Wednesday, March 23, 2016


David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times look at today's headlines and suggest that some of Donald Trump's foreign policy posturing comes off as highly illogical under the circumstances, particularly for a guy who's trying to seem tough:
Ten hours before terrorists struck Brussels, Donald J. Trump was on television describing his strategy for confronting the Islamic State: He would pound it with airstrikes, but any ground action must be taken by the United States’ partners in the region. He did not mention, if he knew, that this was a pretty close approximation of President Obama’s approach.

But then Mr. Trump went further, saying that the American contribution to NATO -- whose headquarters is in Brussels, smack between the airport and the subway station bombed by the Islamic State on Tuesday -- should be scaled back.

It was a surprising signal to Europe at a moment when it is under attack, and a vivid reminder of the risks of running for president in an age of terrorism: What sounds reasonably cautious in the evening can ring weak or strategically incoherent by morning.
I'm mocking this because Sanger and Haberman suggest that voters will seriously weigh all of Trump's proposals, and do so logically. The writers point out contradictions and climbdowns in what Trump says, as if voters will care.
[Trump] often promises to “knock the hell out of ISIS,” and in a debate on March 10, he answered a hypothetical question about whether he would heed the advice of generals, if they recommended deploying 20,000 to 30,000 ground troops to Syria, by saying, “I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”

But on Monday, Mr. Trump suggested that he would reject any call to use ground troops, and appeared to suggest that he thought that American engagement could be effective even if it were limited to airstrikes -- a view not held at the Pentagon.

“I’d get people from that part of the world to put up the troops, and I’d certainly give them air power and air support and some military support,” Mr. Trump said on CNN. “But I would never, ever put up 20,000 or 30,000.”
Do you know what voters will remember from all of that? They'll remember "knock the hell out of ISIS." That's it. They won't remember what Trump said one day about ground troops and what he said on a later date that contradicted his pronouncement on an earlier date.

They're also unlikely to notice that Hillary Clinton's proposals, assessed analytically, are often more hawkish than Trump's, because when an opportunity arises to appeal to voters' reptile brains, Trump does it and Clinton doesn't:
Indeed, within hours of seeing images of the carnage in Belgium, Mr. Trump renewed his calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and for legalized torture to extract information from an Islamic State operative captured last week in Brussels....

Hillary Clinton, while positioned at the hawkish end of the Democratic race, sounded mild compared with the Republicans scrambling to say how they would interrogate Muslims or separate them from the rest of the population.

A former secretary of state portraying herself as the steadiest, most experienced candidate to lead the United States and the world, Mrs. Clinton is promising continuity with the Obama administration. So she argued for doing more of what it is already doing: standing “in solidarity with our European allies,” tightening the visa and passenger-list systems, and making sure, along the way, to remember that “torture is not effective.”
Trump's calls for torture and sealed borders are so visceral that voters will always assume he's more of tough guy than Clinton, even if, on some issues, she's more of a hawk. She's going to have to beat him by portraying him as a clown or a loose cannon, not by portraying him as weaker and more dovish. Maybe she can run ads showing him calling for ground troops and then denying he called for ground troops; those ads should be backed by the circus music routinely used to portray an opposing candidate as a buffoon. Some voters will respond to that. But voters will always think Trump is more bellicose than Clinton is, because Trump hits hot buttons. He'll have to be portrayed as unstable. You'll get nowhere trying to portray him as a threat to the West's resolve, or as weak.


AllieG said...

I believe that Trump is unstable is indeed the message Clinton has begun to communicate.

Charon04 said...

Trump is not exactly a lock for the nomination, though. Some of his supposedly "pledged" delegates are not really secure, legally or de facto. (Cruz is going after "his" Georgia delegates, for example, Ron Paul style.) And, we will have a better picture after Wisconsin.

Unknown said...

Let history note that when asked whether Salah Abdeslam should be tortured for information about the Brussels attack, Hillary Clinton said no because torture is "not effective". Not because it's illegal. Not because it's immoral. Just that, very regrettably, we couldn't be sure that what he said between his screams of torment would be reliable.

So presumably when someone in the first country Hillary chooses to bomb captures an American soldier and has a different opinion about the "effectiveness" of torture, she'll have no argument to make as the waterboard is set up.

Charming choice of candidate you've got there.

Tom Hilton said...

Yeah, I think 'unstable' is the way they're going after Trump.

But I also agree with Greg Sargent that Trump's lizard-brain appeal is really limited to Republicans, and won't play at all well in the general.

Steve M. said...

Therefore what, Unknown? In November, we should withhold a vote from the candidate who's ruled out torture because she hasn't ruled out torture sufficiently for our tastes, when the only candidate who can beat her is a gleeful torture enthusiast? And that fights torture how exactly?

Ten Bears said...

Benefit of the doubt (as you know, I do that when appropriate): she's right. Torture is ineffective, inefficient, illogical and puts our assets in the field at further risk.

Steve, Tom, you are right as well.

retiredeng said...

The far right voters in this country (much like our pet dogs and cats) hear only trigger words.

"blah, blah, blah, terrorists, blah, blah, blah, torture, blah, blah, blah, Muslims, blah, blah, blah, Obama, etc.

Tom239 said...

And some don't even hear the words. They just notice the tone of voice.

Feud Turgidson said...

Unk, nothing personal intended here, but IMO your COMMENT is full of crap.

AOT in my life, I've been a long term death penalty opponent. I've read a lot - way back to Jeremy Bentham days - and I've written a lot, and I've SPOKEN a lot to groups about the various and sundre reason why the death penalty can't, doesn't, shouldn't and never will work the way some or even most folks, folks who don't focus on (or obsess over) as I do.

And I have reasons. I have many, many reasons: file folders of reasons, cabinets of reasons, books of reason, shelves of reasons, libraries of reasons.

But I learned very early on in this that I just can't expect to haul a bunch of Reasons to a lecture or talk or forum and panel and expect that the crowd will see them all clattering behind me and say, as a group, Wow, look at all the REASONS that dude has: the pro capital punishment side is bound to just fold!

Which they do approximately never.

I could go on - for longer than you'd like, according to what my lengthy anecdotal experience and the odds tell me (Some like me to just keeping on trucking thru my library of reasons ... they're rare.).

So, what I've learned to do, what I've struck on, is to keep it fresh and snappy and effective, stick to a few mutually complementary reasons, or even pound home one. One in particular I've found a lot of apparent success doing, with a certain type of crowd, is the Cost Analysis approach: how the costs associated with running a capital case thru to execution absolutely dwarf those associated with just warehousing even the worse perp of the most monstrous outrages on flesh conceivable.

And EVEN THEN, so folks don't listen thru to the end where I tell them this is just one of LEGIONS of reasons I have, including those extending to morality. They appear to just think, Hey, that's what he CHOSE to raise, so that must be ALL he's concerned with.

Your comment on HRC's public statement on torture makes me think you may well be one of those simpletons. I'm not saying you ARE a simpleton: after all, you were able to turn on your PC and get to this website and write superficially organized sentences and push "SEND". But hey: it's the only thing I have to go on, and you don't come off all that well on it.
Not for one moment or in any way am I in inclined to conclude that HRC, with her resume and her history of great causes, and multi-decades of dedication to taking on difficult jobs and seeing things thru, somehow been 'captured' by that one objection she chose to speak to, among the myriad she had available.

Oh, and it also occurs to me you could be just an ugly warty smelly troll. I'm not saying you ARE that: just that your chosen avatar name is completely lights out, and the off the only evidence I have to go on, there's a hint of horsshit fried over easy on brimstone wafting thru the air.

Unknown said...

It's not November yet, Steve. And there's someone else who can beat Trump - with the bonus that he's not shamelessly supporting Israel's criminality, so you don't have to spend time coming up with excuses for it.

Steve M. said...

Sanders can beat Trump. But can he beat Clinton?

Unknown said...

It sure doesn't look that way, Steve. Though with the DNC and apologist bloggers running interference for Hillary, it says something that Sanders has gotten as far as he has.

Yes, Democratic voters wanted Hillary and soon they shall have her. Whether they will pleased with what they got - especially when she lurches right for the general election, any time now - remains to be seen.