Last week, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a fairly long conversation with the Washington Post, which tried to explore his views on foreign policy in detail. The discussion made it abundantly clear that the GOP candidate simply has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s not just that Trump’s arguments are wrong; it’s also that he seems lost when it comes to basic details.
On Friday afternoon, it was the New York Times’ turn. Alas, it appears efforts to teach Trump about international affairs aren’t going well.
In criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, he expressed particular outrage at how the roughly $150 billion released to Iran (by his estimate; the number is in dispute) was being spent. “Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States?” he said.Told that sanctions under United States law still bar most American companies from doing business with Iran, he said: “So, how stupid is that? We give them the money and we now say, ‘Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,’ right?”But Mr. Trump, who has been pushed to demonstrate a basic command of international affairs, insisted that voters should not doubt his foreign policy fluency. “I do know my subject,” he said.
It’s quite clear, of course, that he doesn’t know his subject. The full transcript has been posted online, and honestly, it’s hard to even know which parts to highlight – because so much of the interview is incoherent. Andrea Mitchell noted on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Trump “is completely uneducated about any part of the world.” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg added on “Face the Nation” that it’s “remarkable to imagine that someone who shows so little interest in understanding why the world is organized the way it is organized is this close to the presidency of the world’s only superpower.”
Trump noted, for example, that countries with “nuclear capability” represent the “biggest problem the world has.” Soon after, however, the candidate argued that the United States has to “talk about” allowing Japan and South Korea to have a nuclear arsenal of their own. He also referred to his fear of “nuclear global warming,” whatever that is.
Asked about U.S. policy towards China, Trump added this gem: “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…. That’s the problem with our country. A politician would say, ‘Oh I would never go to war,’ or they’d say, ‘Oh I would go to war.’ I don’t want to say what I’d do because, again, we need unpredictability.”
In other words, just take a guess, American voters, before casting a ballot about about the possible intentions of the country’s next Commander in Chief. Trump won’t tell you before the election, but don’t worry, he promises to be “unpredictable” – in a “winning” way.
Trump spoke with pride about his “take the oil” posture related to Iraq, but he conceded that would require deploying considerable U.S. ground troops, which he’s not prepared to do. “Now we have to destroy the oil,” he said articulating a new position.
I saw some comparisons over the weekend between these Trump interviews and the infamous Sarah Palin interview with Katie Couric in 2008. The parallels matter: both made clear that the Republican seeking national office was manifestly unprepared to lead.
But there are differences. First, Palin’s difficulties were televised, which tends to produce a different public reaction – along with excerpts that can be re-aired, over and over again, by a variety of networks – as compared to long print interviews.
And second, in 2016, it appears Trump’s ignorance, no matter how brazen, just isn’t seen as a problem among his Republican supporters.