IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

In Iraq, Trump doesn't understand what he doesn't understand

Even Bush administration veterans concede Donald Trump's rhetoric about the offensive in Mosul "makes no sense."
Iraqi forces deploy on Oct. 17, 2016 in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State group. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)
Iraqi forces deploy on Oct. 17, 2016 in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State group.
If Donald Trump wants voters to see him as a competent and capable leader on matters of national security, he's going to have to start saying a lot less.Last week, for example, the Republican presidential hopeful, who's said he's more knowledgeable than U.S. generals and has claimed to have a secret plan to combat ISIS, told a national audience that the military offensive in Mosul is part of an elaborate, international conspiracy to help Hillary Clinton's campaign.Over the weekend, Trump went further, condemning the U.S.-backed offensive in Mosul as "a total disaster" that's leaving the United States looking "dumb." Yesterday, the Republican kept complaining, insisting the campaign in Mosul should've been kept secret. "I'm telling you, folks, our leadership -- I went to an Ivy League school, but there's some words that you can't describe any better: Our leadership is stupid," Trump told a Florida audience. "These are stupid people."Some of this is just bizarre, with the Washington Post running a piece asking why the GOP nominee seems to be rooting for failure. But as Politico noted, some of this is also rooted in alarming ignorance -- because Donald Trump doesn't seem to understand what he doesn't understand.

Perhaps most grating for national security figures -- including scores on the right who have, to their astonishment, sought refuge with Clinton -- is that Trump doesn't seem to understand the basic facts of the situations he is describing. That's especially true when it comes to the Islamic State.For instance, Trump's claim that the Mosul offensive should not have been announced in advance contradict standard procedure. Militaries often announce an offensive ahead of time so that civilians can try to flee and because it's impossible to keep such a large operation a secret. (The Iraqi city still has some 1.5 million inhabitants.) The Republican also has suggested that the Obama administration, which is backing Iraqi forces with airstrikes and advice, timed the offensive to boost Clinton."The Mosul operation is an Iraqi operation, not a U.S.-led one," rebutted Michael Singh, a former Bush administration official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And it appears quite likely to succeed in wresting the city from ISIS' control. The notion of a 'sneak attack' makes no sense here -- this is a massive operation, and Iraqi and other coalition forces have spent months 'shaping the battlefield' in preparation for it."

During the second presidential debate, after Trump said the United States is "stupid" for participating in a major military offensive the enemy knows is coming, ABC News' Martha Raddatz tried to explain, "There are sometimes reasons the military does that."Trump immediately shot back, "I can't think of any. I can't think of any. And I'm pretty good at it."But that's the point: he's not "pretty good" at it. The Republican candidate simply doesn't know what he's talking about -- and Trump is so ignorant, he's not able to understand how foolish his rhetoric is.It's a point Hillary Clinton sought to drive home yesterday at an event in New Hampshire. "You know, this is a guy who says he knows more about ISIS than the generals," she said. "I don't think so. He's basically declaring defeat [in Mosul] before the battle has even started. He's proving to the world what it means to have an unqualified commander-in-chief. It's not only wrong, it's dangerous and it needs to be repudiated on November 8th."