Paul Pillar

The War Candidates

The nonspecific, ever-changing, and often self-contradictory pronouncements by Trump give little basis for a voter to reason out what a President Trump's foreign and security policies would be even if the voter wanted to apply such a careful process to his or her decision and tried hard to apply such a process. To speak of “Donald Trump” and “strategic vision” in the same sentence is oxymoronic. Even when Trump has stuck to a teleprompter and a script in talking about foreign policy, the product has been a largely vision-free string of slogans.

The sources of—not to put too fine a point on it—the dumb way a substantial portion of the electorate is currently approaching issues of war and peace and what this implies regarding how they should cast their votes go well beyond Donald Trump. Max Boot speaks directly and bluntly to this subject in an op-ed in which he discusses how the Republican Party has become the “stupid party” in fact and not just as an act to appeal to the poorly educated whom Donald Trump has said he loves. Boot correctly observes, “Mr. Trump is as much a symptom as a cause of the party's anti-intellectual drift.”

Boot is one of those neoconservatives who has been tearing his hair out over Trump's rise because of the hints Trump has dropped that he might actually favor some restraint in foreign policy and because his nomination marks at least a partial loss of the lock that neocons have had in recent years on Republican Party foreign policy. Obviously Boot believes that making the anti-intellectual party more intellectual would mean hewing to the intellectual line of, to quote from his piece, “conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and publications like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary.” But Republican anti-intellectualism is at least as much a rejection of sound and distinctly non-neocon reasoning regarding the need for a more restrained U.S. foreign and security policy. It is even more a rejection of that reasoning rather than of neocon thinking, given the conclusions that should follow from careful consideration of what has and hasn't worked in U.S. foreign policy in recent decades.

Mention of the neocons leads to a final observation about the way in which dissatisfied American voters are reacting to the Trump phenomenon. The inexcusable failure to plan better for what would follow in Iraq after the forceful overthrow of Saddam Hussein reflects how that neoconservative endeavor was based on the Jerry Rubin strategy of tearing things down and grooving on the rubble. So confident were the neocons in the power and appeal of the democratic and free-market values they were attempting to inject into the Middle East that they were sure whatever fell into place after Saddam's overthrow was bound to be better than what was there before. Today the people—including those on the anti-interventionist left and the libertarian right—who would like to tear down a militarist “establishment” or “blob” that has dominated American foreign-policy thinking and who see Trump as a vehicle for such destruction risk making a similar mistake.

Image: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Left image by Michael Vadon, right image by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA.