Hillary Clinton’s argument for why she would make a better commander-in-chief than her Republican opponent is fairly simple: She is not an emotionally erratic ignoramus who has praised the Tiananmen Square crackdown, refused to issue any plan for combating ISIS, and called on the American military to kill more civilians. On the other hand, she was in the room when President Obama ordered the hit on Bin Laden. And she did a bunch of other great things as Secretary of State. (You’ve forgotten about that Libya intervention by now, haven’t you?)
The likely Democratic nominee laid out this case in exacting detail in San Diego on Thursday. Her campaign had billed the speech as an attempt to paint Donald Trump as “unfit for the presidency.” This is not a terribly difficult task, but she accomplished it with aplomb — deploying the old rhetorical trick of reciting all the insane, mutually exclusive proposals her opponent had improvised over the course of a 12-month campaign.
“He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists — even though those are war crimes,” Clinton accurately observed. “He says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, and he has the gall to say that prisoners of war like John McCain aren’t heroes.”
Clinton went on to note that, while Trump has promised to not reveal his plan for defeating ISIS — as that would cost our military the advantage of “unpredictability” — he has nonetheless suggested that recognizing ISIS as the legitimate government of Syria and waging nuclear war against the extremist group are both options he would consider.
He’s actually said — and I quote — “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.” Oh, okay — let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East. Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS.
He also refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties.
It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. So we can’t be certain which of these things he would do. But we can be certain that he’s capable of doing any or all of them. Letting ISIS run wild. Launching a nuclear attack. Starting a ground war. These are all distinct possibilities with Donald Trump in charge.
Clinton also noted Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, his suggestion that America renegotiate its debt, and his support for Japanese nuclear proliferation. That last bit even strikes Donald Trump as irresponsible. At a rally in Sacramento on Thursday, Trump said of Clinton’s speech, “it was such lies about my foreign policy, that they said I want Japan to get nuclear weapons. Give me a break.”
But Trump did voice explicit support for a nuclear Japan just last month. A fact that the best chyron writer at CNN helpfully noted.
Clinton’s overall assessment of Trump’s foreign policy doctrine made for her speech’s best line:
Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas — just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.
Stating the truth about Trump, in concise English sentences, appears to be a winning strategy. Clinton combined these matter-of-fact indictments with some good old-fashioned American jingoism — arguing that Trump sees America as too weak to maintain its global footprint.
“He believes America is weak. An embarrassment. He called our military a disaster,” Clinton said. “If America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum. And that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety — and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.”
Unlike Trump, Clinton thinks America is already great — so great it has an obligation to dictate the terms of geopolitics. Whatever else might be said about it, branding yourself as the candidate of optimism and military dominance has been a pretty safe bet in American politics. And she even managed to cast the Republican nominee as a tool of the Kremlin!
Clinton’s one major misstep was failing to rebut Trump’s critiques of her foreign policy record. The word Libya does not appear once in the text of her remarks. (Neither does the phrase “Iraq War.”) The fact that Clinton didn’t even bother to defend the military intervention she fervently backed while Secretary of State suggests that Trump’s argument against her foreign policy is quite a bit stronger than the case for his own. But in the land of flawed presidential nominees, the woman with an informed, coherent worldview is queen. Hopefully.