Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy speech in San Diego was mostly a very long attack on Donald Trump, with many citations of the statements he has made on foreign policy. Below is a guide to some of her key claims, along with the context in which Trump made them.
In most cases Clinton was on target, though in a few instances one could argue that Trump’s statements were not as clear as she suggested. Trump speaks so often – and often says so many contradictory things – that Clinton apparently has a wealth of material she can deploy during the campaign.
In terms of her own statements, Clinton was imprecise in referring to one of her accomplishments—the New START agreement with Russia. “That is how I can work with Russia to conclude the new START Treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles,” she said at one point. At another point, she said she “negotiated the reduction of nuclear weapons with Russia.”
The treaty– Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty—has the word “reduction” in the title. It essentially introduced counting rules for deployed nuclear weapons, which certainly declined as a result of the agreement. Reductions on deployments in theory allow stockpile reductions, since the stockpile is sized to support the deployed force, but that has not happened when looking at the combined U.S.-Russian stockpile of nuclear weapons. Using the phrase “nuclear stockpiles” is colloquial and imprecise because there is really only one nuclear stockpile.
Guide to key Trump statements
“This is a man who said that more countries should have nuclear weapons, including Saudi Arabia.”
This comes from an exchange during a CNN Town Hall on March 29. Trump first says yes to the Saudis having nuclear weapons, then says no and then says “it is going to happen anyway.” Trump’s actual position is unclear, but Clinton relied on his first comment.
ANDERSON COOPER: Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.
COOPER: You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.
Here’s the thing, with Japan, they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.
COOPER: So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?
TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen, anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely. But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them.
“This is someone who has threatened to abandon our allies in NATO, the countries that work with us to root out terrorists abroad before they strike us at home.”
Here, again, Trump’s point is confusing and inconsistent. In a March 30 town hall on MSNBC, Trump repeatedly suggested he will threaten NATO countries to bear a bigger burden, ultimately saying “If we have to walk, we have to walk.” (At an April 2 rally, Trump, however, also said: “Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.”)
CHRIS MATTHEWS: We don’t need NATO?
TRUMP: Do you think — no, we don’t really need NATO in its current form. NATO is obsolete, and we’re spending disproportionately…
MATTHEWS: How do you walk from NATO, The Middle East, North Asia, China, all these relationships? Just drop them all?
TRUMP: Look, NATO is…
MATTHEWS: We have old deals we have to stick with.
TRUMP: … is 68 years old.
TRUMP: OK, you have countries that are getting a free ride. You have countries that benefit from NATO much more than we do. We don’t benefit that much from NATO….Why aren’t they reimbursing us? Why aren’t they paying a good portion of the costs?
MATTHEWS: Well, that’s fine. It’s a good argument if you can get it. But if the alternative is we walk…
TRUMP: And we’ll get it, I’ll get it, I’ll get it. I’m the messenger.
MATTHEWS: If the alternative is we walk…
TRUMP: If we have to walk, we have to walk.
“He believes we can treat the U.S. economy like one of his casinos and default on our debts to the rest of the world, which would cause an economic catastrophe far worse than anything we experienced in 2008.”
This claim came from an interview Trump gave to CNBC, in which he said he might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept less than full payment, which is in effect a default: “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal. And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can’t lose.”
Trump later said the media had misrepresented his comments and that he had no plans to default on the debt. “You never have to default because you print the money. I hate to tell you. So there’s never a default,” Trump asserted. (However, printing more money to cover government debt can lead to higher inflation.)
So, here, Clinton is relying on the first interpretation of Trump’s remarks.
“He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture.”
Trump said this during an appearance in Bluffton, S.C. on Feb. 17: “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works… Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough, ok?”
“He says he doesn’t have to listen to our generals or our admirals, our ambassadors, and other high officials, because he has quote, ‘a very good brain.’”
Trump, in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” was asked who his top consultant was and he responded this way: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things…my primary consultant is myself.” As evidence, he claimed he had predicted the rise of Osama bin Laden, a statement for which he had previously earned Four Pinocchios.
“He says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.”
This was an actual tweet from 2012:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
More recently, Trump has tried to claim that this tweet was a joke. But he has also called climate change “a hoax” and said he didn’t believe in it. He has also continued to insist efforts to stem climate change are done for the benefit of China.
“He has the gall to say that prisoners of war like John McCain aren’t heroes.”
This caused a stir last July, when some reporters wrongly thought it would be the end of Trump’s nascent campaign. “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured, ok? I hate to tell you,” Trump told the Family Leadership Summit. (Trump later tried to take back his comment and said that he thought McCain was a hero.)
“He praises dictators like Vladimir Putin and picks fights with our friends, including the British prime minister, the mayor of London, the German chancellor, the president of Mexico, and the Pope.”
This represents a series of statements, often in response to criticism made by foreign leaders of Trump. Clinton carefully says Trump “picks fights,” since not all of the comments are critical of the leaders.
- Trump has certainly compared Obama unfavorably to Russian President Putin: “I will tell you, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”
- Trump said of British Prime Minister David Cameron, after he faulted Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims: “It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship, who knows?”
- Trump responded to similar criticism by London mayor Sadiq Khan this way: “I think they’re very rude statements and frankly, tell him, I will remember those statements. They’re very nasty statements.”
- Trump was highly critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing Muslim refugees into the country: “Everyone thought she was a really great leader and now she’s turned out to be this catastrophic leader. And she’ll be out if they don’t have a revolution.”
- After Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said that Trump was using the same kind of language that ushered in Hitler and Mussolini, Trump told ABC’s “Good Morning America:” “I don’t know about the Hitler comparison [President Nieto made]. I hadn’t heard that, but it’s a terrible comparison. I’m not happy about that certainly. I don’t want that comparison, but we have to be strong and we have to be vigilant.”
- Trump also faulted Pope Francis for planning to visit the Mexican border to pray with migrants: “I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.”
“He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.”
Trump said this in an interview with Fox News: “I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event. An incredible success.” In context, Trump referenced the Miss Universe context to suggest he could work well with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Clinton broadened that to “foreign policy.”
“He called our military a disaster.”
Trump did use this language– “Our military is a disaster,” he said during a GOP debate–but this was during a discussion of reductions in military spending. Clinton, however, framed this as part of pattern of saying the United States is weak, which is not quite the correct context.
“It’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons.”
Clinton carefully says “suggests” because, again, Trump’s point was not especially clear and he contradicted himself. Here’s how The New York Times wrote up his statement:
At his second event, he returned to the question of a nuclear Japan, arguing both sides of the issue in almost the same sentence.
“I would rather have them not arm, but I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money,” Mr. Trump said. “And frankly, the case could be made, that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They’d probably wipe them out pretty quick.”
“He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed ‘strength.'”
Clinton goes deep in the archives for this comment on the 1989 massacre, made during a 1990 interview with Playboy: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world.”
“He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea – something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie.”
Clinton here retooled her language on this Trump quote after getting Two Pinocchios last week. She had previously said Trump “praised” the North Korean leader, but now she just lets Trump’s words speak for themselves:
“If you look at North Korea — this guy, he’s like a maniac, okay? And you have to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden — you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.”
With words such as “incredible,” Clinton’s use of the word “gleefully” probably can be justified.
“He actually said – quote – ‘maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.’ That’s right – let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East.”
This is from one of Trump’s interviews after he announced for president in June. In context, he appears to saying that ISIS could be defeated after they have been weakened through fighting, not that they should gain control of Syria.
Trump told Fox News: “Syria’s supposed to be our enemy. Iran and Russia are protecting Syria and it’s sort of amazing that we’re in there fighting ISIS in Syria so we’re helping the head of Syria who is not supposed to be our friend although he looks a lot better than some of our so-called friends. It’s really rather amazing, maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS, let them fight and then you pick up the remnants.”
“He bought full-page ads in newspapers across the country back in 1987, when Reagan was president, saying that America lacked a backbone and the world was – you guessed it – laughing at us.”
The Fix counted 100 plus times that Trump has said the United States was a laughingstock. In the fall of 1987, Trump took out full-page advertisements in The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Boston Globe to argue that the United States should charge Japan for help protecting its oil tankers passing through the Persian Gulf. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help,” Trump wrote at the time.
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