On Wednesday, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump outlined his foreign policy “proposals” at a speech in Philadelphia. Right at the top was a real humdinger: “Immediately after taking office, I will ask my generals to present to me a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS.” As easy as ordering Domino’s.
In that single sentence, however, is a pandora’s box of questions. To start at the end and work out way back, what does “defeat and destroy” mean? Will America execute surrendering ISIS fighters in violation of the Geneva Convention? And what about the ideologies of ISIS… will the United States remain on the ground to ensure that those beliefs don’t persist?
What’s most impressive about Trump’s proposal is that it’s not even a proposal to act: it’s a proposal to ask for a plan. He’s like the used car salesman who tells you not to worry about the fact that the car you’re buying has no engine because he’s going to ask his mechanic to present a plan to put one in (but you’ll need to buy it first).
As with so many other components of policy, Trump expresses an inability (or perhaps just unwillingness) to grapple with the immense complexities of foreign military strategy. He reduces a new kind of military enemy to something that might exist on a RISK game board, and if he can amass a large enough plastic army, he can vanquish anyone he chooses.
But if the second half of the 20th Century taught us anything, it’s that having the bigger military doesn’t guarantee military victory. Any student of post-World War II conflicts will know that it’s easier to defeat a country than it is to defeat an ideology, and that’s what is lacking in his proposal to take down ISIS: how to engage with that part of the world.
The worst part of Trump’s non-plan “plan” is that it absolves him of any responsibility if (or more likely, when) it doesn’t work. Back in May of 2015, Trump told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that he had a “foolproof way” of defeating the Islamic State, coyly refusing to share it with the media. Now that he’s pushed the onus onto the generals to come up with this plan, many are sarcastically wondering if there ever was a secret “foolproof” plan to begin with.
Even though Trump has been on our radar for decades, we should treat him like the car salesman we just met who wants to become our best friend, and has a great car that we gotta look at, just one or two dings and missing a few parts but he’ll get it taken care of, no problem. Because Trump is like the Chevy Corvair: Unsafe at Any Speed.
Image: Bustle/Allison Gore