Donald Trump Displays Profound Foreign Policy Incoherence on O'Reilly Factor
GOP frontrunner says voters want "unpredictability."
Appearing on last night's O'Reilly Factor,
Donald Trump, the frontrunner (by a mile) for the Republican presidential nomination, was asked by host Bill O'Reilly about the fraying relations between longtime US ally Saudi Arabia and longtime US nemesis Iran, to which Trump gave a series of increasingly incorrect and/or incoherent replies:
I will say this about Iran. They're looking to go into Saudi Arabia, they want the oil, they want the money, they want a lot of other things having to do…they took over Yemen, you look over that border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, that is one big border and they're looking to do a number in Yemen. Frankly, the Saudis don't survive without us and at what point do we get involved? And how much will Saudi Arabia pay us to save them?
First off, the US is already plenty involved in Yemen, with more than a billion dollars in sales of munitions (including internationally-banned cluster bombs) to the Saudis, as well the use of US military personnel offering direct "targeting assistance" for the relentless Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the Saudi-backed Yemeni government last year.
O'Reilly then asked Trump, "If you're elected President…are you going to bomb their [Iran's] nuclear facilities?" To which Trump replied, "Bill I want to do what's right…I want to be unpredictable. I'm not going tell you right now what I'm going to do…we have to show some unpredictability."
When O'Reilly asked, "Don't voters have a right to know how far you're going to go?," an increasingly agitated Trump snarled:
No because it depends on the circumstances. But the voters want to see unpredictability. They're tired of a president that gets up and says every single thing. We're sending 50 great young people over to Iraq and Syria. He gets up and says we're sending 50. Those people now have a target on their back, the president shoudn't have said that.
Does this mean that President Obama should not have announced he was sending 50 special operations forces to fight ISIS, but the fact that he sent them is ok? And if so, is that analogous to not announcing whether or not a would-be president intends to bomb nuclear facilities in populated areas?
As Reason's Matt Welch noted last summer in his column, "The Idiocracy Candidate":
Trump's inability to demonstrate any basic understanding of foreign policy or maintain a coherent thought during an interview with a sympathetic host like O'Reilly, as well as his ads promising to "cut the head off ISIS and take their oil," should make his candidacy a non-starter. In reality, his vacuous bluster might be what gets him elected.
Kevin Baron writes at Defense One:
Americans are a fickle bunch in some areas. But when it comes to foreign policy there are some constants, some predictable leanings with political winds, and some truisms. Mostly, it turns out American opinions on foreign policy issues tend to be sensible and reasonable. And yet, what they appear to like most is exactly the kind of fiery rhetoric being spewed most loudly by one candidate: Trump.
Later, Baron quotes Dina Smeltz, a pollster with the Chicago Council:
If Americans sense a direct threat—terrorism is one, for Republicans; Iran's nuclear program is one—then they will support an intervention. But if it's something that's considered not a direct threat to the United States—like the war in Syria, like Ukraine—then they don't want to get involved…Also, if a formidable military power like China or Russia would be the antagonist, Americans also don't want to get involved because it would be significant cost. So if it's something that can be dealt with with air strikes or assassinations, Americans will support it.
Trump's talk about being "the toughest guy with the military" and starting wars that will end up being net economic gains for the US feed a perception that the US is threatened on all sides. It's this perception that dupes the otherwise "sensible and reasonable" electorate into believing it needs a supposed no-nonsense dealmaker like Trump to keep the country safe.