After raising eyebrows earlier this month when he pronounced that he is his own top foreign policy adviser, Donald Trump finally unveiled a foreign policy team. The consensus among commentators across the political spectrum is that his eight-member team of experts is no more than a junior varsity squad. But how do Trump’s advisers stack up against those of other campaigns?
Not well. Trump’s selection could be summed up as “a day late and a dollar short,” especially for a candidate who has no foreign policy experience and whose platform consists of being a great negotiator and a “winner.”
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has “hundreds” of foreign policy and national security experts, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and several former high-ranking State Department officials.
John Kasich used Trump’s announcement to belittle his rival’s advisers by tweeting a chart of his national security team, which consists of former members of Congress, high-ranking government and intelligence officials as well as academics.
“This is what it looks like when you build your national security team out of actual experts,” Kasich wrote.
Compared to previous GOP frontrunners, Trump’s team also looks sparse. Four years ago, Mitt Romney announced his foreign policy and national security team in early October — more than a year ahead of the election. It was loaded with nearly two dozen experts, including former cabinet members, diplomats, lawmakers and scholars.
The name of Walid Phares, a Lebanese terrorism analyst, appeared on both lists. However, while Phares is the headliner of Trump’s team, he was viewed as the weak link among Romney’s advisers.
“Walid Phares is advising Romney on Middle East policy? For realz? That’s terrifying + not just because of LF history,” tweeted Marc Lynch, the director of the George Washington University Project on Middle East Political Science, at the time.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has had its hands full during the Republican primary, slammed the selection of Phares.
“Mr. Trump’s naming of a policy adviser who was once linked to a foreign anti-Muslim militia sends the message that American Muslims would be targeted in a Trump administration,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We ask Donald Trump to immediately drop Walid Phares from his team of advisers because of his extremist views and his past associations with a violent foreign militia.”
In addition to Trump’s islamophobia, Phares also seems to share the GOP frontrunner’s talent for not answering specific questions. When asked for specifics on which world leader Trump would call first as president — in light of international crises underway or looming in Syria, the Ukraine, the South China Sea and others — Phares twice avoided the question.
“First of all, there has to be a new vision,” Phares said in an interview with Fox Business, before adding that Europe and the US have to cooperate better to combat terrorism. He also called for a coalition of Arab countries to fight ISIS on the ground.
Phares seemed to downplay his own expertise, as well as his candidate’s ignorance, when pressed on how Trump would achieve the goals he listed. He said that once Trump is in the White House, he would “have to be briefed — not by his outside advisers but by the agencies, by those who have that information.” He added that once Trump has that information, he would have to call everybody and bring them together to fight ISIS, which is not a novel approach but aligns with Trump’s belief that he can succeed where others have failed.
Phares also seems to share Trump’s tendency to say one thing and then claim he said something completely different. On his website, where Phares touted the Fox Business interview, he presented three quotes. However, none of them are even close to anything he said in the actual interview.
As with Romney in 2012, John McCain revealed his foreign policy and national security team, which was equally stacked with certified experts, more than a year before the 2008 election.
Among McCain’s advisers was Kori Schake, who served in the National Security Council under George W. Bush and, at the time, taught international security studies at West Point.
Schake, now a research fellow at Stanford University, last week weighed in on Trump’s team and her verdict sums up how many experts feel.
“I don’t know any of them,” Schake said. “National security is hard to do well even with first-rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third-rate people.”
Related front page panorama photo credit: Donald Trump holds up a magazine cover featuring himself. Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from (Matt A.J. / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0)