Donald Trump has said throughout this election that the U.S. shouldn’t have gone into Iraq in 2003, shouldn’t have intervened in Libya’s civil war in 2011, and said we shouldn’t be helping Syrian rebels or trying to topple that country’s dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Trump has consistently said these types of interventions have only helped extremists like ISIS and ultimately hurt U.S. security.
So who disagrees with this view? George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and most of the Washington elite. Why do so many political elites support foreign policy decisions that so many others—including majorities of Americans—now consider colossal mistakes?
Ron Paul asked the same question of Republicans in 2008 when he ran for president, and quizzed both parties again in 2012. Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders have challenged the foreign policy status quo of regime change and nation building in this election.
Now the presumptive Republican nominee is directly challenging our current foreign policy orthodoxy.
This is long overdue. I love it. Significantly changing our foreign policy has easily been my primary issue for the last decade and a half.
So why don’t I support Donald Trump?
Because of everything else.
Trump actually didn’t always oppose the Iraq War. So what? I’m no purist. How Trump views that debacle now is far more important. Trump didn’t always oppose the 2011 Libya intervention either. No big deal. His position today is key. I want leaders willing to learn from mistakes (Hillary Clinton’s astounding and frightening inability to learn a damn thing alone makes her unworthy of the presidency.)
But what about Trump’s suggestion that we should go to war with countries to take their oil? How is that really different from what we’ve done in Iraq and Libya? Is it not just Trump’s own version of mistakes we’ve made in Iraq and Libya?
Is Trump’s idea of “bombing the sh*t” out of ISIS really practical? Isn’t part of the problem now that high levels of civilian casualties in U.S. strikes have ended up radicalizing more people than we kill?
What is Trump’s answer? Take out terrorist’s entire families. Seriously. That’s certainly not Ron Paul-style non-interventionism or even Nixonian-Kissinger foreign policy realism—that’s gangsta. It’s the kind of guilty-by-blood insanity that reckless uber-hawks like Republican Senator Tom Cotton have suggested in the past.
Like Cotton, Trump has said that perhaps the U.S. should strike Iran. Really? It would be wise to start a war with a country three times the size of Iraq that has a large pro-American population? Why was Iraq a mistake, again? Trump has also said he would negotiate with Iran to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons. That’s good.
But Trump hasn’t ruled out using nukes himself in Europe. A man running for president of the United States actually said this. Some of his supporters even admire that Trump would have the “guts” to use nukes. Trump’s spokesperson has even asked what’s the point in having nuclear weapons if you wouldn’t use them?
Ronald Reagan sought to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Trump brandishes them.
As much as Trump is a much needed breath of fresh air when it comes to the foreign policy debate in the U.S., he demonstrates time and again that his judgment, if president, might not be any better than the other options (and that’s putting it mildly).
Every shrewd criticism Trump mouths is accompanied by an avalanche of horrible, undesirable and morally indefensible positions.
Trump says our foreign policy is a disaster. Good. He also says we should execute Edward Snowden. Trump fervently believes in using torture. He thinks we should ban all Muslims from the U.S. He’s wrestled with the idea of internment camps. He thinks Gitmo is too empty. He even wants Rudy Giuliani—Bush-era neoconservatives’ darling in the 2008 presidential election—to take the lead in counter-terrorism efforts.
Libertarians and pro-liberty conservatives need not march in lockstep on every issue. But most of us do share a preference for accepting the risks associated with a free society against the authoritarian impulse to reduce freedom in the name of an unattainable total security. Since 9/11, defending liberty in the U.S. has become an even more crucial, though often difficult, task.
On the libertarian vs. authoritarianism scale, it’s become clear Mr. Trump prefers security to liberty at almost every turn.
So even if Trump is saying some things I like—that I really like—how do I ignore all the rest?
And I won’t be voting for a Republican or Democrat for president in 2016.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.