Trump letter

Metal bars at the U.S.-Mexican border in Tijuana, Mexico. Donald Trump has proposed having Mexico pay for a wall along its entire border with the United States. 2 March 2016 (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Last month dozens of foreign policy experts in the U.S. Republican Party issued a letter denouncing Donald Trump’s worldview and vowing to oppose his presidential candidacy.

Coming from officials who had served under Republican presidents and who normally would be jockeying for fresh posts in a possible GOP administration, the letter was an extraordinary rebuke to the party’s front-runner and underscored the intense dislike that Trump has engendered within the Republican establishment.

The 121 signatories included Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank who also served as U.S. Trade Representative; Michael Chertoff, former director of Homeland Security under George W. Bush; Robert Kagan, a leader of the neoconservative movement and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and dozens of other former Republican presidential administration officials and conservative think tank members.

The foreign policy experts, in the past often at odds among themselves, took issue with Trump’s positions on immigration, torture and trade; his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin; his “hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric”, and his insistence that allies such as Japan should pay vast sums for protection.

“His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle,” the letter said. “He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.”

Below, News-Decoder correspondent James Clad, who held a senior position in the Pentagon under President George W. Bush, reflects on why he and the other signatories all but disqualified themselves from ever serving in a Trump Administration by opposing the candidate’s “reckless, often well-nigh unbelievable remarks about the world”.

By James Clad

For policy-making wannabees, the Westminster system has the useful institution of the loyal parliamentary opposition. The trouble is, you’ve got to be a member of Parliament MP to play.

America has its think tanks, which offer another path to prominence.

Either way, a revolving door directs departing political appointees towards future jobs-in-waiting, either as shadow ministers or, in DC, as putative senior officials after the next presidential electoral cycle. In this world, the so-called Plum Book casts a long shadow. It’s a compendium of U.S. presidential appointee slots including the foreign policy billets. And then there are the Senate confirmation slots, the ones which permit those successfully confirmed to use “the Hon.” before their names.

The U.S. system pre-positions ambitious people in an expectant pose, and usually in think tanks, as they either await The Call or actively lobby for it. For months, the pre-election air reeks of opportunism.

Rarely do people in this town burn their boats so emphatically.

One amusing example I recall occurred in the second half of 2008, when Hillary Clinton’s unexpected marginalization in the Democratic Party primaries prompted a hurried, en masse readjustment of loyalties towards Barack Obama and those of “his people”, whom people hurriedly tried to know.

Metaphorically one heard the wheels of opportunism turning in Washington, like the supply wagons in the Brecht play, Mother Courage.

I mention this as background to an unusually strong letter criticizing Mr. Donald Trump which emerged in early March, a letter to which I’m a signatory along with over 120 other former Republican foreign policy appointees.

Rarely do people in this town burn their boats so emphatically, just as the 16th century conquistadors did when arriving in Mexico. No going back on this one.

The anti-Trump letter notes the considerable divergence in opinion.

It would take opportunism of a particularly galling and pungent variety to eat one’s words as set out in this letter. The Judas moniker will fly if some turncoats emerge, lured by position and a chance to Make Things Happen.

The anti-Trump letter notes the considerable divergence in opinion existing among the signatories. That’s quite true: Sharp differences characterize foreign policy opinions among them (us), particularly with reference to the Middle East where the United States remains “bound” (as in Lear’s final lamentation) on “a wheel of fire”. Thirteen years after the start of the Anglo-American occupation, terrible consequences still cascade down the years in Iraq.

Yet the signatories unite in honorable response to Trump’s reckless, often well-nigh unbelievable remarks about the world in which we must make our way.

I cannot confidently say that absolutely none of the letter’s signatories would ever serve in a Trump Administration, but I’m pretty sure that most would not.

In an opportunistic town, that’s saying something.

James Clad

James Clad is a New Zealand-born diplomat and lawyer, foreign correspondent and senior U.S. defense official. He served as bureau chief in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and New Delhi for the Far Eastern Economic Review, covering war and conflict in Iran, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Afghanistan. He was awarded fellowships at Oxford and Harvard, and was a professor at Georgetown University from 1995 to 2002. From 2007–09 he served as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia, and he has written three books on foreign policy and Asia. Currently he is senior adviser at CNA Corporation and IHS Jane’s Defence.
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