Donald Trump says he is his own main foreign and military policy adviser. He says he obtained the knowledge required for this position by watching “the shows.” He means televised news and talk shows in which experts discuss world affairs.
Trump may have a high regard for certain talking heads on the shows, but the talking heads appear not to have a high regard for Trump. That, at least, is what comes across in this Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung.
She reports that “significant numbers of former officials and retired military officers publicly declared they would never work for [Trump].” Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University and a former George W. Bush administration official, has spearheaded an anti-Trump petition that has been signed by 121 GOP national security experts.
Trump has cited two favorite experts from the shows: John Bolton and Col. Jack Jacobs. He has expressed admiration for Richard Haass, president of Council on Foreign Relations.
Bolton, who was for the invasion of Iraq which Trump claims he opposed, has said that Trump “wears [his foreign policy] on his baseball cap. It says, ‘Make America Great Again,’ what else do you need to know?” Bolton has also slammed Trump’s plan to ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S.
Col. Jacobs says he has never spoken with Trump about military policy. Haass says he briefed Trump, among other candidates, once last year, but doesn’t know him well enough to judge his foreign policy and national security chops.
According to DeYoung, Trump has put together a foreign policy advisory board consisting of eight members. One is George Papadopoulos, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University. DeYoung reports that Papadopoulos claims to have served for several years as a fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, but that this claim was refuted by David Tell, Hudson senior fellow and director of public affairs. Tell says the institute’s “records indicate that Mr. Papadopoulos started here as an unpaid intern in 2011 and subsequently provided some contractual research assistance to one of our senior fellows.”
There appear to be other problems with Papadopoulos’ resume. For example, he cites the delivery of a keynote address at the 2008 annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Conference, at which time he would have been a college junior. According to DeYoung, the conference agenda that year noted Papadopoulous’s participation on a youth panel with other students, and lists Michael Dukakis as the keynote speaker.
Papadopoulos also cites his attendance as “U.S. Representative at the 2012 Geneva International Model United Nations.” Two people who were part of the delegation that year, including the current secretary general of the program, say they have no recollection of him being there. In any event, participation at a model U.N. seems like a thin credential for a position advising a major presidential candidate on foreign policy.
Overall, Papadopoulos seems about as qualified to advise Trump on foreign policy as the members of his campaign staff are to advise him on how to win up-for-grabs delegates.
The other seven members of Trump’s board are better qualified, but none has the kind of experience in foreign policy I would have expected. Four are retired generals or admirals. The others are the controversial inspector general at the Defense Department from 2002 to 2005, the head of a New York based energy investment firm, and Walid Phares, a former political adviser to Lebanese militants during their war against Muslim factions in the 1980s.
Team Trump has a ready-made answer to criticism of his foreign and military policy team. Papadopoulos offered it in a non-responsive answer to an inquiry about his falsification of credentials. Trump, he explained, rejected the establishment figures who “devised failed policies” probably “at Starbucks on Pennsylvania Ave.”
But John Bolton helped devise the Iraq policy that Trump considers an immense failure. Moreover, establishment figures are the staple of “the shows.” If Trump rejects Republican establishment figures, perhaps he takes his inspiration from those on the Democratic side.
If Trump becomes the Republican nominee or if his nomination becomes inevitable, he will be able to obtain the services of more substantial figures than those helping him now. They will join his team out of opportunism, the belief that they can shape Trump’s views, or both.
Still, it’s hard to believe that Trump has come this far — all the way frontrunner status as the primary season heads into the back stretch — without having assembled an impressive foreign policy team. Hard to believe, that is, until he opens his mouth and starts discussing foreign policy.