At a fundraiser last night on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama expressed how I’m feeling about now when it comes to the Republican presidential nominee.
“Frankly, I’m tired of talking about her [Clinton’s] opponent,” Obama said. “I don’t have to make the case against her opponent because every time he talks, he makes the case against his own candidacy.”
Nevertheless, Trump gave a speech on foreign policy and counterterrorism yesterday. Perhaps the biggest news is that he stayed pretty much on script – which I’m sure was a great relief to his handlers. I found part of Benjamin Wittes’ analysis of the speech to be the most interesting. For all of his talk about how George W. Bush blew it and Obama/Clinton are the founders of ISIS, he mostly said he’d do exactly the same thing they’ve been doing. Here is Wittes’ list of the overlap:
* We will . . . work closely with NATO on this new mission.” Check.
* “I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS.” Alas, so does the Obama administration, which is why John Kerry has been spending so much fruitless time trying hanging with Sergey Lavrov.
* “My Administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cut off their funding, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.” In which case Trump’s administration will look a heck of a lot like this one, and the one before it.
* “We will decimate Al Qaeda, and we will seek to starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah. We can use existing UN Security Council resolutions to apply new sanctions.” Yeah, the old cut-off-terrorist-financing bit—a favorite strategy of both the current and former administrations.
* “Drone strikes will remain part of our strategy.” Continuity again—this time even acknowledged.
* “[W]e will also seek to capture high-value targets to gain needed information to dismantle their organizations.” This barely a week after the so-called “Playbook” on drone strikes and other direct actions was released, revealing the current administration’s preference for capture operations.
* “[W]e will pursue aggressive criminal or immigration charges against anyone who lends material support to terrorism.” Check. Whatever one says about the Obama and Bush administrations, neither has exactly been soft on material support.
That reminded me of a lot of what we heard during the Republican primary. Candidates would rail against the two-headed monster of Obama/Clinton and then basically parrot their policies on dealing with groups like ISIS. Of course, the missing ingredient that Trump and the others always supply is that they are willing to use the right words to describe our enemies in this fight. As Trump put it yesterday:
Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country. Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of Radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our President.
Like other Republicans, Trump will say the magic words that will suddenly transform all of those activities enumerated above into something great.
Other than magic words, the one thing Trump will add to the mix are policies that act upon his central focus: Islamophobia.
In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.
In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles—or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country. Only those who we expect to flourish in our country—and to embrace a tolerant American society—should be issued visas.
On has to wonder what such a screening would have meant for the Amish, Orthodox Jews or Mormons. But as Eric Levitz points out, it seems pretty clear that the Trump/Pence ticket would get screened out.
Trump has made his own lack of belief in the Constitution explicit, dismissing constitutional objections to his Muslim ban by arguing that such concerns are irrelevant.
“Our Constitution is great,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But it doesn’t necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay?”
And if, as Trump’s advisors said, his test would “assess a candidate’s stances on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights,” his VP nominee might also be in trouble.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) August 15, 2016
Of course, all of that is a way of looking at Trump’s speech through a rational lens – which probably wasn’t the point.