Hoo boy. It's already been a rocky ride for Donald Trump in Wednesday night's GOP debate, and he just tossed another log on the fire — Donald Trump defended not knowing "Arab names," and those names just happened to include the leaders of Al Qaeda and ISIS. In other words, the tough-talking Trump didn't know who he's supposed to be talking tough against. Awkward, huh?
You may have heard about the little dust-up between Trump and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, when Hewitt challenged Trump to identify a slew of figures central to terrorism and militarism in the Middle East — General Qassem Suleimani of Iran, Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, and Abu Mohammad al-Julani of Al Nusra. Trump quite evidently didn't know the names, and fumbled through the interview, ultimately accusing Hewitt of asking him a "gotcha" question.
But on Wednesday night, when the topic came up again, Trump summarized the confusion in about as casually offensive a way as possible. Why didn't he know the names of, among others, the leaders of the two biggest terrorist organizations in the post-9/11 world? Because it was all just "Arab name, Arab name."
Hugh was giving me name after name. Arab name, Arab name. And there are few people anywhere who would have known them.
Beyond the inflammatory idea that knowing the names of five of America's major antagonist figures in the Middle East is forgivable because the names are too Arabic, Trump's insistence that very few people would know those names was more than a little rich — Hewitt himself was one of the questioners at the debate, and he sure as hell knew them all when he posed the question.
More to the point, though, it's a pretty jarring contrast. On the one hand, Trump is avowedly in favor of a strong military and an aggressive posture as far as foreign policy goes — he even described himself as "militaristic" during the debate, which isn't an adjective that politicians self-apply very often.
But on the other hand, Trump didn't even recognize the names of al-Zawahiri and al-Baghdadi, who are about as mainstream as it gets in terms of leaders of terrorist organizations. You might be able to hand-wave away not recognizing Nasrallah or al-Julani, even though someone running as a "militaristic" candidate definitely should know those names, but those two? It was a bad flub, and it was made no better by Trump's awkward explanation on Wednesday.