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Donald Trump Claims U.S. Intervention Created 'Chaotic' Middle East


We're going to talk now about what Donald Trump had to say about the Middle East with Vali Nasr. He's the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Welcome to the show.

VALI NASR: Thank you.

MCEVERS: One of the things Donald Trump was talking about was the Iran nuclear deal that the United States signed last year. Let's take a listen to this clip - of what he said.


DONALD TRUMP: Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon - cannot be allowed. Remember that - cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.

MCEVERS: So of course, I mean, part of the nuclear deal was that Iran would not have a nuclear weapon. What's he trying to say here?

NASR: Well, you're right. I mean, Iran has already agreed to that, and that was the purpose of the nuclear deal - that not only Iran would not have a nuclear weapon, but it would not have the infrastructure of being able to build one even if it decided to do that. And Iran has already complied with everything that it signed onto, so that already is a done deal. So he's basically beating a dead horse here, appearing to be hawkish on something that President Obama has already achieved.

MCEVERS: I mean, he also says that Iran was a major beneficiary of U.S. actions in the Middle East over the past decade. You know, its neighbors - Iraq and Afghanistan - are less stable. I mean, that's something you would agree with, right?

NASR: That's correct. But also, right now, it's not Iranian power in the region that is really the primary problem facing the United States, but the form of Islamic extremism that we're seeing in ISIS and in al-Qaeda that has dominated Iraq and Syria. That's not an Iranian problem. So in a way, he's setting up a strawman of Iran that was contributing to instability in the region a decade ago, whereas the source of this instability in the region right now is not Iran.

MCEVERS: Let's talk about what he had to say about how he would fight terrorism in the Middle East. His stance about what to do about ISIS - let's hear a clip of that.


TRUMP: Then there's ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won't tell them where, and I won't tell them how.

MCEVERS: He goes on to say we need to be less predictable in how we approach ISIS; we need to stop telling them where and when we're sending our troops. Is that the answer - I mean, more secret operations? Or is that Trump not having a clear policy on what to do about ISIS?

NASR: Well, when you want to decapitate ISIS leadership and attack them, you need the element of surprise. But people in the region and around the world need to know that the United States is actually doing something about ISIS. When you want to get the attention of allies and adversaries and bring them to the negotiating table or get them to support you, they cannot be left in the dark. President Obama also - and President Bush and President Clinton before that - they all used element of surprise in killing terrorists or attacking them. But that doesn't really amount to a concerted strategy of ending this problem.

MCEVERS: How would you characterize his overall foreign policy from this speech? I mean, in some ways, he's on the right. You know, he's saying things like, we need to be much more in step with Israel. In other places, he's less hawkish than Hillary Clinton - almost to the left of Hillary Clinton in saying we need to get our military out of the Middle East. What would you call this? How would you characterize it?

NASR: Well, I think he's struggling with finding a coherent foreign policy. So at one level, he's appealing to the populist sentiment of, you know, doing away with American engagement around the world and focusing on - foreign policies starts with nation-building at home; let's fix our own economy. At another level, he's quite expansionist. He wants to build more of American military. He wants to confront the Chinese. He wants to confront the Russians. He wants to confront Iran. He wants to destroy ISIS. Some aspects of his speech is the first term of President Obama, and some aspects of his speech is President George Bush. So he's trying to have his cake and eat it, too. But I think one of the most important things that comes across through - out of his speech is that he doesn't have an appreciation for the reason we have alliances around the world. We build alliances because it served our national interest, not because it served those countries' national interests. And he doesn't quite appreciate that.

MCEVERS: Vali Nasr is Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thank you.

NASR: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Nasr is also a former adviser to the Obama administration. He's been a vocal critic of the president's foreign policy since leaving the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.