Equal time for a man dismissed this morning by a grumpy Trump as a “third-rate radio announcer” because he asked him about the differences between Hamas and Hezbollah. That wasn’t me running through a random checklist of names to see if I could trip him up, Hewitt tells CNN here. It was me trying to lead him into a discussion of the strategic threat facing American and Israeli interests. A man with presidential ambitions should be able to talk semi-intelligently about that in 2015, no?
Matt Welch wonders: Is there any reason to think that a deeper knowledge of foreign policy before becoming president leads to a better foreign policy as president?
Who was the most pre-knowledgeable-about-foreign-policy post-war president, George H.W. Bush? Ike? Did they have the best FPs? I'm not sure.
— Matt Welch (@MattWelch) September 4, 2015
Also Nixon & Reagan. I do think HW & Ike both benefited from their knowledge & experience. https://t.co/eQfjYDpxjW
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) September 4, 2015
I don’t think there’s a straight line between better knowledge as a candidate to having more success abroad once in office, but I doubt Hewitt would say so either. The questions he asked Trump were really proxies, I think, for testing how seriously he takes the threat from jihadis. As a general but certainly not firm rule, the more worried you are about Iran, ISIS, and expansionist Islamist groups, the deeper into the weeds you’re willing to go to learn who they are. (Interestingly, Rand Paul the most dovish candidate in the GOP field and a strident Trump critic otherwise, sided with Trump today in knocking Hewitt’s questions as gotchas.) That’s also why, I assume, Hewitt presses nearly every candidate he interviews about whether they’ve read “The Looming Tower,” Lawrence Wright’s book about the rise of Al Qaeda and 9/11. He’s probing their intellectual curiosity about jihadism, I take it, as a measure of how alert they are to the risk and how committed they’d be as president to defeating it. How’d Trump do on that metric?
The correct answer, I think, is “voters won’t care.” Like I said last night, how you view the sufficiency of Trump’s answer depends almost totally on how seriously you take Trump as a candidate to begin with. Here’s Josh Rogin, picking through the Hewitt interview to build a case that Trump not only doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he seems unconcerned about correcting that problem:
Trump also suggested he would, as president, dismantle the system of deterrence that currently underpins our strategy toward potential major adversaries. When asked by Hewitt what he would do if China sunk a Japanese ship, Trump said it was a secret. “You don’t want to let people know what you’re going to do with respect to certain things that happen. You don’t want the other side to know,” he said. “I don’t want people to know my thinking.”
That answer is Trump’s go-to response whenever he seems to get into trouble answering foreign policy questions. He has said he doesn’t want to telegraph his plan to defeat the Islamic State — which he nonetheless described as “very beautiful” — although at other times he has promised to surround its oil fields with American troops, or to bomb the fields and later send in Exxon to rebuild them…
More likely, the truth is that Trump has no defined worldview, does not understand how diplomacy or warfare works, and has no real plans to solve the world’s problems. Other Republican candidates similarly have little foreign policy experience, but at least they are trying to study up. When Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” asked who he consults on foreign policy, Trump replied that he watches “the shows.”
Yes, cheer Trump-haters. He’s a doofus whose doofus fans are actually celebrating his doofus-ness! Now here’s Rush Limbaugh for the defense:
Reagan got questions like this. He was asked to name various obscure heads of state. Reagan’s answer was the best. Reagan said… I’m paraphrasing. He said, “It doesn’t matter if I know their names. They need to know mine,” and that shut it down. Trump saying, “It doesn’t matter. They’re not gonna be there by the time I get inaugurated, and even if they are, in 24 hours I’m gonna know more about these people…
I tell you, folks, there’s even a part of me that is disgusted. I’m not sure if that’s the right term. We have to know the names of these thugs, as though it’s giving them some sort of respect? The only thing we need to know, and if identifying their names helps, is where they are so they can be targets. Every one of these groups, every one of these names, Al Zawahiri, everybody knows that Zawahiri inherited Al-Qaeda from bin Laden. Ayman al-Zawahiri, he’s Egyptian. He’s been running Al-Qaeda for 14 years essentially, even before bin Laden was captured and killed.
To the extent that these guys are known because they become targets, fine and dandy, but I guarantee you, I think the American people are sick and tired of these names. They’re sick and tired of hearing about these names. They’re sick and tired of nothing being done about these names, if you ask me. I would go so far as to say that a majority of the American people want these names out of our lives. The American people want something done about this. We’re not fighting a War on Terror.
Yes, cheer Trump fans. Trump wasn’t ignorant, he was just channeling our disgust that we’re governed by a weak, decrepit establishment that made “The Looming Tower” possible in the first place. Did anyone on either side of this divide cross over to the other because of Trump’s answers last night? Anyone?