We talked earlier about Donald Trump, who announced last night that when it comes to ISIS, he knows of “a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.” And what, pray tell, is that method? Trump refuses to say.
“If I run, and if I win, I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing,” he told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren.
This led my colleague Will Femia to ask a good question: Didn’t Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also have “a secret plan to defeat an enemy but he’d only reveal it if America elected him?”
During McCain’s 2008 campaign, he frequently reassured audiences that, if elected, he’d implement a secret plan to get Osama bin Laden. Naturally, many soon wondered why McCain didn’t just share the secret plan with the Bush/Cheney administration, which had largely given up on targeting the al Qaeda leader. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2008:
“One thing I will not do is telegraph my punches. Osama bin Laden will be the last to know,” he said today while riding on the back of his bus between Florida events. In other words: he’s not telling.Why not share his strategy with the current occupant of the White House? “Because I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken.”
That latter part of McCain’s response didn’t really make much sense, even at the time, but the Republican senator stuck to it and never revealed his secret get-OBL plan. (As it turns out, President Obama had his own ideas on the subject.)
But as long as we’re on the subject, it’s worth nothing that McCain and Trump aren’t alone. Perhaps the most famous example came in 1968, when Richard Nixon told voters he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but he wouldn’t share it before the election. Nixon won, but there was no secret plan, and the conflict continued.
As longtime readers may recall, the Bush/Cheney White House dipped its toes in similar waters.
* In May 2007, White House officials suggested to lawmakers that they had a secret plan for Iraq, in the event that the “surge” had no effect.
* In February 2007, Henry Kissinger told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bush had a “secret plan to move toward a bipartisan consensus” to stabilize Iraq through diplomacy.
* In 2006, then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said Bush had a secret plan to succeed in Iraq.
Now, apparently, it’s Donald Trump’s turn.
Let’s make this plain: childish games and imaginary secrets are not a substitute for a national-security policy. Candidates for national office have a responsibility, not only to demonstrate a degree of seriousness, but also to provide voters with a foreign policy vision that can be subjected to detailed scrutiny.
Those who aren’t prepared for such scrutiny should consider a different line of work.