Foreign policy thinkers praised by Trump have divergent views

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Americans were looking for clarity on leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s world views, they might have come away disappointed from Thursday night’s debate.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cups his ear to hear the audiences' answer to a question at a campaign rally in Cadillac, Michigan, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

Asked who he trusts on national security, Trump had warm words for three men with world views that differ from one another, and who diverge sharply on some key issues from Trump himself. They are former diplomat Richard Haass and retired U.S. Army officers Gen. Jack Keane and Col. Jack Jacobs.

His mention of the eclectic trio did little to satisfy mounting calls for him to announce a list of his campaign foreign policy advisors, who traditionally take top posts should he be elected. His debate comments appeared to be more words of admiration for the three men than a signal he was forming the nucleus of a national security team.

Trump has been rejected by a significant swath of his party’s foreign policy establishment. Almost 110 Republican foreign policy veterans have signed a letter pledging to oppose Trump, saying his proposals would undermine U.S. security.

The three men Trump mentioned have different views of the 2003 Iraq invasion, arguably the most controversial foreign policy decision in a generation. Trump says he opposed the war, calling it a disastrous intervention and accusing the administration of then President George W. Bush of misleading Americans.

Keane is a defense hawk who helped devise the 2007 Iraq “surge” -- a move to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq to quell sectarian strife -- and served as an informal consultant to Bush. Keane told Reuters on Friday he has never spoken to Trump.

Keane, now chairman of the board of the Institute for the Study of War think tank, said he has briefed seven presidential candidates from both parties, whom he declined to identify.

“I don’t comment publicly on any candidate, their proposals, their policies. I have never done. I won’t do it,” he said.


Haass is a centrist foreign policy thinker and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank seen as a fixture of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The State Department’s policy planning director at the time of the Iraq invasion, he wrote later that he was largely against the war.

“I did not believe in the Iraq war,” Haass said in a 2009 interview with National Public Radio.

Trump has proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States, demanded that Mexico fund a wall to control illegal immigration across the U.S. border, and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He has called for building up the U.S. military while also saying he wants allies to pick up more of the burden in conflicts such as Syria and Iraq. He has vowed to destroy Islamic State.

A spokeswoman for Haass, Iva Zoric, said that he briefed Trump on foreign policy in August 2015. In a tweet late on Thursday, Haass wrote: “I do not endorse candidates. What I have done is offered to brief all candidates, & have briefed several, D(emocrat) & R(epublican) alike.”

Jacobs, now a frequent television commentator, won the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, in the Vietnam War. He has expressed skepticism regarding large scale American military interventions in the Middle East and has suggested that waterboarding, an interrogation technique that many call torture and that Trump has endorsed, is ineffective.

Trump softened his stance on torture on Friday, saying he would not order the U.S. military to break international laws on how to treat terrorism suspects.

Jacobs has been critical of political leaders who send American troops on missions without what he considers a well-defined strategy. Jacobs, writing in 2007, criticized the post-invasion plan for Iraq, including the “foolish decision” to disband the Iraqi army.

Pressed on Thursday night to identify his foreign policy advisers, Trump said that Haas and Keane were “excellent” and that he liked Jacobs “very much.” Jacobs declined to comment on whether he was helping Trump.

“I have many people that I think are really excellent but in the end it’s going to be my decision” on national security matters,” Trump said.

Keane, who appears frequently before congressional committees and on television, has accused U.S. President Barack Obama of not acting forcefully to help moderates in Libya and Syria. He called Obama’s 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq an “absolute strategic failure,” and charged that he lacks a strategy to contain the spread of Islamic State and help moderates in the region.

Keane told Reuters that as a strict rule, he will not join campaigns as an advisor, nor endorse political candidates.

Editing by Stuart Grudgings