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Trump Isn’t a Candidate of Restraint

Michael Brendan Dougherty sums up [1] why Trump can’t be trusted to conduct foreign policy:

But there aren’t strong reasons to believe Trump is any better than Clinton when it comes to making peace. In fact, he may be much worse.

Trump supported all the dumb wars and interventions that he now claims to have been against. He supported President George W. Bush on invading Iraq. Though he says he was against it, Trump supported the intervention in Libya in the most anti-realist terms possible when he said, “We’ve got to go in and save these lives.” He is just all over the place, saying that we shouldn’t be involved in Syria, and then a few minutes later saying that the U.S. should create safe zones in Syria.

The simple explanation for these changes is that Donald Trump hasn’t ever thought hard about foreign policy; he simply has an instinct for where public opinion is at any moment on any given war and runs ahead of it.

I’ve said before that Trump tends to be all over the map on foreign policy. He can be all over the map because he is shameless, he doesn’t know much about it, he isn’t that interested in it, and he isn’t bound by anything resembling a coherent foreign policy vision. If you want a break from the Washington foreign policy consensus, it is possible to find statements from Trump that suggest that he agrees with you some of the time, and it is also very likely that he has said just the opposite in the same week, hour, or sentence. His die-hard opponents and supporters both want to believe the statements Trump makes that fit their view of him, and many would rather ignore or explain away the statements that don’t fit.

If he says he is for a “safe zone” in Syria, it is a safe bet that he doesn’t understand what that involves, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t support one once someone told him what it was. He objects to having an adversarial relationship with Russia, but has no interest in making any of the accommodations that having a cooperative relationship would require. In one breath, he’ll worry about nuclear proliferation, and in the next suggest that he is fine with more states acquiring nuclear weapons. When it matters, he has no problem with the latest unnecessary war, and only after it is too late does he discover that he is against them. Weirdly, he is a fan of making deals in the abstract, but hates every deal that every president has ever made.

The only consistent views I have found across all of Trump’s various positions is that he always thinks America is getting a raw deal regardless of the details and he always wants to plunder other countries when given the opportunity. Needless to say, this isn’t someone who is interested in restraint as a virtue or as a grand strategy, and no one should pretend otherwise.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Trump Isn’t a Candidate of Restraint"

#1 Comment By consider the alternative On May 31, 2016 @ 10:20 am

“he simply has an instinct for where public opinion is at any moment on any given war and runs ahead of it”

That will have to do.

A Trump leading with his finger in the wind is to be preferred to what Clinton offers, the arrogant dictates of a discredited and corrupt establishment that regards the rest of us as cannon fodder or sheep to be shorn, smugly certain that there is no price to paid for being repeatedly, disastrously wrong.

#2 Comment By SteveM On May 31, 2016 @ 10:57 am

I dunno… Right, Trump is so erratic on the stump you really can’t forecast out how he would act in any specific situation. However, apart from consider the alternative’s accurate assessment of Hillary Clinton being pathetically bad, there is also the fact that Trump is a career businessman and not a career politician.

So we hope that he would leverage two fundamental business truisms as president, “return on investment” and the “sunk cost fallacy”. Regarding ROI, Trump apparently does not subscribe to the Global Cop model for its own sake. I.e., he doesn’t believe that the U.S. should always play the “indispensable superpower”, because from his PoV, it costs a lot of money and returns little or nothing to the taxpayers.

The sunk cost fallacy is exactly as it sounds. The recognition that throwing good money after bad simply because of the amount of bad money that was already wasted makes no sense. In that context, for example Trump may be more likely to zotz out a Pentagon boondoggle like the F-35 before it has fully metastasized saving the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

I’m not naive enough to think that is exactly how Trump would play those scenarios, but again, he thinks bottom line. While Hillary exhibits the clear definition of insanity. I.e., repeating the same busted strategy over and over expecting a different outcome. And OBTW, like Obama, she’s also oblivious to the laws of unintended consequences.

Yep, you’re rolling the dice with Trump, but they are absolutely loaded to come up snake-eyes with Hillary.

#3 Comment By Chris W On May 31, 2016 @ 11:10 am

Will a commander-in-chief who is incapable of practicing restraint start new wars? The question answers itself.

#4 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On May 31, 2016 @ 11:17 am

consider wrote:

A Trump leading with his finger in the wind is to be preferred to what Clinton offers, the arrogant dictates of a discredited and corrupt establishment that regards the rest of us as cannon fodder or sheep to be shorn, smugly certain that there is no price to paid for being repeatedly, disastrously wrong.

Trump’s “holding his finger to the wind is useful so long as he is seeking support. I’m more interested in how he will behave once he has real power, not when he’s courting votes. And seeing his very public character, I have absolutely no reason to believe that he will use the US military for anything but his own personal glory.

To me, that is not better than Clinton.

#5 Comment By rayray On May 31, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

It just feels like a silly discussion, Clinton is experienced, thoughtful, respected, knowledgeable, uncharismatic, tiresome, and has made some dumb Foreign Policy decisions. Perhaps she will make some more dumb decisions, perhaps not. Maybe someone should ask her some real questions about these decisions and about upcoming challenges and demand some real answers rather than talking about Vince Foster and email accounts.

Trump is a reality television star who will say anything to get applause, including spurious allegations, bullying playground epithets, complete policy contradictions (occasionally within the same speech), and outright self-aware lies. He is guaranteed to make dumb decisions because HELLO. Listening to thoughtful, well-spoken, and well-meaning people try to genuinely defend Trump is painful and embarrassing for both the person and the listener. The best thing to do is to quietly nod and then leave the room. Which I should’ve probably done here.

It’s simple, folks:

The election sucks. Trump is not an option. Moving on. Hello 2020.

#6 Comment By Kent On May 31, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

When it comes to foreign policy, Gary Johnson would be preferable to either Clinton or Trump.

#7 Comment By scottinnj On May 31, 2016 @ 12:25 pm

If nothing else , Hillary is more likely to uphold the current deal with Iran, which is one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements and one that President McCain or Romney wouldn’t have done. There is plenty to worry about with Hillary but on this very important matter she is clearly better than Trump.

#8 Comment By Trademark On May 31, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

I don’t want the spreading wars and higher likelihood of terror attacks of a Clinton presidency. I don’t want new influxes of refugees fleeing from Clinton’s wars either.

#9 Comment By sglover On May 31, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

However, apart from consider the alternative’s accurate assessment of Hillary Clinton being pathetically bad, there is also the fact that Trump is a career businessman and not a career politician.

Yeah, like, say, Sheldon Adelson. Or maybe Pablo Escobar? I know, Jamie Dimon! How very reassuring.

This fantasy that our Holy And Most Revered Businessmen have some special talent for public affairs is never going to die….

#10 Comment By cecelia On May 31, 2016 @ 5:29 pm

a consideration is how our allies will react to a Trump presidency. Already in the Australian press there are assertions that if Americans elect Trump then Australia must end its alliance with the US. Now Australia may not be high on most Americans radar but it is a country central to our policies re: China. The loss of the Australian relationship would be significant and would then contribute to an environment in which other states in the region would decide to accommodate China because it becomes clear they cannot rely on the US – or rather – they cannot rely on the US electorate.

You cannot elect a bullying vulgar screaming reality TV star as President and expect that the US would be able to maintain the confidence of our allies. I am not an enthusiast for Hillary but she does have the respect and confidence of other countries. And if you think that does not matter – that we can shed our allies – then you are not thinking seriously.

#11 Comment By you can’t do that On May 31, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

@Cecelia – “a consideration is how our allies will react to a Trump presidency. Already in the Australian press there are assertions that if Americans elect Trump then Australia must end its alliance with the US. “

Our allies will react as they usually do. They’ll sneer at a Republican and deify a Democrat (at least initially).

I’m old enough to remember the terror Reagan inspired in British and German friends. They fully expected the sound of hob-nailed boots in the streets the day after his inaugural. Foreign contempt and whining is par for the course, little different from that of the Hollywood actors who regularly threaten to move to Canada if [Republican] is elected. They never do it. They get used to it. They content themselves with bumper stickers saying “don’t blame me, I voted for [Democrat]”. After a while they get to like having someone to blame their troubles on.

“You cannot elect a bullying vulgar screaming reality TV star as President”

Just like we couldn’t elect a second-rate Hollywood actor. Or a foul-mouthed former haberdasher. Or an obnoxiously moralistic peanut farmer. Or a big dumb football player. etc etc.

#12 Comment By NorEastern On May 31, 2016 @ 10:27 pm

It is remarkable to me that voters can actually come to terms with Trump as Commander in Chief. Did not Trump state several times that he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons to settle a conventional war? That position is shear madness. No President should ever hold that position. Using nuclear weapons is the quickest path to perdition ending with the deaths of three billion people. I personally do not want to die in a megaton thermonuclear device explosion. How about you?

#13 Comment By race to the bottom On May 31, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

@NorEastern – “Did not Trump state several times that he would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons to settle a conventional war? “

Clinton said that back in 2008 (“we would obliterate Iran” if it were to even conventionally attack Israel). And mind you, she wasn’t even talking about a war involving the US.

That’s the thing about Trump. As bad and distasteful as he is, his likely opponent is worse. He threatens use of force, she’s already done it (and botched it badly). He wants to screw other countries on trade deals, she and her husband screwed us on trade deals (e.g. NAFTA). He wants to rip up the Iran deal and renegotiate it, she would arrive at the bargaining table having already threatened Iran with annihilation.

if the memoirs of ex-Clinton aides are to be credited, Trump can’t even compete with her in the 4-letter word department … and I bet her fingers are even shorter than his!

#14 Comment By jamie On May 31, 2016 @ 11:27 pm

Just like we couldn’t elect a second-rate Hollywood actor. Or a foul-mouthed former haberdasher.

We could just make this simple and say, we can’t elect someone who accuses a federal judge of racial bias in a civil suit to which he’s a party. And we can’t elect someone who promises to use the IRS for retribution against his personal enemies. And we can’t elect someone who tried to grift 4 or 5 million dollars off of donations to veterans, and had to be caught before he did anything about it.

#15 Comment By rayray On June 1, 2016 @ 1:47 am

“Just like we couldn’t elect a second-rate Hollywood actor. Or a foul-mouthed former haberdasher. Or an obnoxiously moralistic peanut farmer. Or a big dumb football player. etc etc.”

The above is certainly a fun verbal game to play, but comparing these folks to the reality of Trump just sort of accidentally proves the opposite point, doesn’t it?

#16 Comment By louisville slugger On June 1, 2016 @ 10:04 am

“comparing these folks to the reality of Trump just sort of accidentally proves the opposite point, doesn’t it?”

I wish we WERE comparing Trump to Reagan, Truman, Carter, or Ford. Comparing Trump to Hillary Clinton benefits him enormously, perhaps decisively.

If it were Trump vs. Biden or even Trump vs. Sanders the decision would be far easier – go with the decent fellow who you disagree with on many, many things, because he’s basically decent. Instead it’s Hillary Clinton.

#17 Comment By robz On June 1, 2016 @ 10:33 am

“we would obliterate Iran” if it were to even conventionally attack Israel.

Here’s what she actually said:

“Well the question was ‘if Iran was to launch a nuclear response be, what would our response be’ and I want Iran to know that if I’m the President, we will attack Iran; and I want them to understand that because it does mean that they have to look very carefully at their society because whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That’s a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps would deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic.”

The truth is that Israel could obliterate Iran without our help.

#18 Comment By no football for HRC On June 1, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

Thanks for posting HRC’s statement, robz.

It looks like Mrs. Clinton committed herself (and us) to killing 75 million Iranians (i.e. “totally obliterate”), men, women, and children, if Iran were to attack Israel. Even before Iran had a working nuclear weapon (i.e. “at any stage of its nuclear development program”).

I can’t think of a major politician outside of maybe North Korea who has said anything so reckless about using nuclear weapons.

#19 Comment By Gene Callahan On June 1, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

IF it were true that Trump would only use the military for his personal glory, that would be MUCH better than Clinton. Clinton uses it to enrich the military-industrial complex, which benefits from having ENDLESS wars we can NEVER WIN.

A few quick victories like Grenada would be so much better than that!

#20 Comment By Gene Callahan On June 1, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

Of course Trump has no “grand strategy”: thank goodness! Haven’t we had enough of that?

As far as his outrageous statements, Scott Adams has explained all of this very well: you say outrageous things because it keeps the media focus on you, then you say the opposite to reassure everyone that it is just a marketing tactic. And Trump himself has made this point.

#21 Comment By Ken T On June 1, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

@rayray

“Maybe someone should ask her some real questions about these decisions and about upcoming challenges and demand some real answers rather than talking about Vince Foster and email accounts.”

This.

The simple fact is that the Right has effectively inoculated her against any legitimate criticism by 20 years of hysterical nonsense. It might have made great red meat for the base, but to the general public all it has done is make it possible for her to brush off any real question as just so much more anti-Clinton derangement from the Right Wing.

Sanders had it right when he said “the public is sick and tired of hearing about the damn e-mails”. But instead of shifting to talking about real issues, the GOP and its supporters have just kept it up. And the public just yawns and ignores them.

#22 Comment By Gene Callahan On June 2, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

@Ken T: Talking about Clinton risking national security so that she could run a shakedown racket IS a real issue, Ken. And both the FBI and the State Department have confirmed it is a real issue.

But I suppose if I supported Clinton I’d try real hard to pretend it is nothing.