Foreign Policy Analyst: Trump Doesn’t Flip Flop, He Plays Roulette

August 16, 2016

Robert Naiman says real foreign policy would call out Saudi Arabia for its role in the rise of ISIS and the devastating war on Yemen

Robert Naiman says real foreign policy would call out Saudi Arabia for its role in the rise of ISIS and the devastating war on Yemen



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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a major foreign policy speech on Monday, in which he outlined his proposal for how to tackle the problem of international terrorism and defeat ISIS. This is a little bit of what he said.

DONALD TRUMP: They too have much at stake in the outcome in Syria, and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism just as bad as ours. They have a big, big problem in Russia with ISIS. My administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS. International cooperation to cut off their funding, expanded intelligence-sharing, and cyberwarfare to [disrupt] and disable their propaganda and recruiting. Their recruiting is taking place right now, and they’re setting records. It’s got to be stopped.

NOOR: This comes a day after the New York Times had a major expose linking Trump’s campaign manager to $12 million in undisclosed cash payments from pro-Russian Ukrainian parties back from 2007-2012.

Well, to discuss all this we’re now joined by Robert Naiman. Robert is the foreign policy director of Just Foreign Policy. Thanks so much for joining us.

ROBERT NAIMAN: Good to be with you.

NOOR: So along with outlining his policy and how to fight ISIS, he discussed a range of issues, including slamming the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya, both under President Bush and Obama. And he said, you know, we should have kept Iraq’s oil. Give us your thoughts, give us your response.

NAIMAN: Well, the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya can never be slammed enough, even if we have to endure Trump being the person who did the slamming. Recall that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a blatant violation of international law, that the pretense of the invasion was weapons of mass destruction, which it turned out did not exist. And not only did they not exist, but the Bush administration refused to allow U.N. inspections of Iraq, which would have shown that they didn’t exist or that there was no evidence of [things]. Then the Bush administration wouldn’t allow that to play out.

The U.S. invasion of Libya in 2011 was a violation of U.S. laws, a violation of the Constitution, and the War Powers Resolution, because another never authorized by Congress, it has destroyed the country of Libya and made it another breeding ground for terrorism and destabilized the region with a flow of weapons out of Libya’s arsenals, arguably facilitated by the CIA.

So these are terrible things that deserve to be denounced, and for which U.S. foreign–bipartisan U.S. foreign policy—establishing it is responsible. But there is tremendous incoherence in Trump’s narrative. He says true, reasonable things, then in the next sentence he says things that contradict him.

So for example, he says, you know, we should cooperate with Russia. Well, that’s reasonable. The U.S. is already cooperating with Russia. There is a split in Washington in how much the U.S. should cooperate with Russia, but there isn’t any world in which the U.S. isn’t going to cooperate with Russia at all. He says, you know, we should be realist. We shouldn’t do democracy, blah blah blah. Well, you know, the democracy blah blah blah was always pretty fraudulent. There’s really been no time in U.S. history when the U.S. was actually promoting democracy. It’s the story the U.S. likes to tell. You know, are we promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia? When did that happen? Are we promoting democracy in Bahrain? When did that happen?

He says that, you know, we should judge countries by their cooperation with us against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. If that’s the standard, Iran should get a gold star. But he trashes it because, you know, Iran is like, the most anti-ISIS, most anti-Al-Qaeda country in the region.

NOOR: He also trashed–he also trashed the nuclear deal with Iran today.

NAIMAN: He trashed it, which is exactly the opposite. If you think that the thing that we should really focus on is cooperating with anybody who hates ISIS and Al-Qaeda, to defeat ISIS and Al-Qaeda, then you should love the Iran nuclear deal, because that was, you know, that removed this other issue from the table of Iran’s nuclear program to enable us to cooperate with Iran more. So you know, for example, the U.S. and Iran cooperated much more in Iraq since the Iran nuclear deal. Or look at Yemen. You know, it’s widely understood that the Saudi intervention in Yemen supported by the United States against the Houthis and the former Yemeni government has dramatically exacerbated the Al-Qaeda problem in Yemen. Why did the U.S. go along with that? Well, the Saudis asked.

And at the time the intervention started, the U.S. was most concerned about the Iran nuclear deal and the possibility that Israel and Saudi Arabia would screw it up. So the attitude in the Obama administration was give the Israelis and the Saudis whatever they want, so long as they don’t screw up the Iran nuclear deal. Oh, Saudi Arabia wants to invade Yemen. Fine, let’s help them. Let’s keep the Saudis happy.

So you see, this is a fundamental contradiction between the two things that Trump is saying.

NOOR: And Robert, speaking of contradictions, Trump had, you know, totally flip-flopped in his position on NATO, saying today that he would work with NATO to defeat ISIS, and he had previously said that he wants to leave NATO.

NAIMAN: Yeah. I mean, at this point to use the word flip-flop to describe Trump is arguably an insult to the word flip-flop, because in–you know, traditionally the word flip-flop describes someone who, you know, had position A, and now they have position B, as opposed to being kind of like, a merry-go-round roulette wheel of different incoherent statements.

Part of the story with NATO is that there’s an underlying thing that Trump is picking at which is true, which is that neither really is an organization that doesn’t have that much reason to exist. It supposedly was, you know, it was created supposedly to protect Europe from the Soviet Union after World War II. First of all, the Soviet Union no longer exists. Secondly, countries in NATO, like Germany and France, have grown tremendously since World War II. Presumably they could defend themselves.

How is NATO relevant? Well, it’s relevant to doing things outside of Europe that aren’t part of NATO’s mandate, like invading Libya. So is that great? Well, first of all, invading Libya wasn’t great. Second, it’s not part of the mandate. Third, when the, when it came down to it, Britain and France were the big boosters of the invasion of Libya. And the Obama administration, especially the Pentagon, was totally reluctant. They got the U.S. into it. And then the Brits and the French did hardly anything and the U.S. had to do practically everything.

It was President Obama’s Republican defense secretary Robert Gates who said, you know, the American people aren’t going to tolerate this forever, that the United States pays 80 percent of the budget of NATO. All these other countries in NATO that are doing relatively well, like France and Britain and Germany, you know, France cutting it, Britain was cutting its military budget, people are not going to tolerate that the U.S. bears such disproportionate share of the burden for this organization. Which, by the way, isn’t helping us that much, anyway.

NOOR: And Robert, I wanted to ask you, you know, this speech comes shortly after the New York Times report on Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manfort and his ties to the Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities. Received over $12 million for unspecified purposes. You know, Trump’s been a lot of pressure in the last few days. People have said he’s intentionally trying to sink his campaign. Do you–what do you think this speech represents? Do you think he’s listening to some more rational voices in his ear, telling him, you know, he needs to backtrack on things like trying to leave NATO? Or do you think this is just more of the same, in your final thoughts?

NAIMAN: Well, again, he’s tacked back and forth. And so, you know, I would be the last person to predict that he’s going to stick to one policy. Clearly the mainstream Republicans, for want of a better word, have some influence on him. What I would love, I would love, if he wants to challenge something, challenge the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Challenge the role of Saudi Arabia in promoting jihadism, and the role of Saudi Arabia in Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And challenge the Obama administration’s decision to continue arming Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. That is something that could really improve the world, if Trump would call that out.

Rand Paul’s called it out. Chris Murphy’s called it out. McGovern, Ted Lieu. So that is a [inaud.] that we could really have, and maybe that arms deal could be stopped in Congress in the next 30 days.

NOOR: All right. Well, Robert Naiman, Thanks so much for joining us.

NAIMAN: Good to be with you.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

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