Prominent Republicans who have served in the national security arena – or share the nation-building worldview of George W. Bush — are saying they’d rather have Hillary Clinton as president than Donald Trump.
“I’m supporting Hillary, and the main reason I’m supporting her is that she is for American engagement in the world,” R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state during the George W. Bush administration told the Wall Street Journal.
Former CIA chief Michael Hayden echoed Mr. Burns’s thoughts on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Tuesday.
“After [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich, the one best prepared to handle my narrow lane in the road was Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Hayden said. “With Mr. Trump it’s very clear, I can’t create any parallax between the points of light that he throws out during his campaign stops - you know when all the lines come together and I can see what is the motivational impulse. I don’t see it, all I see are stray electrons and that makes someone like me very, very uncomfortable.”
It’s no surprise Mr. Trump is making the hawks squirm.
Mr. Trump has disavowed the war in Iraq, saying it destabilized the Middle East. During a debate in South Carolina, he stood by his comment in 2008 that Democrats should have impeached President Bush over the invasion – absolutely blasphemy in conservative circles.
In interviews given with both the New York Times and subsequent media outlets in the past week on his foreign policy views, Mr. Trump has said America is paying too much into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and not getting much in return. He’s questioned its value, and whether countries like Japan and South Korea shouldn’t be paying for U.S. nuclear protection – or developing it on their own.
No wonder why Mr. Hayden is uncomfortable – Mr. Trump threatens the traditional foreign policy worldview Republicans have held for decades.
But it may just reflect where the national mood is.
The U.S. does pay, as a percentage of GDP, the most into NATO of any other member country. Only five of the organizations 28 members will actually spend the 2 percent of GDP on defense that is a requirement of membership.
President Barack Obama rode into the White House in 2008 in part due to his opposition to the War in Iraq, and promise to reduce troop levels in the Middle East. Has Americans’ appetite for intervention, or nation-building grown since then?
It doesn’t seem so, given Mr. Trump’s popularity. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the lone hawk left in the Republican race, and he got trounced by Mr. Trump by double-digits in his home state, forcing him to drop out.
Then there’s the insurgence of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, who has been hitting Mrs. Clinton from the left about her vote for the Iraq War and support for the ouster of Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi – which left a power vacuum in the Middle East — when she served as Secretary of State.
Those may have been the right calls at the time – indeed people like Mr. Hayden and Mr. Burns seem to think so — but they’ve also given the American people a lot to think about, given the subsequent rise of ISIS and the toll the U.S. military has burdened – both monetarily and psychologically – from our engagement.
Mr. Trump has challenged Republicans’ foreign-policy world view, and instead of dismissing it outright – (and, what’s worse, advocating a vote for Mrs. Clinton) conservatives should be looking internally. They should weigh whether their past willingness to intervene abroad as translated into the returns they were seeking.
My bet is no.