I have debated with myself whether or not to post this piece on Lawfare, which maintains a strictly non-partisan editorial policy and whose readership relies on the website for high-level substantive national security law and policy analysis, not political opinion. The Lawfare Institute, which publishes this site, is also a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization that is not allowed to get involved in electoral politics. So I speak here only for myself, and Benjamin Wittes assures me that he is prepared to publish the serious national security case for voting Trump, if someone serious is prepared to write it.
All that said, given today’s political environment, it seems to me that choosing a President is, more than ever, a “hard national security choice.”
Americans this election cycle are, to a great degree, “voting their pocket books.” Wages are stagnant, the job market for young adults is challenging, child care expenses are high, pensions are nearly a relic, and interest rates are non-existent. Middle-aged Americans, like me, are worried that their children will not have the same opportunities and standard of living as we did, or even as our parents did.
From this perspective, it is understandable how someone who appears to be a successful businessman, who has passed on wealth and opportunities to his own children, might be the answer to our financial and economic fears. How that candidate might offer an opportunity for America to be on top of the world, the way we thought it was when we were growing up.
But as someone raised in the Midwest who has spent my professional life working on national security issues in Washington DC, I can promise you this: we won’t have prosperity at home if the world is ablaze. And Donald Trump is wholly unprepared to lead the United States, and the world, when it comes to peace, security, and stability.
Last month, Trump gave what was billed as a major foreign policy speech. It was short on details. It provided no insights, no plans, no thoughts on how he would achieve even one of the national security issues that he has insisted on the campaign trail—defeating ISIS, securing the southern border, or achieving a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians—has eluded every other modern presidential administration. His campaign rhetoric is exactly that: rhetoric. It is problems without solutions, promises without plans. His proposals are not based on knowledge, experience or the slightest indication of an interest in being informed. His proposals to solve national security issues are like promises to win the national championship game, while leaving the team, the playbook and the ball in the locker room.
At the intersection of national security and economic security, Trump's proposals will likely harm, not help, the American worker. His personal brand of yelling, name calling, bullying and threatening will not make him a good negotiator on trade; instead, it will alienate entire countries that are major economic partners with the United States. His reputation relies exclusively on his experience as a business person. But his experience at the helm of a family business reveals his inexperience with public accountability. No 21st century public company board of directors and major shareholders would tolerate his hostility towards the press, derogatory statements towards women, minorities and immigrants, or abandonment of facts in his daily statements.
But more importantly, the speech put forth a new approach to foreign policy and national security, introducing a Trumpian theory that the United States should be more “unpredictable.” By way of example, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is someone whom the rest of the world views as fairly unpredictable. That’s no model to follow. Unpredictability is not a substitute for competence. It’s a cop-out.
The world is unstable enough. While the international community does not necessarily long for American intervention, it does seem to be starting to miss a more visible American engagement. American leadership matters. There are hard problems in the international and national security community today—among them an ongoing civil war in Syria that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions; a web of international terrorist organizations, with ISIS at the fore; increasingly assertive authoritarian governments in Asia; and the most severe refugee crisis in generations extending over multiple continents.
At this time of instability and complexity, what the United States needs in a President is a problem solver and a steady hand. A person of resolve and good judgement. A leader with a moral compass. It does not need an entertainment personality bellowing into a microphone, ruining the country's good name, and probably, if elected, its credit.
The first half of my career was spent as a non-partisan, career civil servant. I chose this election year, of all years, to engage in politics for the first time. The Republican Party has stood in my lifetime for strong national security, support for the military, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and leadership in the international arena. I would like to see that tradition continue. But we risk not only the reputation of the party, but far more importantly, the reputation of our nation globally if we vote to nominate a candidate who is so uninformed about the world, so out of touch with national security issues, and so reckless in his rhetoric that he makes the world a less, not more, secure place.
Full Disclosure: I am a member of presidential candidate Governor John Kasich’s national security advisory group. This post was not coordinated with the campaign. The views expressed here are mine alone.