Weekend attacks in Minnesota, New York and New Jersey exposed yet another flaw in presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose policy approach to terrorism has yet to go much deeper than, “We’ll knock the hell out of them.”
Trump first spent some time congratulating himself for having called the New York explosion a bomb before investigators had confirmed it to be one. Speculation in the aftermath of an attack, especially the kind that prompts panic and backlash, is nothing to be proud of. Any ignoramus can do the same, but it’s particularly unsettling when it comes from what could be the next president.
Other aspects of Trump’s approach are just as disturbing. He has called for profiling, which would bring every brown-skinned, bearded or hijab-wearing person under suspicion while possibly allowing those who don’t “look” Muslim to escape attention.
Instead of offering a calm voice and steady hand expected from leaders in times of crisis, Trump on Sunday night tweeted “Time to change the playbook!” But to what, exactly? We don’t know, because Trump’s stock-in-trade is unpredictability. He doesn’t believe in telegraphing his moves to opponents or enemies. But that leaves voters in the dark as well.
After the Brussels attack, Trump said he would not take a nuclear strike out of consideration because, “I want them to think maybe we will use it.” While other leaders took pains to keep their language neutral, Trump remained oblivious to panic and the backlash it can provoke, openly predicting more attacks because, “This country’s weak.”
That’s another lie that goes against years of effort by this country and others around the world to stamp out terrorism. Was it weakness that took out Osama bin Laden? Does Trump imagine, in his hubris, that he is the first to call for stronger action? In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry began assembling a coalition of nations that grew to dozens, all committed to the specific goal of “defeating the ideology, the funding, the recruitment” of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Since then there have been tens of thousands of airstrikes, drone deployments and ground action.
Strong alliances meant the United States was able to use air bases in southern Turkey for airstrikes while that country’s army shelled ISIL outposts in Syria. Sustained action on multiple fronts by coalition members has resulted in ISIL losing significant territory and revenue, its dreams of a sprawling caliphate in near ruins. Even now, Iraqi forces are preparing to liberate Mosul, its second largest city, from two years of ISIL control.
Trump doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea of the work, discipline and diplomacy that have gone into the efforts around the globe against ISIL. Has it all gone according to plan? No, but find the war that ever did. His shallow grasp of facts in the wake of the attacks should be alarming to Americans. While others look for facts, Trump has already blamed the attacks on “our extremely open immigration system,” even though Ahmad Khan Rahami was a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan who had lived here for years before setting off homemade bombs in New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile his son and confidant, Donald Trump Jr., was helpfully comparing refugees to poisoned Skittles.
Hillary Clinton has called for more airstrikes in Syria, the creation of a no-fly zone, better intelligence, better coordination with the tech industry to monitor social media and other elements that continue the grueling, incremental work of battling an enemy that bedeviled the West and Middle East for decades in one form or another.
The hard, unwelcome reality voters must deal with is this: There is no swift, bloodless, surefire plan for defeating terrorism, and Americans should beware those who claim to have one hidden up their sleeve — just out of sight.