Donald Trump Is Often More Hawkish Than Washington Elites

His “America First” image is a fiction built on lies. Until this election, he was an interventionist who pressed two presidents for more regime changes.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

If you’re a voter who believes that Donald Trump is against foreign wars and regime change, unlike the globalist elites in Washington, D.C., you have been misled. The GOP candidate has undeniably savaged the Iraq War during this campaign. That is to his credit. In doing so, however, he has tried to cover up his record, giving off the false impression that he is an “America First” non-interventionist.To do so, he has lied repeatedly. And this has helped him to successfully obscure the many occasions when he was more hawkish than members of the Washington establishment, including Barack Obama, whom he denounces.

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Trump’s lies about the Iraq War are most complicated, so let’s tackle the smaller, more easily digestible lies first. They are very well documented. Think back to the GOP primaries.

Trump self-righteously savaged politicians who blithely urged regime change in Iraq and Libya, even though they didn’t know who or what would replace the two tyrants.

Watch him do it:

He explicitly denied favoring the invasion of Libya.

“We would be so much better off if Gaddafi were in charge right now,” Trump said. “If these politicians went to the beach and didn’t do a thing and we had Saddam Hussein and we had Qaddafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, at least they killed terrorists.” But as you can see at the end of the video above, Trump, who couldn’t remember ever talking about Qaddafi, had released a video in 2011 with the express purpose of pressuring Obama to invade Libya.

“We should go in and stop this guy which would be very easy and very quick,” Trump said, calling for war so cavalierly that later, he couldn’t even remember that he did it! He thought regime change would be “quick and easy” years after the Iraq invasion. He was much more hawkish than many career politicians in Congress.

That brings us to Iraq, and more documented Trump lies.

Here is how Trump described his own record on Iraq during a GOP primary debate:

I am the only person on this dais—the only person—that fought very, very hard against us, and I wasn’t a sitting politician going into Iraq, because I said going into Iraq—that was in 2003, you can check it out, check out—I’ll give you 25 different stories. In fact, a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it. I’m a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military. I’m the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq.

Trump did not fight “very, very hard” against the invasion of Iraq. There is no public record of him fighting at all. He fabricated those 25 stories he promised about him fighting hard. They do not exist. He could have fought hard. He could have denounced the impending invasion during the long run-up to it on any number of mass media platforms, where he was interviewed and quoted repeatedly during that period. Barack Obama certainly opposed the war in that fashion.

Instead, Trump went on Howard Stern’s show in 2002 and said he guessed he was for the war. Then in 2003, on Fox News, he said that perhaps President Bush “shouldn’t be doing it yet. And perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.” Any member of the public who cared what Donald Trump thought about invading Iraq, if there were any, would’ve surmised that he was a tepid war supporter who also favored letting the U.N. inspectors do their work before invading.

In fact, if they followed Trump closely, they would’ve known that in bygone years he had repeatedly declared that George H.W. Bush should have ousted Saddam Hussein.

As Andrew Kaczynski notes:

Donald Trump told Tony Snow in a Oct. 31, 1999 on Fox News Sunday about the first Gulf War: “No, I like the approach to the war, he did the right thing. He didn’t finish the war. I wish he’d finished the war.” In his book as well, Trump made the case Bush should have finished the job.

“We can learn something here from George Bush and see how good a president he was,” Trump wrote in his 2000 book The America We Deserve. “He wasn’t afraid to use American power when he figured out that Saddam Hussein posed a direct threat to American interests in the East. I only wish, however, that he had spent three more days and properly finished the job. It is this kind of will and determination to use our strength strategically that America needs again in dealing with the North Koreans.”

In that same book, Trump wrote that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and targeted Iraq strikes had little effect on their overall weapons development. Trump concluded it wouldn’t be crazy if we attack Iraq to “carry the mission to its conclusion.”

Does that sound like someone who fought very, very hard to stop the war in Iraq, and who was smarter than all the elites who thought getting rid of Hussein was a good idea?

It’s absurd.

And yes, that’s right, while calling for regime change in Iraq, Trump suggested that an invasion of North Korea would also be a good option. The man has hawkish instincts. He has repeatedly chosen to speak publicly to advance them. He only turned against the Iraq War of 2002 in a public way when it began to go bad.

Trump has not explicitly acknowledged any of his blatant lies.

Over time, however, he has tellingly shifted his story. He no longer says there are 25 articles documenting that he fought very, very hard against Iraq. Now he says that he told Sean Hannity he was against the war, and if we would only ask the Fox News host, who is also a Trump campaign adviser, Hannity would be happy to tell us.

Enter Robert Draper of the New York Times Magazine. After Trump said of his supposed Iraq War opposition, “a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it,” he did some reporting. “I recently reached out to Trump’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, for more details about this meeting,” Draper wrote. She didn’t provide any, but a high-ranking former Bush White House senior official told me categorically that no such meeting ever happened, and that no one from the administration was deputized to talk to Trump.” Why would they? There is only one man in America who says that he remembers Trump being anti-war!

And Draper talked to that man, too:

As it happens, I met with Hannity the week before in the office of his radio studio in Midtown Manhattan in the course of reporting a coming article. Hannity told me then what he reiterated in an interview with Trump immediately following the debate—that such conversations did, in fact, occur.

“He would watch the TV show and call me, and he and I would go at it over the Iraq war,” Hannity said. “I remember these conversations vividly. I remember saying to him, ‘I agree with you, take the oil! But this is why we need to go into Iraq.’ ”

Isn’t that … confusing?

What possible anti-invasion argument from Trump would prompt the response, “I agree with you, take the oil!” Wouldn’t the United States need to invade Iraq in order to “take” its oil? Circa 2002 Saddam Hussein did not seem inclined to give it to us. Also, did Sean Hannity just say he agrees that the U.S. should’ve taken Iraq’s oil? I thought he regarded “blood for oil” as a pernicious lie concocted by evil leftists.

Hannity’s story only gets fishier from there:

Hannity volunteered to me that he was relying solely on his memory: “I’ve had people go through the archives,” he said, “and unfortunately we’ve changed syndicators and stations and it’s hard to get ahold of.” I later asked a Fox News spokeswoman to confirm both the effort to locate such an audiotape and the implication that no digitized versions exist. She thanked me for my inquiry but would not provide additional information. But it’s curious that Hannity waited so long to share this memory, when for the past seven months skeptics have been pointing to the Sept. 11, 2002, Stern interview as proof that Trump has been revising history. The Fox News host has been among Trump’s foremost on-air boosters, and has also provided private strategic counsel to the campaign.

But ultimately, Hannity’s story doesn’t matter. Even if Trump confided to Hannity that he opposed the Iraq War in the brief window after going on Howard Stern and before the actual invasion, he would still be lying about fighting very hard against it; lying about the 25 articles; lying about the delegation; and obscuring his years of support for regime change in Iraq, including in a book he wrote, his simultaneous call for an invasion of Korea, and his 2011 support for invading Libya.

He spoke against the occupation in Afghanistan, urging that American forces get out, but only after much of the Washington establishment subscribed to the same position. Meanwhile, he kept contradicting himself about whether the war that he bombastically called a terrible mess had been a bad idea in the first place, eventually deciding it had been a good idea, and that the U.S. shouldn’t pull out after all.

Trump has even called for military strikes that hardly anyone knows about. Here he is in 2011 calling for yet another war, this one waged by the Navy against Somali pirates:

Notice how he talks about it, too. Give him one good admiral and he’ll get it done no problem, like his imagined invasion of Libya, nice and easy. He is dangerously naive.

That is the worst kind of interventionist.

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The image Trump has tried to create on foreign policy is a big, fat lie. He pretends to be deeply disgusted by his opponent’s philosophy, yet he went on Fox News near the end of her time as secretary of state to praise her work for the Obama administration:

Notice that for years, during the Obama administration, he praised the comparatively hawkish Hillary Clinton and denounced the less hawkish Barack Obama.

Trump’s instincts are hawkish, he has done much more to publicly urge military action than to restrain it, he says even now that he will ask U.S. generals how to defeat ISIS in 100 days and give them whatever they need—a recipe for a massive invasion of Syria—and he says we should take ISIS’s oil, which would require American boots on the ground. If his insecurity waxes or his poll numbers wane, it is not hard to imagine him starting a foreign war in hopes that Americans will rally around him.

Here he is with Bill O’Reilly during this election cycle, mouthing the same establishment positions as every Washington hawk: that he wants to protect Saudi Arabia and its interests, and that he would tear up the Iran deal and won’t rule out war there:

Hillary Clinton is far too hawkish for my taste. She also favored the invasions of Iraq and Libya in positions of actual responsibility. But she wants to keep the Iran deal and preserve NATO, an alliance that acts as a stabilizing, peace-enhancing force in the world. She has not called for seizing the oil fields of multiple foreign countries. If you were an innocent Muslim, who would you want calling the drone strikes? As a Martian betting on who would start a dumb nuclear war, where would you wager?

A vote for Donald Trump is not a vote against hawkishness. It is folly. He is inexperienced, he is ignorant, and his hawkish instincts are wrong. He wants to lead the party composed of legislators who still defend the Iraq War. His own record is significantly more hawkish than the median Democrat in Congress. And many times, he urged the establishment that he savages to go farther. Only his lies obscure this.