In that quest for understanding, which politicians of both parties should pursue, I recommend lingering over one particular moment from last night, when Trump returned to his frequent theme of elite foreign-policy failure, and produced a rather-eloquent monologue on America’s recent misadventures in the Middle East:
In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.Then, when Fiorina interrupted to first accuse him of echoing Obama and then went on a riff attacking Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, Trump responded:
We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.
It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.
Well, there’s nothing to respond to … the fact is Benghazi was a disaster because of Libya, everything just fell into place. It could not have been worse.This is not the kind of thing that Republican politicians can easily say, because after all the Iraq invasion was the last Republican administration’s signature idea. But it’s also not the kind of thing that Democratic politicians can easily say — and not only, as Matt Yglesias suggests, because they’re afraid of sounding unpatriotic. It’s also that much of the waste Trump is condemning happened on the watch of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: Disastrous as the invasion was, George W. Bush did hand on a mostly stabilized Iraq to his successor, and it was under Obama that our troops pulled out, under Obama that Syria went to hell, under Obama that ISIS took over the Sunni Triangle, and under Obama that Qaddafi was toppled and ISIS rushed into the Libyan vacuum.
What do we have now? We have nothing. We’ve spent $3 trillion and probably much more – I have no idea what we’ve spent. Thousands and thousands of lives, we have nothing. Wounded warriors all over the place who I love, we have nothing for it.
Of course one can dispute how much of this was actually Obama’s fault, and argue over what might have been done differently. But he has been the president during these multiplying disasters, which means that his would-be successor simply cannot go on the campaign trail and issue a sweeping indictment of the last twelve years of U.S. foreign policy; she has to reach back in time and keep blaming it all on Bush. Only Trump — the freest man in politics, the third-party candidate running inside the G.O.P. tent — can just say a plague on both your houses. And that line resonates because on the evidence of everything that’s happened under the last two presidents, a plague is what both houses eminently deserve.
Which, of course, tells us nothing about what the next president should do, and there Trump’s current ideas range from the absurd (“take all the oil”) to the monstrous (kill terrorists’ families). And over the course of the actual primaries, as opposed to these preliminaries, I persist in believing that most Republican voters will end up choosing between the genuinely-different foreign policy visions that Rubio and Cruz are offering rather than taking a flyer on Trump’s Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore approach.
But for now support for Trump on foreign policy isn’t an endorsement of his policy vision. It’s more of a cathartic howl against twelve years of failure, which neither political party can quite call by its deserved name.
And though I’ve called him a proto-fascist, I’m not immune to its appeal. What do we have now? We have nothing. Watching at home, that was only line in two hours of debating that made me want to stand up and applaud.