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“Donald Trump’s Shocking Ignorance, Laid Bare”: He Knows Next To Nothing About The Issues That Would Confront Him

Donald Trump’s ignorance of government policy, both foreign and domestic, is breathtaking. The Republican Party is likely to nominate for president a man who appears to know next to nothing about the issues that would confront him in the job.

Such a sweeping condemnation may sound unfair. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump were already busy tweeting that I’m a “dummy” or something. But if you read the transcript of Trump’s hour-long meeting with the editorial board of The Post, which took place Monday, I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion.

I should note that I’m not a member of the board and therefore did not attend. But The Post published a full transcript , and it is one of the most chilling documents I’ve read in a long time.

I have argued for many months that Trump should be taken seriously, that he has tapped into a legitimate anger and that he understands the Republican base far better than the party establishment does. I’ve had cordial conversations with him, on the telephone and in television studios, and I agree with those who say he should never be underestimated. So I’m not a reflexive Trump hater. I am, however, appalled at how little he knows — and truly frightened.

The editors and writers at The Post were not playing “gotcha,” as the transcript clearly shows. They asked straightforward questions such as, “Do you see any racial disparities in law enforcement?”

Trump’s response was to give an empty soliloquy, ending with the declaration that “I’m a very strong believer in law enforcement, but I’m also a very strong believer that the inner cities can come back.” Asked twice more whether blacks and whites receive disparate treatment, Trump offered this:

“I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I’m saying is you know we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work. And you know we have lost millions and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they’ve been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it’s, it’s tremendous. I’ve seen 5 million jobs, I’ve seen numbers that range from 6 million to, to smaller numbers. But it’s many millions of jobs, and it’s to countries all over. Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that.”

No opinion? China? Mexico?

He continued in that vein at length, bemoaning that “you’re losing Pfizer to Ireland,” until yet another attempt was made to get him back to the original question. He finally allowed that disparate treatment of African Americans “would concern me” but said it could be solved, if it existed, by creating “incentives for companies to move in and create jobs.”

He was reminded that tax incentives and enterprise zones have been tried many times. What would be different about his approach?

“I.think what’s different is we have a very divided country,” Trump began. “And whether we like it or not, it’s divided as bad as I’ve ever seen it.” The rambling speech that followed ended with a pledge to be “a great cheerleader for the country.”

On foreign affairs, Trump was even more vague and vapid. Asked about the future of NATO, he was skeptical of the Cold War’s most vital alliance. He complained that we devote “hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are, in theory, wealthier than we are.”

Called on that figure, he dialed it back to mere “billions.” His proposed solution was to “structure a much different deal . . . a much better deal.” I can’t help but imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande being treated like minor partners in building some luxury condos or a new golf course.

Asked about Russian aggression in Ukraine, Trump said that “other people” should be doing more. Asked about China’s bullying actions in the South China Sea, he seemed to indicate he would be prepared to punish the Chinese with a trade war — but later took it back and said he wanted to be unpredictable.

I won’t even get into Trump’s lengthy defense of the size of his hands. Please read the transcript. Then decide whether it’s conceivable to put a man who knows so little in charge of so much.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Domestic Policy, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Global Brainless Trust”: Donald Trump’s New Foreign Policy Advisers Are As Rotten As His Steaks

A Christian academic accused of inciting violence against Muslims. A former Pentagon official who blocked investigations into Bush administration bigwigs. And an assortment of self-professed experts probably few in established foreign policy circles have ever heard of. These are the minds advising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on foreign policy and national security.

Trump, who has been pressed for months to name his council of advisers, revealed five in a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board on Tuesday: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares, and Joseph E. Schmitz.

Few of these names will register with most voters, or many experts in Washington. None of them are especially sought after for foreign policy views and national security expertise in the nation’s capital—which may be why they’re attractive to Trump.

Trump revealed little about what specific advice they’d given so far, or how any of them may have shaped Trump’s surprising new position that the U.S. should rethink whether it needs to remain in the seven-decades-old NATO alliance with Europe.

Sounding more like a CFO than a commander-in-chief, Trump said of the alliance, “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” adding, “NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

U.S. officials, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said that European allies have to shoulder a bigger burden of NATO’s cost. But calling for the possible U.S. withdrawal from the treaty is a radical departure for a presidential candidate—even a candidate who has been endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It also wasn’t clear how Trump’s arguably anti-interventionist position on the alliance squared with his choice of advisers. The most well-known among them is Phares, a politically conservative academic who has accused President Obama of “appeasement” toward radical Muslim terrorists and called for more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

To his detractors, Phares is a rare combination of lightning rod and dog whistle. His various claims about a creeping, underappreciated jihadi “apocalypse” against the West will find quarter with Trump’s broad suspicion of Muslims and his call to ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S.

In a 2008 essay in the conservative Human Events, Phares warned that in the following four years, “Jihadists may recruit one million suicide bombers” and that by 2016, they would have 10 million and “seize five regimes equipped with the final weapon,” referring to nuclear weapons.

This isn’t Phares’s first time as a presidential adviser. As The Daily Beast reported in 2011, Phares’s work co-chairing the Middle East policy team for then-GOP candidate Mitt Romney—who has recently vowed to fight against Trump’s nomination—prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to call on the candidate to ditch Phares, whom it called “an associate to war crimes” and a “conspiracy theorist,” citing his ties to a violent anti-Muslim militia.

Mother Jones reported that in the 1980s Phares, a Christian who was then active in Lebanese political groups, trained militants in ideological beliefs to justify a war on Muslim and Druze factions, prompting a former CIA official to question why a man with ties to foreign political organizations was advising a U.S. presidential candidate.

Phares has his supporters, chiefly in neoconservative foreign policy circles and among conservative pundits and analysts. But those connections drew scrutiny in 2012 when the group Media Matters for America alleged that Phares’s connections to the Romney campaign weren’t properly identified when Phares was working as a consultant for Fox News.

Another Trump adviser, Schmitz, has served in government, as the Defense Department inspector general. Schmitz was brought in during the first term of President George W. Bush with a mandate to reform the watchdog office, but he eventually found himself the subject of scrutiny.

“Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines,” according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times in 2005. Current and former colleagues described him as “an intelligent but easily distracted leader who seemed to obsess over details,” including the hiring of a speechwriter and designs for a bathroom.

Schmitz also raised eyebrows for what the paper’s sources described as his “unusual” fascination with Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, a Revolutionary War hero who’s regarded as the military’s first inspector general. Schmitz reportedly replaced the Defense Department IG’s seal in its office across the country with a new one bearing the Von Steuben family motto, Sub Tutela Altissimi Semper, “under the protection of the Almighty always.”

 

By: Shane Harris, The Daily Beast, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Carson Losing His Teflon Shield?”: The Kid-Gloves-Treatment Of Carson Could Be Coming To An End

Up until now, Dr. Ben Carson has had an extraordinarily charmed existence on the presidential campaign trail. Even though his world-view is weird and John Birchie, political reporters either don’t notice it or don’t think it’s important. Fellow GOP candidates give him a wide berth, and conservative activists tend either to adore him or only talk about his positive qualities.

Some of this is undoubtedly a byproduct of the party-wide obsession with bringing Donald Trump down to earth; since Carson seems to have some of the same “outsider” appeal as The Donald, the Republican Establishment is happy to promote him at Trump’s expense. And above all, the mental identification of Carson with Herman Cain–you know, another unqualified African-American conservative who had his 15 minutes of fame before retreating to obscurity–seems to exert a powerful influence on attitudes towards Carson, even though it is extremely unlikely the doctor is going to succumb to a sex scandal.

Anyway, this kid-gloves-treatment of Carson could be coming to an end, if WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin is any indication:

Donald Trump wants to round up 11 million people in two years for deportation. He approves of Russia’s incursion into Syria. He has a tax plan that adds at least $10 trillion to the debt. And with all that, he is not the most ignorant or unfit GOP presidential contender. That distinction goes to Ben Carson.

Wow, how’s that for an opening shot?

Rubin proceeds to recite the many examples of Carson showing he doesn’t know much about various subjects from the composition of NATO to the history of the Holocaust, and then turns to her fellow Republicans with justified scorn:

Conservatives have a dangerous habit of excusing ignorance or offensive comments so long as they come from someone attacking liberal elites. One does not need to elevate ignoramuses to cultlike status simply because they also happen to attack the media or liberal dogma. In doing so, Republicans wind up getting behind crank candidates and losing elections to mediocre candidates. (Anyone recall the “I-am-not-a-witch” Christine O’Donnell?)

There is a Chauncey Gardner-like quality to Carson. He speaks softly, smiles a lot and lulls his audience into the belief he possess great insights and wisdom. He is an esteemed neurosurgeon and a lovely dinner speaker. He is, however, entirely unfit for the presidency, seemingly oblivious to basic historical facts, constitutional concepts and world events. Surely conservative Republicans, especially some in the right-wing media who have fawned over him, should have figured this out by now.

This kinda makes me wish Rubin would take a similarly jaundiced look at Carly Fiorina. But hell no! She may soon be head of the DC branch of Fiorina’s fan club. Guess somebody else will at the appropriate moment have to point out that this isn’t a candidate anyone would take seriously if she wasn’t useful in bashing the “liberal elites” with a first name of Hillary and a last name of Clinton.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 9, 2015

October 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Three Questions For Ukraine Hawks”: There Are Real And Specific Questions We’d Better Ask Ourselves Before We Jump In

Watch an hour of cable—and I’m talking MSNBC; forget Fox—and you might well come away from the hyper-ventilations thinking that we will or should go to war over Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. Listen: Nobody’s going to war over Crimea. This isn’t 1853. Yes, it matters to us how Crimea may once again become a part of Russia, and we don’t like it a bit, but let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter to us in cold, hard, realpolitik terms, whether Crimea is a part of Russia. It’s used as a naval base, and Russia’s had that all along.

Now Ukraine, that’s different. Or so everyone on TV says. But when everyone starts saying something, I start doubting. After all, a decade ago, nearly “everyone”—every “grown up,” that is, every person who took a “properly expansive” view of American security in the post 9/11 age—said we needed to topple a dictator who had nothing to do with 9/11. So: Is Ukraine different? We may decide that yes, it is, but there are some real and specific questions we’d better ask ourselves before we just automatically make that declaration.

One way we decide these things is by looking at the historical record, and the historical record practically screams no, Ukraine is not different, is not a vital American or Western interest. Soviet Russia annexed Ukraine in 1922, after a war that had commenced in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took Moscow. The borders of Ukraine changed many times over the years. Even its capital was moved from Kharkiv in the east to Kiev in the west. At the end of World War II, the USSR expanded Ukraine again, as Stalin unilaterally redrew the Curzon Line to take in Eastern Galicia and Lvov, Poland, which became and still is Lviv, Ukraine.

There were further alterations after the war. In 1954, as we all now know, Crimea became part of Ukraine (staying within the USSR). If the Western countries objected to any of these moves, they objected lightly and only formally. Roosevelt and Churchill pestered Stalin about the Lvov/Lviv situation at Yalta, but Uncle Joe wasn’t having it, and they left it alone.

So historically, Ukraine hasn’t been something the West regarded as worth fussing over very much. In more recent years, after the USSR’s collapse, Russia asserted that Ukraine and, for that matter, all 14 former satellite SSR’s were within the Russian sphere of influence. They even coined a term for it: the “near abroad.” Not all Americans have accepted the idea that the near abroad falls strictly within the Russian sphere of influence, by any means. When John McCain and Joe Biden and others thunder about bringing Georgia into NATO, they’re rejecting the idea explicitly. But like it or not, three presidents have basically accepted the idea—none more so than George W. Bush, who confronted Putin about his 2008 Georgia incursion (both happened to be in Beijing for the Olympics) and whose administration took a few steps but who never imposed sanctions, as Barack Obama has now. Bush’s green light to Putin shone far brighter than Obama’s has.

Of course, history changes. The fact that we never cared about Ukraine before doesn’t by definition mean that we shouldn’t care about it today. First, there is the matter of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States, Britain and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s existing borders in exchange for it giving up its nukes. The Obama administration declared Russia in violation of that concord on March 1. More broadly, Putin is a despicable tyrant who wants glory for Mother Russia. If “glory” means swallowing back up those 14 former SSRs, then he does have to be countered. The Obama administration and the European Union should certainly impose tougher sanctions, and in the American case, on more than seven people. Maybe NATO troops should train Ukrainians, too—maybe not on Ukrainian soil, but somewhere in Europe. There are other similar steps that can be taken short of sending in a slew of “advisors” (special ops people) and military materiel just yet, like helping Ukraine get this new National Guard up and running.

But let’s just think hard about this. There’s nothing easier for pundits or commentators on cable to stomp the table about how Putin is playing us and running rings around Obama and he’s a madman who must be stopped. Our former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, said yesterday after Putin’s duma speech that the post-Cold War era was over. McFaul has been a reliable guide through these rapids, but that’s nonsense. We aren’t in a new Cold War. Spend five minutes ruminating on what happened during the Cold War and what sparked it, and you should be able to clear your head of such combustible notions. We’re a long way from that yet.

I’d like to hear everyone tossing around those kind of rhetorical lightning bolts answer, in a calm voice, three questions: One, why should Ukraine, which never before was a realpolitik first-order concern of the United States, be one now? Two, what exact sacrifices are we willing to make to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity? And three, what broader risks might those acceptable sacrifices entail, and are they worth it?

There might be very good answers to all three questions. But our political culture has a very bad habit of not wanting to discuss them much. That’s a habit we need to change.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 19, 2014

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Putin’s Aggression Is Not America’s Fault!”: Yes, Pundits Are Arguing That We’re To Blame

One of the biggest flaws with the neoconservative view of the world is the idea that the United States almost always has within its power the ability to affect change. It isn’t merely that the United States should try to promote democracy or maintain an empire; it’s the idea that doing what it pleases, ably, is within the realm of possibility.

An ostensibly converse but ironically similar view comes from many on the left. Muslim extremism? The result of American foreign policy. Warmongering world leaders? Well, they feel hemmed in by the United States. This mindset, which is echoed by a number of realist scholars, has arisen most recently because of President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Crimea. Several realists want us to understand the actions of Putin through the prism of the United States. For these thinkers, as with their neocon opponents, everything is always, in the end, about us.

A good example is Jack F. Matlock Jr.’s piece in The Washington Post. According to Matlock, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Putin’s actions can be explained by the way a bullying United States has treated Russia. Specifically, Matlock writes, America made Russia feel like the “loser” of the Cold War after that war ended. Here is Matlock:

President Bill Clinton supported NATO’s bombing of Serbia without U.N. Security Council approval and the expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact countries. Those moves seemed to violate the understanding that the United States would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat from Eastern Europe.

Matlock appears to be arguing that Russian anger over U.S. action in Kosovo was the result of America acting in Russia’s sphere of influence. But would Russia have felt the same if we had supported Serbia, Russia’s ally? Almost certainly not; Russia was upset that we took the opposite side in that conflict. Moreover, it’s slightly bizarre to say that we should have left Kosovo to Slobodan Milosevic just to maintain our high standing in Russian public opinion polls.

Matlock mentions the United Nations in the above quote, and he brings it up again when he notes that America’s catastrophic war with Iraq did not have U.N. approval. As touching as it is to view Putin as a great proponent of internationalism who was outraged by American breaches of the law, I think it’s probably fruitful to look elsewhere for clues to his behavior. Matlock himself quickly turns to NATO expansion, which certainly does seem to have had some impact on Russian attitudes towards the United States. As Matlock writes:

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, [Putin] was the first foreign leader to call and offer support…What did he get in return? Some meaningless praise from President George W. Bush, who then delivered the diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin: further expansion of NATO in the Baltics and the Balkans, and plans for American bases there; withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; invasion of Iraq without U.N. Security Council approval; overt participation in the “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan; and then, probing some of the firmest red lines any Russian leader would draw, talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

Whatever one wants to say about the intelligence or wisdom of American foreign policy—and the policies above were probably at best a mixed bag—it is bizarre to say that Putin was so angry we might try to offer Ukraine NATO protection from Russia that he…invaded Ukraine. Isn’t there something rather ironic about Putin being so angry by our concern over something that he goes and does the thing we are concerned about? It’s all part of the same mindset that sees the behavior of other countries as literally reactionary: We act, they react. (It is also worth noting that in 2008 NATO denied Membership Action Plan (MAP) status to both Ukraine and Georgia. Somehow this didn’t mollify Putin.)

Moreover, reading Matlock’s account you would think that Russian policy at home and abroad—Putin has cracked down heavily on dissent at home—was determined entirely by the United States. It is awfully solipsistic to look at the world this way.

Matlock has more trouble with the Obama administration. He writes:

President Obama famously attempted a “reset” of relations with Russia, with some success: The New START treaty was an important achievement, and there was increased quiet cooperation on a number of regional issues. But then Congress’s penchant for minding other people’s business when it cannot cope with its own began to take its toll. The Magnitsky Act, which singled out Russia for human rights violations as if there were none of comparable gravity elsewhere, infuriated Russia’s rulers and confirmed with the broader public the image of the United States as an implacable enemy.

No doubt the Magnitsky Act did infuriate the Kremlin, but Putin’s aggressiveness abroad and undemocratic tendencies at home were visible well before it passed, which severely weakens Matlock’s argument. (Direct retaliatory steps against the United States, like banning American adoptions, were certainly connected to the Act, but that doesn’t mean Putin’s entire worldview is shaped by American actions.)

These same tendencies appear in n+1‘s editorial on the Ukraine crisis. “What role has the American intellectual community played in this saga, if any?” the editorial asks. “Certainly we failed to prevent it.” I didn’t realize that the American intellectual community had the power to stop foreign dictators from invading other countries. They continue:

We have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism. We turned Pussy Riot into mass media stars. We wrote endless articles (and books) about how Putin was a mystery man, a terrible man, a KGB ghoul who lived under your bed….It’s hard to know how much of what gets written in various places leads to American policies in actual fact. Does it matter what’s in the Nation? What about the New York Review of Books? The New Yorker? It’s impossible to say. And the media or publishing game has its own rules, irrespective of politics. Evil Putin is just going to get more airtime than Complicated Putin or Putin Who is Running a Country in a Complex Geopolitical Situation.

Whatever one thinks of this analysis, the most striking thing about it is the power it imparts to Americans. Putin is the leader of a foreign country. The idea that what’s written in American magazines leads to American policymakers making policy that in turn enrages Putin that in turn aids and abets his thirst for aggression is, again, almost laughably solipsistic.

American policy toward Russia going all the way back to the First World War has often been shortsighted or worse. But when thinking about how to respond—or not respond—to Russia’s actions today, it’s probably best to stop viewing those actions as the direct result of American foreign policy.

 

By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, March 17, 2014

March 19, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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