Donald Trump’s feeble attempt at an intelligently-sounding foreign policy speech last week has been recognized across ideological lines as the almost incomprehensible stage-managed populist spectacle that it was. Today, however, the presumptive Republican nominee received scathing criticism from a truly experienced foreign policy hand, the Republican former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Speaking on ABC’s The Week Sunday morning, Gates slammed the hypocrisy and contradictions that defined Trump’s somber, teleprompted speech:
I think based on the speech you’d have somebody who doesn’t understand the difference between a business negotiation and a negotiation with sovereign powers. For example, he, on the one hand, says we need to be a more reliable ally to our friends. And then in the next breath he basically says we’re going to rip up all those burden-sharing agreements that we’ve had over the decades with them and make them go their own way if they don’t pay for everything
Gates, who has worked under every president since Jimmy Carter and is widely considered one of the most knowledgeable and influential foreign policy minds in the nation, went on to denounce Trump on a more fundamental level, taking aim at his arrogance and narcissism:
One of the things that worries me is that he doesn’t appear to listen to people. He believes that he has all the answers, that he’s the smartest man in the room. And I’ve worked for some very different presidents… one of the things they all had in common was a willingness to listen to people who had experience, and then make their own independent judgment. Now, they’ve gone in different directions but they never assumed they had all the answers, and that’s one of the things that troubles me.
To be sure, Trump’s persona is that of a headstrong egomaniac who, certainly in foreign policy, is far out of his depth. His speech on Wednesday, riddled as it was with contradiction and obfuscation, came off as little more than a cynical populist play to mask his utter cluelessness and lack of direction with strident rhetoric and buoyant jingoism.
Besides his paradoxical rhetoric about providing more support to our allies while also insuring they pay their “fair share,” he excoriated President Obama’s failure to launch a war in Syria while condemning his the interventions in Iraq and Libya in the next breath; frequently trotted out his new slogan “America First” to praise the American role in World War II despite the fact that the 1940s America First movement, and indeed the relative isolationism that he is now peddling, opposed American entry into the war; and insisted that “war and aggression will not be [his] first instinct” while praising the nuclear bombing of Japan and stating that he would consider nuking Europe.
Foreign policy veterans from across the political spectrum have criticized Trump’s haphazard and ignorant approach to world affairs, with many saying that they would refuse to work in his administration. It is, however, particularly refreshing to see a Republican expert like Robert Gates, who has even been mentioned as a possible running mate for the Donald, take a stand for reason and dignity over rhetoric. If Trump’s foreign policy speech was a pathetic attempt to sound presidential, it failed miserably, leaving viewers with the sense that he lacks even the most basic understanding of how the world works. To put such a man in the White House would represent a danger to America and to the world.
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.