Trump will never be ready to lead on foreign policy

Republican presidential nominee can’t stop with ‘rookie mistakes.’

USA Today

SEPT 12, 2016

Back in July, when Donald Trump suggested that he might not defend NATO allies if they are attacked by Russia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chalked it up to a “rookie mistake.” Well it’s now September, and Trump has been running for president for more than a year. Yet he continues to make jaw-dropping statements on the subject of national security.

Trump was at his best — faint praise — in a scripted speech last week on national security that was full of standard Republican boilerplate. He promised to repeal sequestration, the defense budget cuts that he had said didn’t go far enough, and to rebuild our military strength. The only discordant note was his accusation that Hillary Clinton is “trigger-happy and unstable when it comes to war.” This, coming from a man who had vowed to “bomb the s–t” out of the Islamic State terrorist group and to kill the relatives of suspected terrorists, is a case of what psychologists call “projection.”

Once he got off-script, Trump ventured into rhetorical thickets that no presidential candidate has ever entered. In an interview with Matt Lauer, he doubled down on his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of the most dangerous dictators in the world. “Well, he does have an 82% approval rating,” Trump said, as if polls mean anything in a country without freedom of speech.

Confronted with a list of Putin misdeeds by Lauer — “He’s also a guy who annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, supports (Bashar) Assad in Syria, supports Iran, is trying to undermine our influence in key regions of the world, and according to our intelligence community, probably is the main suspect for the hacking of the (Democratic National Committee) computers” — Trump was nonplussed. “Do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time?” he responded, as if the democratically elected leader of the United States is a worse malefactor than the dictator of Russia.

Trump claimed that Putin has “been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.” That was not a slip of the tongue. The next day, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, was trotted out to say: “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.”

It might be accurate to say Putin is “wilier” or “more ruthless” than Obama, but to praise him for being strong — a positive attribute with connotations of “brave, resolute, steadfast,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary — is utterly inappropriate. Especially when it is not leavened by a single word of censure for any of Putin’s crimes, from the murder of journalists and political rivals to the invasion of sovereign countries. Trump has never had a single negative thing to say about the Russian strongman — not a single cutting jibe of the kind he has routinely directed against “lyin’ ” Ted Cruz and “Crooked Hillary.”

Even worse, Trump repeated his praise for Putin and attacks on Obama in an interview with Larry King on RT, the Kremlin-run TV channel. He even attacked the supposedly “dishonest” U.S. press corps while speaking  on the propaganda outlet of a state that represses the news media. Imagine if a Republican politician had denounced U.S. policy in the 1940s in an interview with Lord Haw-Haw or Tokyo Rose, and you get a sense of how outrageous this is.

There were other jaw-dropping statements from Trump this past week. He claimed again that he opposed the invasion of Iraq — a blatant lie that Lauer did not correct. He repeated his pledge to take Iraq’s oil — a war crime — by leaving “a certain group behind,” presumably an indefinite military occupation. He said we should “set up a court system within the military,” apparently unaware that such a system has existed since the 18th century.

Oh and Trump cavalierly impugned the professionalism of America’s military and intelligence officers. He said our generals are “embarrassing for our country.” He spoke about the classified intelligence briefing he received and claimed, based on his supposed reading of the briefers’ “body language,” that they “were not happy” with Obama. Both military and intelligence officers are apoplectic about Trump’s attempts to drag non-partisan professionals into the political muck.

Trump’s comments suggest that he is still not ready for prime time — and never will be. He has made no effort to educate himself about the requirements of being commander in chief. He sounds as ignorant and deluded today as he did when he started running for the presidency. Only now, he is a lot closer to having life-and-death power over hundreds of millions of people.