Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been selling himself as the closest thing standard-issue Republicans ever get to a peace candidate. Call him a “peace through strength” candidate.
Trump says he was against Iraq, a war that he charges former President George W. Bush lied us into. He further says he was against several American interventions since, in Libya, Syria, and the like. Trump suggested in one debate that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin could hash things out and get along, rather than reprise our nations’ roles in a bad remake of the Cold War.
Sure, the billionaire did promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” but so have all the other candidates in the race (minus the swear), and that’s already current U.S. government policy. It’s also a standard Republican talking point that the U.S. military has been hollowed out under President Obama and must be beefed up, though few have punched that point with such gusto as Trump.
“We’re going to make our military bigger and better and stronger than ever before and nobody, nobody, nobody is going to mess with us, folks! Nobody!” he said after his Super Tuesday win of most states.
Trump’s Tiny Fingers on the Nuke Button
What would a President Trump actually do with that bigger, better, stronger military once in office, and how would that bear on the peace of nations? The thought of it makes many people very nervous. “Trump cannot have the nuke codes,” tweeted hawkish pundit Jay Cost the other day. Even folks who support aspects of Trump’s program are jittery.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is a traditionalist conservative writer who has defended Trump voters while expressing grave concerns about the man himself. He predicted in The Week that under a President Trump, “American foreign policy would turn on public opinion, causing Trump and his hyper-aggrieved sense of honor to involve our nation in military commitments he doesn’t bother to understand or have the patience to see through.”
There are concrete reasons for concern about Trump’s foreign policy judgment. Audio surfaced of him on the first anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks tentatively supporting the Iraq invasion. Trump insisted he changed his mind before the invasion and tried to argue against it. At the very least, he realized rather quickly that Iraq was going badly and spoke up about it by bashing the Bush administration.
More damningly, Trump has said America shouldn’t have supported the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, and claimed this was his position from day one. He said without the Obama administration throwing in with the rebels, “You wouldn’t have had your Benghazi situation.” He was referring of course to the deadly assault on the American consulate by Islamic militants in 2012, which resulted in four Americans in body bags.
Yet BuzzFeed unearthed video from 2011 of Trump full-throatedly arguing for American intervention in Libya. “Now we should go in. We should stop this guy [Gaddafi], which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives. This is absolutely nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re gonna end up with something like you’ve never seen before,” Trump warned.
We Don’t Really Know what Trump Would Do
One thing we’ve learned from watching the man on the campaign trail is that Trump doesn’t like to apologize when he gets things wrong. It’s possible this is a genuine change of mind on his part, rather than a ploy to sever any links between him and the Bush legacy in voters’ minds. But we have no way to know that, given Trump’s constant and nonchalant flip-flopping on matters great and small.
As a primary candidate only, Trump’s true feelings probably don’t matter. He has demonstrated it’s possible to oppose a lot of Republican-supported foreign policy and still come out on top, so long as the GOP faithful think you’re a tough guy. That’s a good thing to know for future candidates who want to keep American blood and treasure safe from the constant call for more wars.
As the real dual possibilities of Trump’s nomination and presidency loom, however, voters are starting to get cold feet. Late-deciding primary voters are breaking overwhelmingly for Trump’s Republican opponents. Trump blames this on millions of dollars in negative ads, yet the doubt and uncertainty seem real enough.
Trump the candidate is almost a force of nature, reshaping the Republican race in ways few experts saw coming, shrugging off scandals that would have felled political veterans of either party, saying things that politicians just do not say, and having a great time doing it. It’s a fun show to watch, but it leaves us with little idea what he’d actually do as commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known.