From the military we hear, “Trump has little interest in the details of policy. He makes up his mind about a thing, and those who disagree with him — even those with manifestly more knowledge and experience — are stupid, or slow, or crazy. As a personal quality, this can be trying; in a president, it is dangerous.” Worse, his laughable conviction that his intuition is always right, his willful ignorance and his contempt for a code of conduct that the military depends upon have led to disastrous results, including a near-military conflict with Iran, an order to abandon the Kurds and the normalization of Kim Jong Un.
Even worse, Trump’s motives are legitimately in question. On virtually every foreign policy move it is fair to ask: 1) Is Trump pursuing private financial interests?; 2) Is Trump doing Putin’s bidding?; 3) Is he politicizing national security to enhance his own image and reelection prospects?
Any Democrat who wants to replace Trump must be able to explain to voters what Trump is doing and how dangerous it is to allow him to continue as commander in chief. They must also provide reassurance that, unlike Trump, they have acquired some proficiency in foreign policy and will not hire pliant yes-men.
The next debate provides an excellent forum for Democrats to make the case that Trump is entirely unfit as a commander in chief, and that they are prepared to lead from Day One. Even if moderators do not bring up foreign policy, the best candidates will want to inject just enough foreign policy knowledge into the discussion to underscore voters’ impression that virtually any sentient being would be better able to defend America.
To get them started, they and their advisers should think through answers to questions like these:
Why or why not is it a good idea to leave Kurdish troops to fight on their own? What does a situation like this communicate to other allies and foes around the world?
What is wrong with asking foreign powers, especially authoritarian ones, for dirt on the president’s rivals. Is such conduct impeachable? Illegal?
How do you plan to exit Afghanistan without endangering our or our allies’ security? How do you evaluate the risk the Islamic State will reconstitute itself?
How would you go about restoring American prestige and influence in the world?
Name some of the secretaries of state and national security advisers you would use as models for selecting your own team.
For members of the Senate, when have you taken a foreign position at odds with your base? When have you successfully checked Trump’s foreign policy initiative?
How do you restore trust and confidence in the intelligence oversight process?
To what degree does successful soft power rely on the potential deployment of hard power? What does that portend for the defense budget under your administration?
How do you go about restoring ethics and competency to the State Department and National Security Agency? What consequences should there be for those who committed illegal or unethical acts at the behest of Trump administration officials?
What new laws, if any, do we need to prevent abuses and corruption in our foreign policy operations?