I bring this up because Ross Douthat informed me Tuesday that, after a boatload of failed promises, Trump now promises anew that his foreign policy advisory team will be rolled out sometime this month. For reals:
Donald Trump, after dragging his feet for months, said on Tuesday he’s finally ready to reveal his foreign policy advisers, and that a list will be released in “about two weeks.”“It just wouldn’t be appropriate,” Trump responded after host Martha MacCallum asked why he couldn’t release the names right now. “I think I know more about foreign policy than anybody running,” Trump added.
Trump also told MacCallum, “I think my [foreign policy] ideas are better than anybody that’s running.” That said, the list of names associated with Trump is both paltry and dubious. He’s going to need a bigger boat of advisers.
Now when I talked about this very question with Heather Hurlburt last month on Bloggingheads, she argued that foreign policy people probably would agree to consult with Trump, because that’s what foreign policy experts do: They consult with front-runners. And she may very well be right. And the New Republic’s Jeet Heer suggested something similar Tuesday night on Twitter:
As I move from denial to anger about the prospect of Trump as a serious contender for the GOP nomination, I’m increasingly doubtful about whether Hurlburt and Heer are accurate. As Vox’s Ezra Klein noted in his cri de coeur, Trump essentially espouses a zero-sum view of world politics and the global economy. And all trolling aside, that’s not how the world works. If Trump thinks it is deep in his bones, however, then what’s the point of advising him? Would any group of outside experts be able to convince Trump that his signature “idea” is blinkered beyond comprehension?
Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote an interesting essay in Middle East Law and Governance about what Syria experts should do when it’s obvious that the current administration does not share their assumptions that indirectly touches on this quandry. In essence, he notes that there are inside and outside paths. The inside path is all about having a direct “policy impact” on the policymaker. But if the people in power do not share one’s basic assumptions, then the outside path — op-eds, essays, media appearances — might be the proper course of action:
Because there are so many different paths to influencing policy and so much uncertainty over the exact nature of that influence (to say nothing of lag time effects), policy researchers shouldn’t necessarily make policy impact into an all-consuming objective. In this respect, influencing policy is a bit like love: you hope it happens, but you also don’t want to try too hard. We should write with a mind to helping shape, broaden, and enrich a public conversation (in the implicit hope that, over time, innovative outside-the-box ideas – assuming they’re good – will be recognized by someone, somewhere in government and at the right time).
This applies to campaigns as well, especially if we are talking about a candidate with a fixed and frozen worldview (see Jonathan Chait for a contrary take on Trump’s positions). The ethical thing to do in this situation is to continue to point out in public why Donald Trump is wrong about most of what he says in world politics.
Maybe foreign policy intellectuals with actual aspirations for power will think otherwise. But Klein brings something up in his essay that’s worth repeating:
It’s easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they’re exposed as liars, when they’re seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.Trump doesn’t. He has the reality television star’s ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won’t, to say what others can’t, to do what others wouldn’t.
Klein is correct about Trump — but foreign policy professionals do feel shame, and I wonder whether this will pose something of a internal constraint on them to bandwagon with Trump.
Between trying to change Trump’s mind in private and writing about his idiot ideas in public, the latter seems like the better and more ethical option to me. If Trump wins South Carolina, we’ll see how the rest of the foreign policy community feels about that premise.