Donald Trump’s performance in this week’s debate with Hillary Clinton has been widely panned by most political analysts. The criticisms of Trump range from sniffling too much to not attacking Hillary enough to not focusing on his own positive agenda and explaining exactly how he plans to “make America great again.” One offhand remark reveals much deeper problems with Trump as a potential commander-in-chief, yet most haven’t even considered the impact of what may be Trump’s worst mistake during the debate.
The moment came after moderator Lester Holt had asked Trump whether he supported America’s current policy on first use of nuclear weapons. After seeming to agree with the goal of total elimination of nuclear weapons and forswearing a first strike, Trump veered into uncharted territory:
At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.
And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal. Iran is one of their biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea.
And when they made that horrible deal with Iran, they should have included the fact that they do something with respect to North Korea. And they should have done something with respect to Yemen and all these other places. (Transcript from Washington Post)
Yes, you heard that right. Donald Trump actually seemed to call for a Chinese invasion of North Korea and then suggested that Iran could be used to help bring North Korea into line on nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump may not be aware of China’s expansionist actions in the South China Sea where China has been building military bases on small islands in international waters. Regardless, it is almost always a bad idea to let another country think that the United States is okay with them invading their neighbors. Both the Korean War and the Persian Gulf War were kindled by similar muddled statements by U.S. diplomats.
Next, Trump suggests that Iran could use their influence with North Korea to bring the hermit state into compliance with its international agreements. Mr. Trump’s famed deal making notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the two surviving members of the Axis of Evil could be turned against one another. In fact, there is reason to believe that the two rogue states are cooperating in their nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Given the hard bargain that Iran drove for President Obama, it is not realistic to think that they would restrain their partner-in-international-crime.
As Trump again criticizes President Obama’s Iran deal, he leaves out a detail crucial to voters. For all his railing against the nuclear deal, Donald Trump apparently has no plans to end it. Trump advisor Walid Phares said in The Hill in July that “he’s not going to get rid of an agreement that has the institutional signature of the United States.”
How serious was Trump’s North Korea gaffe? Max Boot wrote in USA Today “That he is saying something so outlandish before one of the biggest TV audiences in history suggests that he is not only ignorant but also — and even more worrying — uneducable.”
Boot also noted, “It’s hard to imagine that any aide suggested this talking point to Trump. He came up with it on his own. As he said back in March, when asked about his foreign policy advisers: ‘I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.’”
Trump has deflected concerns about his inexperience in government and foreign policy with claims that he knows how to hire the best people. At this point in his campaign, with a majority of the Republican Party behind him, Trump should have access to many of the best foreign policy minds in the conservative movement.
The problem is that hiring the best people is only half of the solution. The executive must be willing to listen to those experts and take their advice, even when the executive has “a very good brain.” Mr. Trump clearly has not been listening.