Last week, we wrote about Donald Trump's fairly astounding interview transcript with the Washington Post
editorial board. In that post, we focused on his bizarre and nonsensical comments on defamation law
, though there was lots of other nuttiness in the interview. Over the weekend, the NY Times published its own transcript of an interview between Donald Trump
and two reporters, Maggie Haberman and David Sanger, focusing on foreign policy questions. Once again, reading it presents an incredible picture of a man running for President who doesn't know the most basic things about foreign policy (he literally seemed shocked and confused when the reporters pointed out that the US has sanctions against Iran, barring it from buying Boeing airplanes).
But the issue that is relevant to folks around here is his completely confused and nonsensical responses to two things: cybersecurity and Ed Snowden. Let's start with cybersecurity. They first ask him if "cyberweapons" might present an "alternative" to nuclear weapons, which, with some background knowledge is an interesting question. Obviously, the US has used its power there using tools like Stuxnet to slowdown Iran's nuclear program, and possibly has done a lot more as well. Whether or not you agree with this approach, it's clearly a tool available to the US government these days. Trump doesn't even seem to understand the nature of the question, and just focuses on how dangerous nuclear weapons are... and his brilliant uncle at MIT telling him about how dangerous nukes are.
SANGER: You know, we have an alternative these days in a growing cyberarsenal. You’ve seen the growing cybercommand and so forth. Could you give us a vision of whether or not you think that the United States should regularly be using cyberweapons, perhaps, as an alternative to nuclear? And if so, how would you either threaten or employ those?
TRUMP: I don’t see it as an alternative to nuclear in terms of, in terms of ultimate power. Look, in the perfect world everybody would agree that nuclear would, you know, be so destructive, and this was always the theory, or was certainly the theory of many. That the power is so enormous that nobody would ever use them. But, as you know, we’re dealing with people in the world today that would use them, O.K.? Possibly numerous people that use them, and use them without hesitation if they had them. And there’s nothing, there’s nothing as, there’s nothing as meaningful or as powerful as that, and you know the problem is, and it used to be, and you would hear this, David, and I would hear it, and everybody would hear it, and — I’m not sure I believed it, ever. I talk sometimes about my uncle from M.I.T., and he would tell me many years ago when he was up at M.I.T. as a, he was a professor, he was a great guy in many respects, but a very brilliant guy, and he would tell me many years ago about the power of weapons someday, that the destructive force of these weapons would be so massive, that it’s going to be a scary world. And, you know, we have been under the impression that, well we’ve been, I think it’s misguided somewhat, I’ve always felt this but that nobody would ever use them because of the power. And the first one to use them, I think that would be a very bad thing. And I will tell you, I would very much not want to be the first one to use them, that I can say.
So, after that Sanger tries again, noting that Trump didn't actually answer the question, which was actually about cybersecurity and cyberweapons, and Trump presents us with his patented form of word salad:
SANGER: The question was about cyber, how would you envision using cyberweapons? Cyberweapons in an attack to take out a power grid in a city, so forth.
TRUMP: First off, we’re so obsolete in cyber. We’re the ones that sort of were very much involved with the creation, but we’re so obsolete, we just seem to be toyed with by so many different countries, already. And we don’t know who’s doing what. We don’t know who’s got the power, who’s got that capability, some people say it’s China, some people say it’s Russia. But certainly cyber has to be a, you know, certainly cyber has to be in our thought process, very strongly in our thought process. Inconceivable that, inconceivable the power of cyber. But as you say, you can take out, you can take out, you can make countries nonfunctioning with a strong use of cyber. I don’t think we’re there. I don’t think we’re as advanced as other countries are, and I think you probably would agree with that. I don’t think we’re advanced, I think we’re going backwards in so many different ways. I think we’re going backwards with our military. I certainly don’t think we are, we move forward with cyber, but other countries are moving forward at a much more rapid pace. We are frankly not being led very well in terms of the protection of this country.
It seems pretty clear that Trump has no clue what is being discussed and just falls back into his usual talking points about how America just isn't that good any more, and then uses the tiny bit of information he does have (China and Russia have been in the news around hackings) and argues that they're better than us. But, "we're obsolete"? Huh? As noted above (not by him, of course), the most powerful computer-based attacks do seem to be coming from the US itself, not Russia or China.
Also, what does "inconceivable that, inconceivable the power of cyber" even mean? All I can think of is the scene from The Princess Bride
Then we get to Ed Snowden. Trump, perhaps not surprisingly, is not a fan:
HABERMAN: Mr. Trump, just a quick follow-up on that question. As you know, we discovered in recent years that the U.S. spies extensively against its allies. That’s what came up with Edward Snowden and his data trove including Israel and Germany.
TRUMP: Edward Snowden has caused us tremendous problems.
HABERMAN: But would you continue the programs that are in place now, or would you halt them, in terms of spying against our allies?
SANGER: Like Israel and Germany.
TRUMP: Right. They’re spying against us. Edward Snowden has caused us tremendous problems. Edward Snowden has been, you know, you have the two views on Snowden, obviously: You have, he’s wonderful, and you have he’s horrible. I’m in the horrible category. He’s caused us tremendous problems with trust, with everything about, you know, when they’re showing, Merkel’s cellphone has been spied on, and are – Now, they’re doing it to us, and other countries certainly are doing it to us, and but what I think what he did, I think it was a tremendous, a tremendous disservice to the United States. I think and I think it’s amazing that we can’t get him back.
Wait, Ed Snowden is the one who's caused us problems with trust
? Not the fact that the US was spying on people it maybe shouldn't have been spying on? Talk about blaming the messenger.
There's then a follow-up about whether or not Trump agreed with President Obama's publicly stated agreement not to spy on Angela Merkel's phone (though it's now been said that everyone else in the German government remains fair game), and Trump goes back to word salad, and concludes with another dig at Snowden where, bizarrely, he seems to argue that other countries are spying on us because of Snowden. Huh?
SANGER: President Obama ordered an end to the spying, to the listening in on Angela Merkel’s cellphone, if that’s in fact what we were doing. Was that the right decision?
TRUMP: Well you see, I don’t know that, you know, when I talk about unpredictability, I’m not sure that we should be talking about me – On the assumption that I’m doing well, which I am, and that I may be in that position, I’m not sure that I would want to be talking about that. You understand what I mean by that, David. We’re so open, we’re so, “Oh I wouldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do that, I would do this, I would do that.” And it’s not so much with Merkel, but it’s certainly with other countries. You know, that really, where there’s, where there’s a different kind of relationship, and a much worse relationship than with Germany. So, you know there’s so, there’s such predictability with our country. We go and we send 50 soldiers over to the Middle East and President Obama gets up and announces that we’re sending 50 soldiers to the Middle East. Fifty very special soldiers. And they now have a target on their back, and everything we do, we announce, instead of winning, and announcing when it’s all over. There’s such, total predictability of this country, and it’s one of the reasons we do so poorly. You know, I’d rather not say that. I would like to see what they’re doing. Because you know, many countries, I can’t say Germany, but many countries are spying on us. I think that was a great disservice done by Edward Snowden. That I can tell you.
Again, I know that all the other candidates are pretty horrible as well. But at least most of them can grasp basic concepts around the issues they're facing (even if they have terrible ideas about what to do about them). Trump doesn't even seem to understand the basics -- or even understand that he doesn't understand.