Donald Trump's foreign-affairs address Monday gives us the novel opportunity to analyze something that at least attempts to address policy and that also offers insight into his judgment as president and commander in chief. After all, this wasn't some off-the-cuff riff; this was a carefully drafted, presumably rational statement of how he would run the world.
So let's see what it tells us, shall we?
In the speech, Trump again condemns the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, for pulling our troops out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, the deadline set in a treaty negotiated and signed by President Bush.
"What a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out," Trump said Monday. "After we had made those hard-fought sacrifices and gains, we should never have made such a sudden withdrawal on a timetable advertised to our enemies."
Note those terms: "catastrophic ... reckless ... sudden withdrawal." The clear implication is that a President Trump would have shown better judgment, yet we know that to be false. We know that to be false because as far back as March 2007 -- more than four years before the "sudden withdrawal" that Trump now condemns -- Trump was emphatic about the necessity to leave Iraq immediately, right then, regardless of the consequences.
“You know how they get out? They get out,” he insisted on CNN. “That’s how they get out. Declare victory and leave, because I’ll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down." Cut and run, basically. More than four years before our departure, he was already advocating immediate cut and run. There we see his real judgment at work, operating in real time.
In the Monday speech, Trump also condemned Clinton for supporting military intervention into Libya on the side of rebels attempting to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi. Again, he implied that a President Trump would have known better. Again, we know that to be false beyond the shadow of a doubt.
We know that for a fact that because in 2011, Trump was publicly advocating not just air strikes in Libya but the use of U.S. ground troops to overthrow Gadhafi, arguing that it was "absolutely nuts" not to get involved. We know it because Trump brought his own camera people into his office so that he could stare into the lens and cast his pearls of wisdom before the waiting world:
Note the certainty of that statement, and the utter disdain with which he treats those who might disagree. Yet in the GOP primary debates back in February, Trump emphatically, angrily and with seeming sincerity flat-out denied making the statements that you see him making above. Instead, he claimed to have always argued that "We would be so much better off if Gadafi would be in charge right now."
No. He did not.
In fact, his position changed yet again four months later, in June, when he claimed that he would have supported removing Gadafi, but through "surgical" air strikes. With Monday's speech he has changed that position yet again. So as of Aug. 16, 2016, Trump has proposed four dramatically different Libya strategies, running the full gamut from doing absolutely nothing to inserting U.S. troops into the country and demanding at least half of its oil.
And on and on it goes. In his Monday speech, Trump also claims, once again, that "I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning – a major difference between me and my opponent." Once again, he was not. Once again, he is claiming credit for wisdom and political bravery that he does not possess. The earliest record of Trump coming out in opposition to the war dates from August 2004, almost a year and a half after the invasion, when disenchantment was already widespread.
There is, however, one important point on which Trump has remained consistent: War as a strategy for seizing and stealing oil. It is the one common theme that he returns to at every opportunity, and you can tell that he takes immense pride of authorship in it. He apparently believes it to be a great example of his foreign-policy prowess.
"I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq – another area where my judgment has been proven correct," as he said Monday. "I was saying this constantly and to whoever would listen: 'Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil,' I said – 'don’t let someone else get it'." We should "have left soldiers in place to guard our assets," he said, but sadly we did not.
Note that term: "Our assets." Ours. Ours by right of conquest. Because as he put it, "In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils."
That is wrong on so many levels that it's impossible to count, but let's focus on just two, the first practical and the second moral.
1.) Had Trump been running the world the last few years, we would have U.S. troops stationed today in both Libya and Iraq guarding "our assets," i.e., the oil that we had claimed as our own. Try to imagine the depths of the justified hostility that such a policy would engender, not just in the Arab world but across the planet. Try to imagine the annual casualty counts that our troops would incur trying to implement such a policy.
2.) Trump is bluntly advocating the use of military power to march into other countries and steal what does not belong to us. To put it equally bluntly in return, that is the behavior of a Nazi Germany, a Stalinist Russia, a Communist China. Is that who we have become, America? Have we fallen that far into the moral abyss? Is that the cause for which we ask our sons and daughters to risk their lives?
Look, we have never been the "shining city on the hill" that we sometimes like to pretend we are, but that lofty aspiration has nonetheless been essential. No country in the history of the planet could have handled the temptations of our immense military and economic power more responsibly than we have, and the reason for that success is our self-image as a people that at least tries to do right. We haven't been perfect, not by a long shot, but that idealism has kept us from devolving into a nation with the moral scruples of, say, a rapacious, power-mad real-estate developer whose only real interest is his own enrichment.
That's not who we are, America. Not yet. #NeverTrump.