The new issue of Politico Magazine features an essay by the former John F. and Robert Kennedy speechwriter Adam Walinsky about why he’s planning to vote for Donald Trump. Trump, Walinsky argues, will follow in the Kennedys’ anti-war tradition by working with Russia to utterly destroy ISIS. Make sense? Actually, no. Not at all.
Start with Walinsky’s claim that his heroes, “John and Robert Kennedy devoted their greatest commitments and energies to the prevention of war” and “required that great power be used with great precision and restraint and with humility.” Really? Is Walinsky referring to the same John F. Kennedy who campaigned for president in 1960 by claiming that the US faced a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union, a charge that Kennedy either knew, or should have known, was bogus? Is he referring to the same John F. Kennedy who, upon taking office, oversaw what speechwriter Theodore Sorenson called “the largest and swiftest [military] buildup in this country’s peacetime history”? Is this the same JFK who sent rebels to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs? The same JFK who during his brief presidency oversaw a tenfold increase in the number of US military advisors in South Vietnam? The same Robert Kennedy who called Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles a “gutless bastard” for opposing his plan to send Marines to invade the Dominican Republic in 1961?
Yes, the Kennedys did at times try to prevent the Cold War from exploding into outright conflict. JFK resisted a preventive military strike on Cuba during the missile crisis. He spoke eloquently about coexistence at American University in 1963. By the time he ran for president himself, Robert Kennedy had turned against the war in Vietnam he once championed. But Walinsky’s depiction of the Kennedy brothers as consistent and impassioned doves is absurd.
Walinsky needs this fictional depiction, however, to argue that Hillary Clinton is betraying the Kennedy’s anti-militarist tradition. In fact, he needs to lie about her, too. Clinton, he writes, “proclaims herself ready to invade Syria immediately after taking the oath of office.” Huh? Earlier this month she told a national-security forum that, “We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.” Yes, there are already American ground troops in Iraq. And yes, Clinton has been more open than Barack Obama to arming Syrian rebels and perhaps even instituting a no-fly zone there, but claiming she’s proposed an invasion is absurd.
Walinsky also claims that Clinton is responsible for “a Democratic administration, carrying on the work of the Bush administration, without thought and without question, year after year…sending more young men and women into the grinder.” Without thought or question? When Obama and Clinton entered office, the U.S. deployed roughly 180,000 troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the figure is roughly 18,000. And the U.S. is not on a path toward war with Iran because of the nuclear deal that Clinton helped initiate. In a 2,700 word essay about Clinton’s shameful hawkishness, Walinsky doesn’t get around to that.
In truth, Clinton is more like the Kennedy brothers than she’s different. Like them, she takes America’s quasi-imperial role for granted. Like them, she worries about the hawks to her right. Like them, she fears that American militarism may alienate global opinion. Like the Kennedy brothers, who were somewhat chastened by their support for a disastrous intervention in Cuba, she has been somewhat chastened by her support for the disastrous war in Iraq. The sharp ideological break that Walinsky posits simply doesn’t exist.
Then there’s Trump, who Walinsky praises for having “the intelligence, the vision, the sheer sanity,” to fulfill the Kennedy’s dream of peace. Yes, he actually wrote that. Unfortunately, this orange-haired paragon of intelligence doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is. And Mr. Sanity has said he’s fine with Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he’s repeatedly wondered aloud why America has them if it’s not prepared to explode one now and then.
In general, Walinsky doesn’t evince much familiarity with what his preferred candidate actually believes. Walinsky declares that “we need to stop the reckless military spending on more destructive armaments.” But Trump wants to boost military spending by $500 billion over 10 years. Walinsky says Trump will lead America on “a path of businesslike accommodation with all reasonable peoples and nations.” Does that include defaulting on America’s national debt, as Trump has suggested? Does it include slapping a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods? Does it include banning Muslims from entering the U.S.?
How can Walinsky, the fervent anti-militarist, back a man who last November declared that, “I’m more militaristic than anyone in this room?” Because Walinsky is only really dovish when it comes to Vladimir Putin. He wants America to “concentrate our military might” so as to ensure that “ISIS and its brethren must be eliminated: no quarter, no hesitation.” So massively bombing Iraq and Syria, and presumably arming our anti-ISIS allies there, might actually be fine. Theoretically, “no quarter” could even imply that Walinsky himself supports invading Syria. More war is fine, so long as we wage it in conjunction with Russia.
As it happens, Secretary of State John Kerry has been moving in that direction. The problem is that the more America cooperates with Russia in Syria, the more America ends up backing Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, whose brutal repression of his country’s Sunnis pushed them toward ISIS in the first place. At no point in his absurd and dishonest essay does Walinsky display any awareness of this dilemma. Unsurprisingly, neither does Donald Trump.