In my view, one of Donald Trump’s biggest hurdles to the presidency is the idea that he has no idea what he’s talking about with respect to many issues, but mostly in terms of foreign policy. Since Hillary Clinton has spent nearly three decades in and around Washington DC as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, during which time she’s flown around the world to meet with leaders and diplomats, and actually been in the ‘war room’ when key decisions were made, she is the candidate we should trust with the nuclear codes. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a buffoon business tycoon who shoots off at the mouth with little regard for any fall out.
Or so the story goes.
Last night at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Fourm, Matt Lauer touched on this point with Trump, asking him the following:
So many of the issues that we’ve talked about with you, Mr. Trump, tonight, and Secretary Clinton, are so complex that even career military people and career diplomats and politicians have trouble getting their arms around them….You’ve had a very different background, in business. So nobody would expect you to have taken over the last 20 years really deep dives into some of these issues. But I’m curious about what you’re doing now. What kind of research are you doing now? What kind of homework are you doing? What kind of things are you reading as you prepare for the day in two months where you might be elected the next president of the United States?
On the surface, it’s a good question. Trump really does have no experience in the narrow arena of Geopolitics and military conflict, at least compared to Hillary Clinton. The issue is that in this case, Clinton’s experience may actually be a big negative. Thus the premise of the question is flawed.
The root of the flaw is the false equivalence being made between foreign policy and a discipline like physics. Physics is a scientific discipline which is founded on universal principles and phenomena in the natural world which are known to be true. Foreign policy is the extension of a political ideology onto a world stage.
In other words, people are wrong to be making the following analogy:
Trump is to Hillary Clinton in Foreign Policy, as a Physics 101 student is to Stephen Hawking in Physics
Again, this would hold if foreign policy was based on falsifiable arguments and hypotheses the way physics is. The reality is that it simply isn’t.
Donald Trump is extremely ignorant, when looking through the tinted lens of the post WWII US foreign policy of interventionism, nation building, and soft imperialism. He sings an unabashed America First song, in direct contrast to what he correctly terms the ‘false song of globalism.’ His views on the place of the US military in the world seems to be ‘Peace Through Strength,’ rather than the more passive aggressive, relative half measures the US has currently been undertaking in war.
This doesn’t represent ignorance, but a complete difference in views. Which is fine when we’re dealing in an ideology based arena such as foreign policy. Trump is not arguing that Bernoulli’s Principle doesn’t exist. He is arguing that the current ideology has failed us and we must try something different.
And on that point, there is little to argue about.
Regardless of what you think about the intentions, the bottom line is that the ‘Russian Reset,’ the Syrian Red Line, toppling Ghadafi in Libya, the Arab Spring, Benghazi, and setting the foundation for the Iran deal had disastrous outcomes. The destabilization created room for ISIS, which now has a gigantic swath of land in the Middle East from which it is fanning out terror operations worldwide.
This is not a partisan argument either – the Bush administration had numerous blunders in the foreign policy arena as well, chief of which being the handling of the Iraq War.
Trump stands against both Republicans and Democrats, which is why he’s been pilloried by both sides. Just last month, 50 former GOP national security officials wrote an open letter imploring Americans to steer clear of Trump because of the ‘danger’ he represents.
This merely confirms the fact that Trump is a true agent of change. Both the Republican and Democrat establishments have been happy to feed the Military Industrial Complex for decades, despite the warnings of President Eisenhower. To people like those who wrote that open letter, the ‘danger’ is that the status quo is disturbed.
Regardless of the outcomes of the wars and skirmishes America has been involved with over the last few decades, regardless of the bloodshed and the lives lost, the elites in the government and those in the defense industry have reaped rewards.
Trump doesn’t care about the status quo. He cares about America engaging in foreign policy that benefits the people, as opposed to the special interests in government and the defense industry. As such, his advisers are outsiders, just like he is.
Consider Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who served in the Obama administration as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was ultimately forced out of the role in 2014:
Stars and Stripes said Flynn “did not leave the Obama administration on warm terms,” adding that, “in 2014, he was effectively forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency as part of a leadership shake-up after clashing with officials over his management style and vision for the agency.”
Flynn explained his firing, according to the New York Post, by saying he “knew then it had more to do with the stand I took on radical Islamism and the expansion of al Qaeda and its associated movements. I felt the intel system was way too politicized, especially in the Defense Department.”
Despite being a Democrat, he has been one of Donald Trump’s key advisers, even making the short list to be his Vice Presidential pick. The reason for this is that Flynn, like Trump, disagrees with the the way the establishment is taking to foreign policy, if not the basic ideology itself.
That Trump may not be well versed in some of the political lingo, some of the more detailed strategic points, or arcane historical facts which may affect policy is not automatically disqualifying. After all, Barack Obama was similarly cast as inexperienced, and ill-informed on matters of foreign policy – by none other than Hillary Clinton back in 2008.
Given Obama’s election, the country obviously didn’t think those claims were valid. It is rich, however, that the same Obama-turned-Clinton supporters are now claiming that Trump has no clue what he’s doing, and doesn’t have the experience.
This is because Obama, of ‘adequate’ experience, exercised that wisdom to put Hillary Clinton in the Secretary of State position, which led to the aforementioned failures of her tenure. These failures are currently being touted as the evidence of the requisite experience needed to be president, that Trump lacks. It’s not a very convincing argument coming from Obama and Clinton.
The bottom line is that the type of experience matters. Trump’s experience has been in business, overseeing large complex problems by giving it direction, and making sure the right people are in charge to take care of things at a more local level. This translates almost directly to what he would have to be doing as a President. It is up to those underneath a President Trump to carry out the day to day grunt work involved in getting the job done. Trump’s job is to hire the best people, who will give him the best information, to then devise strategy based on this information within the framework of an overarching goal, and then to implement it. In short, true leadership is the ultimate job of the President.
Trump has been doing this for his entire adult life, to great success. In that respect, he is far more qualified than the perpetual failure Clinton has ever been.