Earlier this month, conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt embarrassed Donald Trump on air with a series of questions about Mid-East foreign policy issues that included quizzing the GOP frontrunner on the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah as well as asking Trump to explain the significance of Iranian power brokers breaking UN travel bans to help coordinate the Syrian war effort with The Kremlin.
Trump clearly didn’t know it, but he had a great opportunity for a GOP-voter-friendly soundbite.
What he should have said, if he wanted to bolster his position with Republican primary voters who might be a bit concerned about his foreign policy credentials was something along the lines of this: "Hamas and Hezbollah are both threats to our ally Israel and when we see things like broken UN travel bans by important Iranians it means the Obama administration has weakened Washington’s position vis-a-vis Iran by signing a bad nuclear deal."
Of course Hewitt knew Trump wouldn’t be able to answer the questions and so to be fair to the Teflon Don, it was most assuredly a media “gotcha” moment, but what it did underscore is the extent to which Trump is strong on overarching foreign policy themes (“America is weak, our leaders are losers, our deals are terrible”) and short on specifics, even when the opportunity to support his contentions literally falls into his lap.
Now that Trump appears to be getting serious about building a platform based on actual policy recommendations (see his recently unveiled tax plan which, even if it's far-fetched is at least a plan) rather than grand pronouncements that sound inspirational but are largely amorphous, the Donald is weighing in on Syria. Here’s Reuters with more:
Leading Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday said he supported Russian efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the Middle East, including Syria.
Asked whether he backed those like Russia who supported Syrian President Bashar al Assad or those who see him as the source of Syria's current crisis, Trump told NBC's "Today" program: "I side with the group that says if Russia wants to go and fight ISIS, you should let them as opposed to saying were jealous we don't want you to do that."
Asked about whether Assad was the source of the country's ills, Trump said it was not clear and questioned who would replace him if he were ousted.
"The people that want to come in and replace Assad, nobody knows who they are and they could end up being worse," he said. "We're constantly going out and siding with people and they turn out to be worse than the people who were there before."
In other words, Trump has no idea here either but what he does know is that the US habitually makes the same basic mistake in the Mid-East when considerations of geopolitical expediency lead Washington to oust Arab strongmen only to watch in horror as subsequent puppet governments crumble and are eventually replaced or at least partially supplanted by something far worse than the regime the US helped to overthrow. Meanwhile it is of course the people of these countries who suffer as is clearly evident in Syria.
So say what you will about Trump and foreign policy, but at least he understands that much and indeed, an honest understanding of that basic concept may have been all that was needed to avoid the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria.