Trump’s ISIS agenda re­veals ig­no­rance

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Fred­eric B. Hill Fred­eric B. Hill ( was a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent in Europe and Africa for The Bal­ti­more Sun and later con­ducted pol­icy plan­ning ex­er­cises, or war games, for the Depart­ment of State. He is co-ed­i­tor of “The Life of Kin

Don­ald Trump’s ac­cu­sa­tion that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton are “founders of ISIS” is not only a good ex­am­ple of his reck­less fear­mon­ger­ing but also his com­plete lack of un­der­stand­ing about true threats to na­tional se­cu­rity.

ISIS, or the Is­lamic State, as this bru­tal ji­hadist group is known, is not even the first, sec­ond, third or fourth most se­ri­ous threat to the United States de­spite what Mr. Trump shouts from the stump with aban­don.

First of all, ISIS grew out of the group al-Qaida in Iraq, which did not even ex­ist un­til the Bush/Cheney in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003. As to the with­drawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, com­pleted un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, the agree­ment to take that step was ne­go­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush.

Se­condly, Mr. Trump’s ref­er­ences to San Bernardino and Or­lando are woe­fully mis­placed. Both in­ci­dents, while tragic, had as much to do with men­tal health con­di­tions and out­landish ac­cess to au­to­matic weapons as they did with ter­ror­ism. Fur­ther­more, the worst ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent in the United States other than 9/11 — the 1995 bomb­ing of the Ok­la­homa City fed­eral build­ing, which killed 168 peo­ple — was com­mit­ted by a Chris­tian fun­da­men­tal­ist, the very kind of ex­trem­ist Mr. Trump en­cour­ages with his hate­ful rhetoric.

As for threats to na­tional se­cu­rity, Mr. Trump’s truly clue­less grasp of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs is re­flected in ir­re­spon­si­ble link­age of ter­ror­ism and crime to Mus­lims and im­mi­grants. No coun­try is im­mune from mind­less acts of mad­ness com­mit­ted by peo­ple who have no re­spect for hu­man life and civ­i­lized val­ues. But U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism and law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties since 9/11, un­der both the Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions, have done a very good job of sur­veil­lance, in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pre­ven­tion in a coun­try of 320 mil­lion peo­ple.

In a huge, di­verse coun­try such as this, any­thing is quite pos­si­ble, as the 9/11 at­tack demon­strated 15 years ago Sun­day. But the gravest threats to Amer­i­can se­cu­rity, and the se­cu­rity of the in­dus­tri­al­ized West, come from sev­eral more com­plex chal­lenges com­ing out of Rus­sia, North Korea, Pak­istan, the Mid­dle East and China.

Mitt Rom­ney de­clared Rus­sia as the most se­ri­ous threat fac­ing the U.S. four years ago. While his cam­paign fal­tered badly, he seems to have had a crys­tal ball in that re­gard. Un­der Vladimir Putin, Rus­sia, a coun­try with a vast arse­nal of nu­clear weapons, has be­come more ag­gres­sive in the last few years: an­nex­ing Crimea, send­ing its troops into Ukraine, fly­ing reck­less flights over the Baltics and, as far as can be de­ter­mined, try­ing to in­ter­vene in our cur­rent elec­tion with cy­ber at­tacks.

Rus­sia’s be­hav­ior is con­ve­nient for Mr. Trump to ig­nore since Paul Manafort, one of his re­volv­ing door of cam­paign man­agers, proved to have ac­cepted mil­lions of dol­lars to be a hand­maiden of Rus­sian pol­icy to un­der­mine the sta­bil­ity of Ukraine. Mr. Trump’s smirky com­pli­ments of Mr. Putin, his busi­ness deal­ings with Rus­sians and his dis­missal of the im­por­tance of NATO are grounds for sus­pi­cion of his friendly at­ti­tude to­ward Moscow. His lat­est em­brace of Putin dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s vet­er­ans fo­rum — prais­ing an au­thor­i­tar­ian leader with near­dic­ta­to­rial pow­ers as a stronger “leader” than his own pres­i­dent — verges on trea­son, a word that means dis­loy­alty in be­tray­ing one’s coun­try.

North Korea, the most iso­lated coun­try on earth, also poses a far more se­ri­ous con­cern for U.S. and in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity than ISIS. Hundreds of thou­sands of armed troops, in­clud­ing more than 25,000 Amer­i­can forces, are lined up on both sides of a long bor­der as a young and un­proven new leader of the her­mit king­dom uses the threat of a mis­sile at­tack to re­tain his power.

Pak­istan’s in­ter­nal in­sta­bil­ity ranks close to North Korea as an­other con­stant con­cern. The threat of both war with In­dia, a war that could eas­ily see the use of nu­clear weapons, and Pak­istan’s will­ing­ness to cre­ate tur­moil in neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan, are grave mat­ters.

The gen­eral in­sta­bil­ity and fail­ure of gover­nance in the Mid­dle East also poses a far more se­ri­ous threat to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity than ISIS, now los­ing ground but still ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing mur­der­ous acts. Syria’s tragic civil war, Iraq’s tur­moil, un­rest in Libya, Iran’s hos­til­ity to the West (not just the U.S.) and po­ten­tial in­sta­bil­ity in Saudi Ara­bia add up to a ma­jor strate­gic chal­lenge.

And China’s emer­gence as an up-and­com­ing world power could pose a long-term threat, es­pe­cially given its cur­rent stance re­gard­ing the South China Sea.

Mr. Trump’s lack of un­der­stand­ing of na­tional se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs in gen­eral prompted Brent Scowcroft, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Pres­i­dent George H. W. Bush, a widely ad­mired strate­gic thinker, and Richard Ar­mitage, deputy sec­re­tary of state to Colin Pow­ell, both to de­nounce him. They had to be re­volted by Trump’s ridicu­lous boast: “I know more about ISIS than the gen­er­als.”

And­morethan50of­fi­cials who­held­se­nior po­si­tions in Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions have con­demned him as com­pletely un­suited to be com­man­der in chief. Mr. Trump “has lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the nation’s vi­tal na­tional in­ter­ests,” they said, and would be “the most reck­less pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

We must re­spect and heed their warn­ing.

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