In what was supposed to be his major foreign policy address, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump outlined a murky plan to combat global terrorism, as he called for the extreme vetting of immigrants and otherwise encouraged the adoption of futile isolationism. Speaking to a partisan Youngstown (Ohio) audience, Trump proposed a new test to identify “Muslim extremist” ideology and liberally compared his perceived calamity to Communism that pitted two nuclear powers with the capacity to annihilate mankind. The presentation failed on every imaginable ground.
To be sure, while many doubted that the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States lacked inherent capabilities to assume office, few acknowledged the extent of his gullibility and ignorance. Relating a superpower confrontation to the mistaken behaviour of a few thousand comical wannabes seeking media attention is truly mind-boggling, even if economically disenfranchised audiences approve. Mercifully, and except for a few Machiavellian Republican politicians who are salivating at the prospect of Trump’s inevitable defeat to fill his leadership shoes, many others are beginning to distance themselves from the embarrassing candidate. Prominent syndicated columnist George Will was the first to turn the Trump page, but such thoughtful officials as Senator Susan Collins (Republican, from Maine), former secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff, and former CIA director Michael Hayden, have all stated that they could not and would not vote for Trump on November 8. Many others, including senators John McCain (Republican, from Arizona), Mark Kirk (Republican, from Illinois), Ben Sasse (Republican, from Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (Republican, from South Carolina) and Ted Cruz (Republican, from Texas) perceive Trump as a glorified amateur, even if his oratorical skills mesmerise voters in search of an ephemeral quest to “Make America great again”.
A few days ago, it was the venerable Wall Street Journal — whose editorial page defines conservatism and whose writers seldom shy away from systematically criticising Democrats — that urged Trump to withdraw. In what must be viewed as the ultimate affront, the New York-based American newspaper that is widely read by main-street investors across the United States, advised Trump to act “presidential” or step down from the race. In Youngstown, Trump illustrated why he cannot possibly be a serious candidate and why he was bound to lose in a landslide. What his delivery has confirmed is a lack of knowledge of international affairs, mixing everything up and skirting the laws that have made the US what it is. Of course, he criticised his rival, Hillary, when he asserted that she lacked the “mental and physical stamina” to fight Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and pledged to partner with countries that shared his goal of thwarting global terrorism, including Russia.
Yet, this is precisely what the administration of US President Barack Obama has been and is doing — which is what President Clinton will also do, though perhaps without the hoopla that Trump craves. Equally important, defeating terrorists is not a mere game, but requires two specific steps. First, democracies should never sacrifice freedom for security; and second, they should avoid playing into the hands of terrorists by embarking on internal or foreign witch-hunts.
Regrettably, Trump called for precisely such an inquisition when he proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US, which he repeated again on Monday when he avowed that he would “temporarily suspend immigration” from countries that have a history of “exporting terrorism”. His claim that Washington “admits 100,000 permanent immigrants from the Middle East and hundreds of thousands more temporary workers and visitors from the same region” was simply wrong.
In 2014, 1.3 million foreign-born individuals immigrated to the US, led by Indians (147,500), Chinese (131,800), Mexicans (130,000), Canadians (41,200) and Filipinos (40,500). Where Trump got his “100,000 permanent immigrants from the Middle East” figure is a mystery, especially when we know that the Immigration and Naturalisation Services include Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Israel, Sudan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Algeria on its list of “estimates of illegal alien population from the Middle East”. It did not matter whether his “hundreds of thousands more temporary workers and visitors” was an accurate declaration as challenged audience members lapped up his hyperbole.
Though entertaining, Trump excels at scapegoating and does so with relative pride. Fortunately, his show will end in about three months, even if the harm the Republican candidate is causing to America will take longer to heal.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the just-published From Alliance to Union: Challenges Facing Gulf Cooperation Council States in the Twenty-First Century (Sussex: 2016).