Clinton Policy Advisor: Trump a 'Dangerous Proposition' as Commander in Chief
Kevin Rudd in conversation with Jake Sullivan. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
In a wide-ranging discussion at Asia Society on Monday night, Hillary Clinton's Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Donald Trump lacked the ideals and temperament to be an effective commander-in-chief and that a Trump victory in November's election would be "dangerous" for the U.S. Appearing in conversation with Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Sullivan cited a list of contradictory statements the all-but-certain Republican nominee has made on foreign policy as evidence of a problematic approach.
“He’ll say on the one hand, the Chinese are eating our lunch, and on the other hand, we have all the leverage in the world to make the Chinese do exactly what we want,” Sullivan said, referring to Trump. “On the one hand, we should sit down with the Russians. ... on the other hand, if I need to, I’ll just shoot down Russian fighter jets. He says on the one hand, the United States can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, for whatever purpose it wants. On the other hand, we’re doing too much and we can’t do all that.”
"It's very difficult to pin down where Trump stands."
Sullivan's remarks on the presidential election were delivered in the context of an hour-long discussion on foreign policy, one focusing in particular on U.S. strategy in East Asia and in the Middle East. Calling on China to become a responsible stakeholder in the international order, Sullivan said China has "not fully lived up to its responsibilities as a world power" and expressed skepticism that Beijing could extract meaningful concessions from North Korea. Nevertheless, Sullivan remains optimistic that the U.S.-China relationship would be constructive, citing three areas of recent cooperation: the Paris agreement on climate change, the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, and the attempt to forge long-term stability in Afghanistan. In any case, he added, a collapse in Sino-American ties would "be a catastrophe for China, for the U.S., and for the world."
Rudd and Sullivan then turned to the Middle East, an area about which Sullivan quipped that "the technical term is a 'mess'." In the seven years since President Obama assumed office, the region has endured collapsing state structures and the rise of violent Islamic terror groups, most notably the Islamic State. Sullivan argued that a key to solving the region's complex problems was unraveling the bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a relationship whose recent deterioriation has had profound implications throughout the Middle East. The importance of long-term thinking, he added, was apparent.
"The United States and Saudi Arabia need to get on the same page on what the Iranian threat looks like in 20 years, not just five," he said.
Throughout his conversation with Rudd, Sullivan professed his admiration for U.S. policy in the years after World War Two, a time when Washington's decision to contain the Soviet Union set the template for its eventual victory in the Cold War. He said the global diplomacy of President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson has been a model to follow, and that such leadership may form a foreign policy blueprint for a Hillary Clinton presidency. The former Secretary of State has said she would not hesitate to use force when necessary as commander in chief. But Sullivan insisted that Clinton, while hawkish on many fronts, was not reckless.
"She's a person who isn't going to take diplomacy off the table," he said.