By Daniel Davis
There have been numerous critiques of the speech given by Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump last Monday in Ohio. Most of the analysis has focused on challenging the truthfulness or accuracy of his many claims – and there were surely a number that were questionable or spurious. What Trump said he would have done if he’d been President in the past and what he plans to do if elected in the future, however, gave Americans a solid glimpse into what a Trump Administration might look like. These comments should serve as warning flags for voters.
It has become almost an unquestioned assumption – maybe even an expectation – in American politics today that candidates for Federal office will twist anything an opponent has ever said or done in an effort to cast their leadership ability in the most unfavorable light possible. Hillary Clinton and Trump have both “distinguished” themselves in this campaign season as being Twist Masters. In analyzing Trump’s most recent speech, however, no twisting is necessary.
After blasting President Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton for their handling of Middle East and terrorism-related policies, he announced it was, “time for a new approach.” Though Trump’s characterization of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) being “the direct result” of Obama and Clinton policies was misleading at best, it is clear that the policies of both the Bush and Obama Administrations made a bad security situation worse.
Trump firmly declared that America’s “current strategy of nation-building and regime change is a proven failure.” No argument there. I myself have taken the Administration to task on several occasions for pursuing policies that are counterproductive to American security interests. But it is flatly incorrect to lay all the blame for the deteriorating situation solely on the backs of Obama and Clinton. The Bush Administration carries considerable culpability for the failure, as do senior members of the Pentagon and some members of Congress. What Trump said he would have done different, however, is as much a cause of concern as what Bush and Obama actually did do.
“I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq,” the GOP standard-bearer said. “If we had controlled the oil, we could have prevented the rise of ISIS in Iraq – both by cutting off a major source of funding, and through the presence of U.S. forces necessary to safeguard the oil and other vital infrastructure.” This proposal, he continued, “would have left soldiers in place to guard our assets” and “we would have had the economic benefits of the oil.” These comments raise a number of serious questions about how Trump sees the world and the US role in it.
First, as Trump himself has often said, the justification the Bush Administration claimed for launching the war in 2003 was proven to be utterly wrong. Though reports indicate otherwise, he repeated during Monday’s speech that he was against the war from the beginning. It is troubling, then, that the candidate can acknowledge the justification for going to war was wrong, state that he was against it in the first place, yet once the Hussein government had been destroyed say he would have nevertheless commandeered Iraq’s endowment of crude oil.
Further, he would have garrisoned U.S. military personnel to maintain control of it and unapologetically claimed he would then use the resulting wealth for U.S. purposes. “In the old days,” he lamented, “when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils.” Conquering a foreign nation under spurious grounds and then commandeering their natural resources is not only repugnantly un-American, it is a direct violation of international law.
Lastly, Trump denigrated some societies abroad whose people exhibited “extreme views about religion – such as the death penalty for those who leave the faith.” Yet his prescription for safeguarding American values sounded disturbingly similar to the attitudes he derided.
A Trump Administration, he explained, “will establish a clear principle that will govern all decisions pertaining to immigration. We will be tough. And we will be even extreme. Extreme.” Similar to the effort to take down the mafia, he continued, “The support networks for Radical Islam in this country will be stripped out and removed one by one, viciously if necessary; viciously if necessary.”
The person who fills the role of Commander-in-Chief is obligated by the Constitution to strongly defend the rights and freedoms of our citizens. He or she is expected to guarantee the security of our borders and safeguard our pursuit of happiness. But the President cannot defend our values against external aggression by adopting the attitudes and tactics of the very same enemies.
In such a case, America loses whatever claim we may have to being a superior, exceptional nation, and instead simply becomes the latest manifestation of “might makes right.”
If America chooses Donald Trump in November, having a President who recognizes nation-building has failed and should therefore be avoided would be a good thing. But whether it be he or Clinton, the next Commander-in-Chief must be far more judicious in the use of lethal military power abroad, and liberal in the use of American justice and values at home. Failing at either will continue the deterioration in the security for us all.
Daniel L. Davis is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours in Afghanistan. He is a senior fellow with Defense Priorities. Follow him on twitter @DanielLDavis1