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Clinton says Trump’s foreign policy agenda is ‘dangerously incoherent’

Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in San Diego on Thursday.

(David McNew / Agence-France Presse )

Hillary Clinton delivered a blistering rebuke of Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda on Thursday, warning he is “temperamentally unfit” to hold the job of commander in chief and would destabilize national security with his “bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”

The address in San Diego was Clinton’s most aggressive broadside against Trump yet, and offered a preview of the lines of attack and tone the Democratic front-runner is likely to take as the race moves past the primary and into the general election.

On a stage packed with American flags and before an audience that included military personnel, Clinton presented voters with what her campaign feels confident will be a sobering and provocative question: Whose finger do they want on the nuclear button?

Clinton is capitalizing on Trump’s struggle to explain multiple contradictions and gaps in the foreign policy vision he has laid out. The businessman has yet to offer a comprehensive strategy for confronting the most pressing national security concerns.

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He has made several remarks that seemed to be made on the fly, such as proposing that Japan be armed with nuclear weapons. Sometimes Trump later retracted such comments, as he did this week in the case of the nuclear weapons remark.

Clinton contrasted Trump’s plans to her own as “not just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They are not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”

“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes,” the former secretary of State said.

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Trump’s immediate response came by tweet. “Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton!,” he wrote. “Reading poorly from the telepromter! She doesn’t even look presidential!” He also tweeted: “Crooked Hillary no longer has credibility — too much failure in office. People will not allow another four years of incompetence!”

Clinton anticipated the taunts, remarking in the speech, “We all know the tools Donald Trump brings to the table: bragging, mocking, composing nasty tweets. I’m willing to bet he is writing a few right now.”

Clinton turned her fire toward Trump even as she is still consumed with her primary battle in California against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose aggressive campaigning in the state has enabled him to erase most of the lead Clinton long enjoyed. Although Sanders was not mentioned by name, the speech was designed, in part, to help persuade wavering voters not to cast ballots for him.

It built off the case Gov. Jerry Brown made when he endorsed Clinton in an open letter to voters this week that argued that weakening Clinton in the primary brings Trump closer to control over the nation’s nuclear codes.

For his part, Sanders said he agreed with Clinton’s dismal assessment of Trump, but he reserved most of his criticism for Clinton herself.

“When it comes to foreign policy, we cannot forget that Secretary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history, and that she has been a proponent of regime change, as in Libya, without thinking through the consequences,” Sanders said in a statement.

Clinton’s address underscored for Democrats and independents voting in the party’s primary “the intense peril created by the prospect that Donald Trump could get anywhere near the White House,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). 

“She showed she is in the best position to go toe-to-toe with him,” Schiff said in an interview.

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It marked a notable change in tone for Clinton, who for weeks has vacillated between limited engagement with Trump and leaving that work to her surrogates, as she sought to stay above the fray.

On Thursday, Clinton did not hold back. She mocked Trump relentlessly, while at the same time patiently laying out the thinking behind key diplomatic and national security decisions she has taken part in — and why voters should question whether Trump has the intellectual capacity and mental stability to be trusted to make such decisions.

“It is not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us to war just because someone got under his very thin skin,” she said, then began quoting some of the remarks Trump has made that national security experts find alarming.

“This is a man who said more countries should have nuclear weapons, including Saudi Arabia,” Clinton said. “He has also said, ‘I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.’ You know what? I don’t believe him.”

On the nuclear deal Clinton helped negotiate with Iran, which Trump has taken to bashing on the campaign trail, Clinton said Trump “doesn’t know the first thing about Iran or its nuclear program. Ask him. It will become very clear, very quickly.”

Clinton also questioned some of the praise Trump has offered for the world’s dictators and strongmen, such as when he expressed admiration for the strength the Chinese government showed during the massacre of students at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and suggested U.S. leaders should take an approach more like that of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

“I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants,” Clinton said. “I just wonder how anyone can be so wrong about who America’s real friends are.” 

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evan.halper@latimes.com

follow me: @evanhalper

 


UPDATES:

3:38 p.m.: This story was updated with comment from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

This story was originally published at 3:12 p.m.


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