It doesn’t require a foreign policy speech by Hillary Clinton to prove that Donald Trump is unfit to be commander in chief.
But Clinton did the country a service last week by laying out the dangers of having Trump’s hand on the nuclear trigger. She had only to quote some of Trump’s bizarre foreign policy statements and his rants against perceived enemies. These include U.S. judges, journalists, the Republican governor of New Mexico, U.S. allies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron, Pope Francis and just about anyone who displeases him.
The Donald’s temperament problem is all too apparent.
“It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin,” Clinton argued.
But not enough attention has been focused on the security risks posed by Trump’s volatile approach to foreign policy. That has to change.
As Clinton noted, Trump is ready to see more countries acquire nuclear weapons and is willing to abandon the NATO alliance. He displays admiration for autocrats and dictators, such as Vladimir Putin, Chinese communist leaders and even North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Trump tweeted that Clinton was misrepresenting his statements. She wasn’t.
The Donald regularly insults close U.S. allies while gushing over Putin. After Prime Minister Cameron faulted Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims, Trump said: “It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship.” He called Merkel a “catastrophic leader” for allowing Muslim refugees into her country. If he carried out his proposed ban on all noncitizen Muslims, he would infuriate many friendly Muslim countries while strengthening the Islamic State.
His insults are delivered with supreme carelessness, as if those allies are toast.
Meantime, as Clinton notes, the GOP candidate has a bizarre affinity for dictators and strongmen who dislike America and repress their people.
Trump repeatedly praises Putin, as in: “I will tell you, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.” In a 1990 interview with Playboy he praised the Chinese government for showing strength by crushing the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Questioned on this recently, he denied he’d endorsed the massacre but referred falsely to those peaceful protests as “a riot.” As for Kim Jong Un, Trump has said, “You have to give him credit” for showing “he’s the boss.”
Clearly the candidate admires strongmen. But his warmth for tough guys is matched by his disdain for NATO and key alliances with Japan and South Korea. From his statements, Trump seems ready to let both Asian countries go nuclear and battle it out with Pyongyang on their own.
Speaking during the Wisconsin primary, the GOP candidate joked about a potential war between Tokyo and Pyongyang. “It would be a terrible thing,” he said, “but if they do, they do. Good luck. Enjoy yourself, folks.”
Is this the mindset Americans want in a future occupant of the White House? Good luck, enjoy yourselves and have a nice little nuclear war?
What makes Trump particularly dangerous is his false, firm conviction that he knows how the world works – because of his business dealings. He claims he “knows Russia well” because he held a Miss Universe contest there “two or three years ago … which was an incredible success.” I am not kidding.
He says he needn’t consult with experts on foreign policy because he has “a very good brain.”
This mindset will make him a patsy for Putin, or China’s politburo. As Clinton put it: “If you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.” Or to put it differently, if you make a mess of dealing with China and Russia and endanger U.S. interests, you can’t just declare bankruptcy and go home.
But Trump is wedded to simple answers about how to secure this country – answers that could imperil the nation. One moment he’s an isolationist, with his talk of ending key alliances. The next minute he talks of wiping out the Islamic State “very, very quickly,” hinting that he won’t rule out using “tactical nukes.”
Then he switches gears altogether and says the United States has “no choice” but to send 20,000 to 30,000 ground troops to “knock out” the Islamic State, an idea that proves he has no clue about realities in Iraq or Syria. And no interest in learning.
He brags of his “inconsistency.” But this inconsistency appears to stem from an unwillingness to master the complexities of a world that doesn’t fit his template. When his ideas are questioned, Trump unloads on the questioner, calling journalists sleazes and threatening to change libel laws if elected.
Of course, that tactic is a favorite of strongmen such as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who uses libel laws to silence critics. Similar tactics here would fly in the face of the First Amendment.
The bottom line is that it’s not hard to imagine a Trump foreign policy and the possibilities are frightening. If the world didn’t fit his preconceptions, he might act recklessly or even precipitate nuclear conflict.
Clinton’s speech didn’t elaborate much on her own foreign policy ideas, which she has spelled out previously. (I’ll discuss them in another column.) But she put the spotlight on a question that may be the most important of this election: Would you feel safe putting the security of your children into Donald Trump’s hands?
Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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