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Opinion

Trump’s foreign policy nuttiness was on full display in NBC forum

On foreign policy, President Donald Trump would be like a bull in a China shop.
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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

During NBC’s “Commander-In-Chief Forum” Wednesday night, Donald Trump demonstrated why he would be a constant embarrassment to his country should he ever be unleashed on the world stage with all the powers of the American presidency.

Much of the post-forum buzz has been about interviewer Matt Lauer’s failure to challenge Trump on his erroneous contention that he always opposed the Iraq war, even though Trump unambiguously backed the war in a 2002 interview on Howard Stern’s radio program. Lauer is also being slammed for lobbing softball questions to the Republican nominee while spending a prolonged amount of time grilling Hillary Clinton about her emails, then rushing her through answers to serious foreign policy questions.

The real story of the night, though, was Trump. Lauer’s bland questions — “Why should you be commander in chief?” — gave Trump room to roam and display his breathtaking ignorance and mendacity. Here is just a sample of the crazy stuff Trump managed to cram into the 24-minute session with Lauer:

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• Trump said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil to keep it out of the hands of the Islamic State. He wondered why the old adage, “To the victors belong the spoils,” no longer applies. Apparently he is unaware, or does not care, that people in the Mideast have long questioned American motives in sending troops into Iraq, suspecting that U.S. military power is being used to steal their oil, not fight terrorists or support democracy. Trump’s approach would confirm those suspicions and undermine delicate alliances in a chaotic region of the world.

• Using an odd characterization, Trump said “the generals have been reduced to rubble” during President Obama’s years in office and that there should “probably be new ones” if he becomes president. With this remark he demeaned the U.S. military leaders who have been carrying on an intricate battle with Islamic State forces and who claim, as of June, to have killed 120 Islamic State leaders. Trump’s implication that they will all be replaced displays an obtuse view of military organization and suggests that he wants the dictatorial power to do wholesale firing of military commanders.

• Trump insisted, again, that he has a “secret” plan to defeat Islamic State, yet he said he will demand that the generals (new ones or old ones?) come up with a new scheme to crush the group within 30 days after he takes office. If he truly has a secret plan, it is probably as simplistic as his “build a wall” scheme for the Mexican border. And if he thinks the military can whip up a complex strategy in 30 days that is significantly different than the current strategy, he has no real conception of the strategic problem.

• Trump claimed that the intelligence agency staffers who gave him his first national security briefing indicated by their body language that they disagreed with specific Obama administration policies stretching back into the president’s first term. That is a lot of detail to glean from “body language.” It is probably also a lie and a slander because intelligence briefers are duty-bound to maintain an air of policy neutrality when making their presentations.

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• Trump portrayed his recent quick trip to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as a diplomatic triumph. He offered as proof the fact that the Mexican government official who masterminded the trip has been fired. Weird logic, indeed.

• Finally, Trump doubled down on his praise of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Once again, he said Putin — a man who ruthlessly crushes dissent, invades neighboring countries and is king of a kleptocracy in Moscow — is a strong leader with good poll numbers. Hitler was a strong leader with good poll numbers too. That did not make him someone to admire.

Trump knows about as much about foreign policy as a cranky guy in a baseball cap spouting opinions from a bar stool. Of course, that describes many of Trump’s most loyal voters, so his performance Wednesday night did not hurt him with his devoted tribe. Trump speaks nonsense and they hear genius.  

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

 

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