Thanks to the reasoned negotiating of Barack Obama and his team, the ten American sailors detained after entering Iranian waters were released early this morning, and a potential international incident was averted at a critical juncture for the Iranian nuclear deal. Donald Trump, however, who apparently pays little attention to world affairs or to the office he supposedly aspires to hold, put his dangerous ignorance on display in calling for the sailors’ release several hours after it was announced.
Picking up the standard Republican line, he criticized Obama as being “weak” and assured us that he would be “much stronger” in dealing with Iran, nevermind that the Iranians had legitimate cause to detain the sailors. But, the insidious belief that diplomacy is “weak” and yelling and murder are the only way to get things done is not the only shameful Republican tenet on display in Trump’s statement. Even more so, it was yet another example of many Republicans’ profound ignorance of the Middle East, the region that attracts so much of their demagogic and racist war-mongering.
It’s no secret that many of the leading Republican presidential candidates know remarkably little of foreign affairs, and their incessant racially-tinged fear-mongering about ISIS has put this baffling ignorance on full display, from Chris Christie calling a long-dead Jordanian king his close friend to Ben Carson’s top advisors literally having to quit because they were unable to teach him the first thing about the Middle East. As in most contests of stupidity and incompetence, however, Donald Trump has taken the cake for his ignorance of the Middle East even as he has blithely called for the mass murder of innocent civilians in the region.
He has confused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with the Kurds and Hamas with Hezbollah, and has been unable to name a single major leader in the region or even a former U.S. Secretary of State, among numerous other disturbing lapses. When a radio host asked Trump when he would learn more about the region, he said, with typical middle-school level arrogance, “When it’s appropriate. I’ll know more about it than you know and believe me, it won’t take long.” As many have pointed out, however, it will never be “appropriate” in his mind to know anything about the world, because the problem isn’t simply that he doesn’t know about the world (though that is certainly the case) but that he doesn’t care about the world. To Trump and his followers, any question that he shows off his ignorance is a “gotcha” question dreamed up by the “liberal media” and their evil obsession with facts.
This is of course to be expected from a demagogic populist like Trump, who appeals to the masses with an over-aggressive militant nationalism that purposefully dehumanizes the supposed enemy. It is just this sort of dehumanization, in which the ignorance Trump so proudly displays is the first step, that makes it easy to commit mass murder and other atrocities. And, sure enough, Trump and those like him have advocated the carpet bombing of entire Middle Eastern cities and the intentional mass murder of innocent Middle Eastern citizens, who to them are nothing more than faceless and interchangeable “bad guys” whom it isn’t even worth understanding on the most basic level. It is this demagogic fear-mongering, that intentionally dehumanizes people to facilitate their murder and makes ignorance into a virtue while prizing senseless killing, that makes the moniker of proto-fascist – however sensational it sounds – apply perfectly to The Donald.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.