Donald Trump’s latest outrageous statement—that all Muslims should be excluded from the United States—confirms what I expect most Lawfare readers already knew: not only does he lack the national security and foreign policy qualifications to be President, he is actually endangering our national security right now by his hate-filled and divisive rhetoric. His statements contribute to fear and unrest at home and unsettle our friends and allies abroad. Trump’s tough talk may appeal to some voters but bluntness and bombast alone are not sufficient qualifications for a man who would be President.
In the last several weeks, Trump has urged other policies that are dangerous, if not illegal, from a national security perspective. Last week, he said that he would target the families of ISIS terrorists: “you have to take out their families.” Mr. Trump—who never served in the military—obviously does not know that targeting civilians not engaged in hostilities is a war crime. The week before, he said he would bring back waterboarding: “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would….and even it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” Someone should tell Mr. Trump that in October Congress banned the use of interrogation techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual.
Remarkably, Mr. Trump has criticized other candidates for being weak on foreign policy. Last month, after the New York Times quoted an adviser to Ben Carson lamenting Carson’s grasp of foreign affairs, Trump piled on, asserting “you’ve got to know foreign policy.” This is an amazing statement from a man who has no national security and foreign policy experience, little knowledge of or interest in the complexities of these issues, and (apparently) no foreign policy advisers.
My former colleague Peter Feaver, a Duke professor who served on the NSC staff from 1993-1994 and again from 2005-2007, observed on Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog that Trump has “managed to remain the front-runner and command the election coverage for an astonishingly long period of time without making any visible effort to learn the complex foreign policy and national security issues that would constitute his major responsibility were he to win.” Peter added that he had “yet to meet a foreign policy or national security expert who claims to have briefed the Trump campaign.”
Rebecca Berg, the national security reporter for the right-leaning website RealClearPolitics, recently noted that Trump has been claiming for months that he would announce a team of “highly respected” foreign policy advisers but has not done so. One reason Trump may be having trouble recruiting foreign policy advisers is that he is not interested in receiving advice or listening to anyone else. One source told Berg: “He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to be briefed…It’s not in his personality.”
As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates commented in an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend (“The Kind of President We Need”), these are not the characteristics we want in a President. Gates said, "Too many presidential candidates of all stripes are working overtime to deepen our divisions, to turn us against one another, to play to our fears. They are prepared to place all that holds us together as one people, as Americans, at risk for their own ambitions. The next president must lead in restoring civility to our political process." Donald Trump not only would be a dangerous president, he is making us less safe as a candidate.
Disclaimer: I have contributed to Jeb Bush’s campaign.