Donald Trump fumbled his way through a lengthy foreign policy interview on Thursday, where it became clear that the presidential candidate’s understanding of the Middle East is limited.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the Republican frontrunner mixed up the Quds Force (an elite Iranian military unit that operates outside its borders and is accused of complicating U.S. efforts to fight ISIS) with the Kurds (the ethnic group fighting ISIS with U.S. help), and struggles to identify prominent figures in the Middle East.
Trumps said that isn’t a problem – he’ll learn about the Middle East “when it’s appropriate.”
The billionaire real estate mogul isn’t the first presidential candidate to fumble on foreign policy: Sarah Palin famously told Katie Couric that her home state of Alaska’s proximity to Russia counted as a foreign policy credential (a remark that was paraphrased to devastating effect on “Saturday Night Live”), while Hillary Clinton faced so many tough policy questions in the 2008 presidential debates that her performance earned her own “SNL” satire. Earlier this year, Dr. Ben Carson forgot that the Baltic States are part of NATO in another interview with Hewitt, too.
After fumbling the identity of General Qasem Soleimani (the leader of the Quds), Trump balked when asked about other top leaders.
“On the front of Islamist terrorism, I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi,” Hewitt asked. “Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?”
(To review: Nasrallah has run Hezbollah for more than two decades, Ayman al-Zawahiri has led al-Qaeda since Osama Bin Laden was killed, Abu Mohammad al-Julani leads the Nusra front in Syria, and Abu Bakr al Bagdadi leads ISIS.)
Trump responded with bluster and dodges.
“By the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone. I knew you were going to ask me things like this,” Trump said. “But as far as the individual players, of course I don’t know them. I’ve never met them. I haven’t been, you know, in a position to meet them. If, if they’re still there, which is unlikely in many cases, but if they’re still there, I will know them better than I know you.”
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Trump’s only coherent insight into the Middle East seemed to the be that Kurds have been mistreated; something he says four times in the interview, as filler during otherwise empty answers and dodges on others.
Pressed on whether he intends to study up on foreign policy during his campaign, Trump said he prefers to delegate and that asking him about major Middle Eastern power brokers was an unfair question.
“The names you just mentioned, they probably won’t even be there in six months or a year,” Trump added. “And you know what? In that case, first day in office, or before then, right at the day after the election, I’ll know more about it than you will ever know. That I can tell you.”
In a phone interview Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump condemned Hewitt, arguing that the interview questions were designed to set him up.
“I thought he said Kurds, this third-rate radio announcer that I did the show – it was like got you, got you – every question was do I know this one and that one? It was like he worked hard on that. But I thought he said Kurds.”
Trump didn’t let up his criticism of Hewitt on Saturday morning, tweeting that he is a “very low ratings radio host” while also misspelling al Bagdadi’s name as ”Abu Bake al-Baghdad.” Trump and Hewitt will square off again on Sept. 16, when Hewitt is expected to be one of the questioners in the next Republican presidential debate on CNN.