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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

“Why America Will Never Be Great In Trump’s Eyes”: He Has Never Been Very Impressed With America

To all but Donald Trump’s most loyal followers, it’s now a truism that he can change his positions at any moment, as he did multiple times last week on abortion. Trump’s “guiding conviction is winning, and he’ll say pretty much whatever he thinks will get him there,” Elizabeth Williamson observed this week in The New York Times. In a recent piece for Slate, Franklin Foer argued that Trump’s misogyny is his single core belief, the one idea that has remained consistent as all of his other views have shifted with the political winds over the decades.

Trump, to be sure, is astonishingly inconsistent on many issues, and terrifyingly consistent in his misogyny. But Trump’s critics aren’t being quite fair when they accuse him of wavering on every other topic. He has also been entirely consistent on another key point: He has never been very impressed with America.

Trump first flirted with running for president in the late 1980s, as Ronald Reagan’s presidency was drawing to a close. It’s an era many Republicans consider the height of American power and greatness, but Trump, at the time, didn’t like what he saw. In a September 1987 open letter that he spent nearly $100,000 to publish in a number of major newspapers, Trump fixated on a single issue: the exploitation of America by countries that fail to pay for our military protection. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” Trump wrote. The letter wasn’t an aberration. The next month, Trump traveled to New Hampshire, where he stuck to the same theme, telling 500 Republicans at the Portsmouth Rotary Club that America is “being kicked around” by Japan and the Arab oil states.

The most remarkable thing about Trump’s 1980s view of America as a weak, loser nation is that it’s nearly identical to the views he has expressed in recent weeks during a series of rambling discussions of foreign policy: In a conversation with The New York Times, Trump argued that America takes “tremendous monetary hits on protecting countries” and that “we lose, everywhere.” In Trump’s mind, the root of America’s woes has always been the same: Other nations, particularly Japan and Saudi Arabia, don’t pay us enough for all we do for them. Indeed, while it’s sometimes argued that Trump has shrewdly crafted his appeal to a newly fragile American psyche, it might be more accurate to say that Trump has been waiting 30 years for Americans to catch up to his unwaveringly primitive, pessimistic view of America’s standing in the world.

As Trump has explained it—both in the 1980s and today—his focus on foreign spending is a byproduct of his concern about America’s deficit spending. “It’s time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay,” Trump stated in his 1987 letter. But even Trump must understand today that eliminating all of the money America spends to station troops around the world would fail to make a dent in our deficit spending—only 16 percent of the federal budget is spent on defense, and only a fraction of that 16 percent is spent on peacekeeping troops. So, the mystery is why this relatively minor expense has remained so central to his thinking, even as so many of his other positions have changed time and again.

As Adam Davidson points out in The New York Times Magazine, it makes perfect sense that someone with Trump’s real estate experience would understand political agreements as zero-sum deals with winners and losers, rather than as mutually beneficial pacts. But Trump’s business background doesn’t quite explain his obsession with foreign spending. After all, there are plenty of American real-estate tycoons who aren’t losing sleep over the prospect of spending money to defend Japan.

The most likely explanation for Trump’s obsession with foreign spending may simply be that he has a deep visceral reaction to the very thought of a stronger party having to spend money on behalf of a weaker party. And if the issue drives him a little crazy, it’s perhaps because peacekeeping troops presents a fundamental paradox for Trump: He wants nothing more than for America to dominate the world, but dominating the world as a superpower is an expensive proposition. The more powerful America grows, the more it has to spend across the globe to maintain its influence, and thus, the weaker it becomes in Trump’s eyes.

This paradox explains why Trump will never find greatness in a truly powerful America, and why, when pressed by the Times to name a laudable era in U.S. history, he went back more than a century: “[I]f you really look at it, the turn of the century, that’s when we were a great, when we were really starting to go robust.” Trump added that the 1940s and ’50s were okay because “we were not pushed around” and “we were pretty much doing what we had to do.” Never mind that, as Max Boot writes in Commentary, the U.S. “went from defeat to defeat” against Communism in the late 1940s, or that America wasn’t nearly as powerful as it would become by the end of the twentieth century.

Trump’s only way out of this paradox is to insist that other countries pay America to dominate them. This is why it’s so important that Mexico pay for building the wall he wants along our entire southern border. Indeed, forcing Mexico to pay for the wall might be the real rationale for the wall itself. Trump’s foreign policy amounts to a vision of international extortion, America as a mafia thug squeezing protection payments out of our weaker allies. The problem, as the Times’ David E. Sanger recently pointed out to Trump, is that rather than pay America, a country might instead wish America the best and spend its money on weapons, including nuclear arsenals—hardly a recipe for sustained global influence.

Why Trump can’t grasp that America’s willingness to spend on global peacekeeping forces is not a reflection of its weakness, but a source of its power, is hard to say. But this much is clear: In Trump’s world, nothing is more upsetting than a powerful nation failing to fully dominate a weaker nation. And because American power, unlike the power of Trump the businessman, is mutually exclusive with squeezing every last dollar out of weaker parties, Trump might as well give up on his campaign promise. America will never be great again in his eyes.

 

By: Sam Apple, The New Republic, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | America, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nuff Said”: Rogue State And Misogyny: Trump’s Foreign Policy

Since I did my due diligence and slogged through Donald Trump’s interview with the Washington Post, I have no desire whatsoever to try and get through the one he did with the New York Times. But Max Fisher did the work for me and tried his best to understand Trump’s foreign policy. Here’s the part of that analysis that stood out to me:

Trump’s favorite word in his New York Times interview is “unpredictable.”

“We need unpredictability,” he says. “Would I go to war? Look, let me just tell you. There’s a question I wouldn’t want to answer. Because I don’t want to say I won’t or I will.”

Unpredictability is central to the Trump foreign policy doctrine. So is an emphasis on zero-sum relations with all nations, a disdain for allies, a status quo position of belligerence and uncooperativeness, a strategy of using leverage and bullying to extract concessions from other countries, and an innate suspicion of the international order.

What Trump is describing, in his vision of American foreign policy, is what we might otherwise call a rogue state.

Trump’s America is, like North Korea or at times Putin’s Russia, a rent seeker leeching off the international order rather than upholding it.

Frankly, I am at a loss for words beyond that. It is incomprehensible to me that rational people would seriously consider voting for a man like that to be Commander-in-Chief. The anger/fear that drives those folks must be some powerful elixir.

Kevin Drum also waded through the interview – which was conducted with David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and noticed something extremely telling.

Trump spent the entire interview practically slobbering over Sanger. Haberman might as well have been nonexistent for all the attention she got and the number of times Trump interrupted her to turn his attention back to Sanger. You may draw your own conclusions.

Here’s my conclusion: Franklin Foer is right when he says, “But there’s one ideology that he [Trump] does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny.” Nuff said.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 28, 2016

March 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Misogyny | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Weakness Of President Trump”: Trump Would Be Beyond Embarrassing For The United States On The World Stage

This is happening, America.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump—a man who has never held elected office—swept the Super Tuesday primaries last night, dominating seven of eleven contests. His authoritarian-enamored supporters remain inexorably drawn more than anything else to the candidate’s presumed strength.

That strength is supposedly a massive correction to the perceived weakness and fecklessness of President Obama on the world stage. The globe may be on fire, but it will fall in line—if only the American president would be more pugnacious and demanding towards allies and adversaries alike. In this view, Trump’s force of personality is a panacea; his self-fulfilling assurances about his own intelligence, likability, and winning record cease to be a means to policy and become the policies in and of themselves.

But what if Trump’s supporters aren’t just wrong (they are), but catastrophically so? What if that so-called strength—the forwardness, unapologetic aggression, and of course the distaste for “political correctness”—that they so love about candidate Trump turns out to be a debilitating weakness for President Trump and, by extension, our country?

Imagine, for a moment, how President Trump would actually function on the world stage.

Imagine President Trump listening to speeches at the United Nations General Assembly. Say another foreign leader bruises his ego, perhaps with a well-intentioned joke or a purposefully mocking barb. President Trump will not be able to sue, so where will he turn next? From denouncing the leader with juvenile insults to espousing racist sentiments on the world stage, the consequences are sure to be embarrassing.

Imagine President Trump’s childish demands falling on deaf ears in the international community. Suppose Mexico refuses to pay for his luxurious wall, or that allies like Japan and Germany decline to pay tribute for hosting U.S. military bases on their soil. President Trump will not be able to bend them to his will through endless bloviating, so what will become of American credibility? From the alienation of longtime U.S. allies to a full-scale evaporation of U.S. soft power, the consequences are sure to be crippling.

Imagine President Trump in top national security briefings, surrounded by patriotic men and women trying desperately to educate and advise him on the nuances of U.S. foreign policy. If he makes good on his campaign promises, he’ll be ordering them to pursue catastrophic escalations with rival states or execute war crimes against civilians and combatants alike. President Trump will not be able to force them to abide by his un-American dictates, so what will happen to our nation’s civil workforce? Whether we see mass resignations or a full-scale revolt by the people who spend their professional lives working to keep us safe, the consequences are sure to be disastrous.

There are plenty of policy-oriented reasons to decry the prospect of Trump as commander-in-chief—he has a childlike understanding of the world around him, including an astounding ignorance of the details about our enemies, the value of our allies, and the capabilities of our own country. There are obviously moral arguments against him too, among them his unabashed support of torture and his coziness towards any dictator that bats his eyes in Trump’s direction. But perhaps more than anything else, it is Trump’s temperament that disqualifies him from leadership: The “strength” he loves to flex to raucous applause would leave the United States weaker, isolated, and sapped of all credibility.

Trump would be beyond embarrassing for the United States on the world stage. His gaffes, infantilism, and self-assured ignorance would, intentionally or not, systematically destroy our reputation as a world leader, taking down the international order that the greatest generation raised from the ashes of World War II along the way. Trump’s unpredictable and fragile ego — the ego of a man who sends rebuttals to his “losers and haters” signed, literally, in gold sharpie—would become the proxy for how the United States is perceived in the world.

Since 1990, Trump has bemoaned that America is “laughed at” around the world. It is an emotional sentiment that resonates well with his base, but the joke is on them. Should President Trump make his way to the Oval Office, there is little doubt the world will be laughing even harder.

 

By: Graham F. West, The National Memo, March 3, 2016

March 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tortured Logic Of Enhanced Interrogation

Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.

This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?

Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.

Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”

Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.

What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.

But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.

The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.

Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.

During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.

We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.

By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011

May 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GITMO, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Ideology, Middle East, Military Intervention, National Security, Neo-Cons, Pentagon, Politics, President Obama, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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