Speaking at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday night, Donald Trump indicated that, as president, he would attack Iran if their sailors made improper gestures toward the U.S. Navy. After promising to build more ships for the Navy, which has a base in Pensacola, Trump tossed in an aside referencing the recent run-ins that U.S. warships have had with Iranian attack boats in the Persian Gulf. During those encounters, small Iranian speedboats controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which opposes the country’s nuclear deal with the U.S., have harassed U.S. ships in ways the Navy has deemed “unsafe and unprofessional.” Said Trump, to the delight of the crowd, “When [the Iranians] circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”
Some news reports are framing Trump’s statement about Iran as a matter of him once again going off script and ad-libbing some ill-advised bluster on top of the supposedly softened speeches his campaign has prepared for him. That’s undoubtedly what he did in this case, and maybe it was just intended as some kind of macho nationalistic towel-snap to get a quick “U.S.A.” chant out of the crowd. But while it’s indeed worrisome, if not exactly news, that the apparent body-language expert is unable to follow plans, or scripts, or basic political norms — in this case Trump, a major-party’s presidential candidate, indicated that he would be willing to start an armed conflict with another country, not to defend America’s citizens, interests, or allies — but over injured pride. And even if it is just a joke, or something Trump is willing to say to get a buzz off of a specific crowd, there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t continue to offer such asides if elected.
As it happens, Trump also questioned Hillary Clinton’s mental health again on Friday, saying that he thinks she is “an unstable person” and “trigger-happy.”
Earlier in the day, Trump had addressed the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., and criticized Clinton for being “just too quick to intervene, invade, or to push for regime change with people we don’t even know who they are, they take over, and they’re far worse.”
That is an important and completely valid criticism of regime-change thinking, but even putting aside how Trump supported U.S.-instigated regime change in Iraq and Libya, and backed the U.S.-supported ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Trump’s attack on Clinton’s alleged quick trigger came just minutes after he had criticized President Obama for not supporting Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 following a disputed presidential election, which has long been seen by America’s hawks and neoconservatives as a missed opportunity for regime change in Iran. According to Trump, who apparently knows the Iranian political scene surprisingly well, “Obama didn’t support people that would have taken over, and I think in this case probably would have taken over the right way.”
(The Toronto Star sought clarification on the in-speech contradiction from the Trump campaign, but received none.)
So in one day, Donald Trump said that he both supported regime change and didn’t support regime change (even though he has always supported regime change), and then later suggested he’d go to war with one of the countries he is still willing to publicly support regime change in, just as soon as they literally give us the finger from a little boat?