With a foreign ally.

Photographer: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Trump's Foreign Policy Is All Over the Map

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Donald Trump's shortcomings on foreign policy extend way beyond his inability to name terror group leaders on a radio interview. The entirety of his utterances reveal a potential president who would reshape U.S. foreign policy into a mess of conflicting and often incoherent policies, and delegate the most important issues of national security to as-yet unnamed subordinates.

The press is jumping on Trump's admission to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday that he didn't know the names of the leaders of top terror groups and didn't seem to care about the differences between those groups.

"Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?" Hewitt asked.

"No, you know, I'll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they'll all be changed. They'll be all gone," Trump replied.

 Trump called these "gotcha" questions, and said he would learn about national security and foreign policy later on. Trump said he would eventually find someone like General Douglas MacArthur to handle national security. That's revealing, in as much as it shows that Trump doesn't think of himself as a strategist or even a deep thinker when it comes to foreign policy.

Hewitt didn't ask Trump if he would have fired MacArthur for pushing to bomb China during the Korean War, as President Harry Truman did in 1951. MacArthur is also the principal author of the constitution that Japan implemented after World War II, a document Trump has indirectly criticized for preventing Japan from fighting wars away from its shores. Trump lashed out at the U.S.-Japan alliance treaty, which was signed in 1951, during his stadium speech last month in Alabama.

"You know, we have an agreement with Japan where if somebody attacks Japan we have to come to their rescue. But if we get attacked Japan doesn't have to help us," he said. "Do you think that's a good deal?"

Trump's willingness to lash out at longstanding U.S. allies was also on display during the Hewitt interview. He criticized the security alliance with South Korea and lashed out at the U.S.-Saudi relationship, suggesting that if he were president, there might not be a rationale for helping the Saudis at all. "We get virtually nothing from Saudi Arabia," he said, just as Saudi King Salman arrived in Washington. "We're probably, very soon, if we allow our people to get going, we're probably not going to need them for the oil. So we don't need Saudi Arabia nearly to the extent that we needed them in the past."

Besides reworking or casting aside major U.S. security alliances that have been in place for decades, Trump also suggested he would, as president, dismantle the system of deterrence that currently underpins our strategy toward potential major adversaries. When asked by Hewitt what he would do if China sunk a Japanese ship, Trump said it was a secret. "You don't want to let people know what you're going to do with respect to certain things that happen. You don't want the other side to know," he said. "I don't want people to know my thinking."

That answer is Trump's go-to response whenever he seems to get into trouble answering foreign policy questions. He has said he doesn't want to telegraph his plan to defeat the Islamic State -- which he nonetheless described as "very beautiful" -- although at other times he has promised to surround its oil fields with American troops, or to bomb the fields and later send in Exxon to rebuild them.

On the Iran deal, Trump has appeared downright thoughtful, stating that he would not trash the agreement on day one, as some of his competitors have promised. His pledge to rigorously enforce the deal has won praise from even liberals, who have suggested that Trump, unconstrained by the Republican foreign policy dogma machine, may be adding a fresh perspective to the primary debates on international affairs.

More likely, the truth is that Trump has no defined worldview, does not understand how diplomacy or warfare works, and has no real plans to solve the world’s problems. Other Republican candidates similarly have little foreign policy experience, but at least they are trying to study up. When Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" asked who he consults on foreign policy, Trump replied that he watches "the shows."

Now that polls show he is soundly the Republican front-runner, the free pass he has been given on these issues may be finally ending. His stumbling on foreign policy questions, combined with his disdain for greater knowledge, are clear indications he is not up to the job as Leader of the Free World. It's 3 a.m. in Donald Trump's campaign, and he isn't ready to answer the call.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net