday, Trump questioned the U.S. role in NATO and presence in Asia due to the financial burden they require:

I mean, we pay billions — hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are. … When you look at the kind of money that our country is losing, we can’t afford to do this. Certainly we can’t afford to do it anymore…. I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now. [Trump]

Looks like we finally found something Trump is in favor of off-shoring: America’s security.

Now, it’s certainly legitimate to evaluate the mission and cost of America’s overseas military commitments and posture. But that’s a different thing than scrapping our military alliances — or threatening to do so as some ham-handed budget negotiating tactic. Leading the free world, reassuring allies, and deterring aggression have little overlap with the skills needed to drive a hard bargain with a potential tenant in Trump Tower.

And yet, Republicans might give Trump’s defense policy ideas more of a hearing than they deserve because of their persistent debt fears. After all, it’s mainstream GOP economic thought that U.S. finances are precarious. How could they not be given the $19 trillion federal debt — $22 trillion if you include state and local government? These are figures Trump always mentions, as do many Republican politicians. They provide handy justification for arguing we can’t afford to invest in science, repair and upgrade our infrastructure, or bolster wages for low-income workers.

But here’s the thing: The U.S. is far from a poor nation. American households entered 2016 with a net worth of nearly $87 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. To put that ginormous number in some context, China’s private wealth has been estimated at $23 trillion. Even if you factor in America’s debt-laden public sector and China’s large state-owned companies, the U.S. still has a $45 trillion wealth edge.

There are other ways of looking at national wealth that also show America’s riches. The value of U.S. intellectual capital has been estimated at around $9 trillion, with the value of the intangible assets — such as patents, copyrights, and general business methods — at nearly $15 trillion. And given Trump’s appreciation of brands — he generously values his own at $3 billion — you would think the businessman would appreciate America’s, which has been valued at close to $20 trillion.

Maybe all this wealth is one reason global financial markets don’t seem so worried about the U.S. debt. Well, that and the U.S. tax burden being one of the lowest in the developed world. The dollar is strong, and interest rates are low, as are inflation expectations. None of this is to say the U.S. should be a spendthrift in either defense or social spending. Without entitlement reform, Medicare and Social Security will require massive tax increases to keep their promises. Yet Trump would leave them untouched, vowing implausibly to fix their fiscal problems through higher economic growth alone.

The U.S. isn’t bankrupt. Our pockets aren’t empty. We aren’t a pauper nation.

But, of course, you can’t promise to make America great again without arguing that it currently isn’t.

 

By: James Pethokoukis, The Week, March 23, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Sobriety Has Gone Out The Window”: The Brussels Attacks Brought Out The Worst In Cruz And Trump

Sudden, horrific events in the middle of a presidential campaign provide an X-ray of the instincts and thinking of the candidates. We can see what their priorities are and pick up clues about their character.

The terrorist attacks in Belgium brought out the worst in Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Cruz demonstrated that his only focus right now is to find ways of out-Trumping Trump. He seeks words that sound at least as intolerant and as dangerous to civil liberties as the formulations that regularly burst forth from the Republican front-runner.

Thus did Cruz declare: “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He happily intruded on Trump’s trademark issues by emphasizing the need to seal the nation’s southern border against “terrorist infiltration,” and by declaring that “for years, the West has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear.”

Cruz touched so many hot buttons that it’s a wonder he did not have to wrap his hands in heavy gauze. And it tells us something about how far the Republican Party has veered to the right that its more moderate conservatives, including now Jeb Bush, have decided that Cruz is their best hope to stop Trump. It is hard to imagine Bush offering sentiments about Belgium remotely similar to Cruz’s.

But being more out there on these matters than Trump is, as the man might say, a huge reach. The big winner of Tuesday’s Arizona primary actually complained that the United States is a land where the rule of law prevails.

“They don’t work within laws. They have no laws,” he said of the Islamic State on NBC’s “Today” show. “We work within laws.” He said we should change our statutes to permit waterboarding.

Not content to imply that he’s for torture, he embraced it outright. He insisted that it could have helped prevent the attacks in Belgium. Speaking of Salah Abdeslam, the terror suspect captured last week, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Well, you know, he may be talking, but he’ll talk a lot faster with the torture.”

But a new terrorist episode was not enough to induce Trump to back away from his statements to The Post editorial board on Monday denigrating the United States’ commitment to NATO. At a moment when we should be declaring solidarity with our European allies, Trump seems ready to do the opposite.

You don’t have to be a socialist to share Bernie Sanders’s view that Cruz’s proposal to single out a religious group for special police treatment is “unconstitutional” and “wrong.” Hillary Clinton responded characteristically on Wednesday with a policy-heavy speech. She upbraided Cruz, saying that he was “treating American Muslims like criminals,” which was both “wrong” and “counterproductive.” She also condemned torture “anywhere in the world.”

Before the age of Trump, we valued sobriety in leaders when the country faced severe challenge. Clinton and Sanders apparently still think we do. But in the Republican primaries, sobriety has gone out the window.

The one Republican hopeful who hasn’t gotten that message yet is John Kasich. True, he did some partisan pandering, saying President Obama should not have gone to a baseball game in Cuba after the attacks. If he were president, Kasich added, he would have canceled the rest of the trip and returned to the White House to organize new anti-terrorism efforts.

But overall — and this is to his credit — Kasich’s reaction to Belgium contrasted sharply with the extremism of his competitors. “We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with radical Islam,” he said. “In our country, we don’t want to create divisions.”

In a more functional democracy, the campaign might provide the occasion for a serious debate on Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State (which, by the way, is what Clinton tried to start). Should the United States be more aggressive, or would such an approach, as the president seems to believe, lead us into unsustainable commitments? And how can we promote greater intelligence cooperation across Europe and give our allies a lot more help?

But such a discussion would not provide the incendiary sound bites that so much of our media seem to encourage and that Republican primary voters seem to reward.

With large parts of the Republican establishment giving up on Kasich and embracing Cruz as the last anti-Trump hope, we can now look forward to a GOP race to the bottom in which fear itself is the only thing its leading candidates have to offer.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 23, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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