Listening to Donald Trump talk about foreign policy is a lot like listening to your high school–age kid talk about global affairs on the way home from school every day. He gets the gist, has a few wobbles of fact and coherence along the way, but picks up new figures and arguments as the year goes on and before your very eyes has an opinion of his own about whether or not the U.S. should impose a no-fly zone.
Part of Donald Trump’s excuse for having a teenagelike foreign policy vocabulary is he’s spent decades not having anything to do with American foreign policy. “I was, as they say, a world-class businessperson,” Trump reminisced on Meet the Press. But now Trump is running for president and people—other than Trump supporters, who don’t seem to care what he says or does—are interested in knowing about his temperament and judgment as a potential commander in chief. On Thursday, CNN aimed to give those voters additional insight into the mind of Trump during a town hall in South Carolina hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Trump, predictably, is absolutely positive he has great judgment about whatever it is you were just talking about. Since there’s not much of a public record on what Trump thinks of, say, the Bush Doctrine, or much of anything else, the candidate has put forth his opinions of the Iraq war as evidence of his foreign policy foresight and prowess. Trump says he was against the war when the decision to invade was being made back in 2003, although James Fallows over at the Atlantic scoured the record and isn’t so sure. BuzzFeed found a Sept. 11, 2002, clip of Trump doing an interview with Howard Stern, where Stern asked if the U.S. should go into Iraq to which Trump answered: “Yeah, I guess so.” Cooper asked Trump about that line Thursday night and Trump pooh-poohed any suggestion that he had been wrong.
Trump is far more passionate in his critique of the war these days and has expanded his sights to former President George W. Bush, who Trump has said lied in the lead-up to the war, which, Trump believes, was handled badly. Taking on W is a high-risk strategy in certain circles of the GOP that remain loyal to the former president despite his shortcomings. One of those people appears to be Oran Smith from the Palmetto Family Council who asked point-blank during the town hall if, upon further reflection, Trump would like to amend his branding of Bush as a “liar.”
Trump equivocated saying:
A lot of people agree with what I said. I’m not talking about lying, I’m not talking about not lying. Nobody really knows why we went into Iraq. The Iraqis—it was not Saddam Hussein that knocked down the World Trade Center.
Cooper interrupted to clarify:
Cooper: What you said was they lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none and they knew there were none, there were no weapons of mass destruction.
Trump: There are a lot of people that think that. Bottom line there were no weapons of mass destruction. They said there are weapons of mass destruction, I was against the war when it started.
Smith: So you think the president of the United States, George W. Bush, lied to the American people. … I’m just giving you another shot at it.
It’s a shot Trump did not appear to really want and instead meandered through his disdain for “stupidly going into the war in Iraq” before Cooper tried again:
Cooper: But to his question. … Do you believe [Bush] lied?
Trump: Whether he lied or not, it was a horrible decision …
And then again … and again:
Cooper: So was it a mistake for you to say in that debate you thought he lied?
Trump: I’d have to see the exact words. I’d have to say something was going on. I don’t know why he went in. Honestly, there was no reason to go in. They didn’t knock down the World Trade Center. It wasn’t Iraq that knocked it down.
Cooper: You would not say again that George W. Bush lied?
Trump: I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’d have to look at documents.