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GOP Foreign Policy Hawks Pen Letter Opposing Trump's National Security Views


Earlier this year, more than a hundred foreign-policy practitioners and writers, whom we associate more with the Republicans than the Democrats, announced in an open letter that they cannot support Donald Trump. They didn't rush to embrace Hillary Clinton's campaign, but some endorsed her, some described her as the lesser of two evils and some said they would wait for a third-party candidate or not vote.

Well, I'm joined by one of the signatories of that letter, Reuel Marc Gerecht, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Good to see you.


SIEGEL: You wrote in the Weekly Standard last month, she's not a neoconservative, but Hillary Clinton isn't uncomfortable with American power. Did you hear what you would consider a welcome comfort with the exercise of power in that speech today?

GERECHT: Yeah, I mean, I think Hillary Clinton did it - what she needed to do, and that is she gave a foreign-policy speech that didn't alienate the left-wing base of the Democratic Party and certainly didn't repel the national security Republicans who are, I think, tempted to vote for her.

SIEGEL: You're a critic of the Iran nuclear deal. She defended that deal today. Is that a difference that you can overlook rather than vote for Trump?

GERECHT: Well, I mean, I think the nuclear deal is here. The issue is not, you know, downing the nuclear deal. That's not going to happen. The issue is when the Iranians kick up their regional aggression, is Hillary Clinton willing to meet them and try to push back even if that risks the nuclear deal? Is it likely that she would? No. Is it possible that she would?

Yes. I mean, her position in Syria creating safe havens, if that's true, is certainly going to put pressure on the Iranians. I can imagine that Hillary Clinton is willing to increase the number of troops in Iraq from the current number of 5,000. I think she's also probably willing to put troops into - more troops into Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: So while she may be running as a continuation of Obama foreign and defense policies, you see her as different. You see her as being more conservative, if I hear you right.

GERECHT: Well, I mean, I think she is potentially more hawkish. And she certainly wasn't giddy about the Iran deal. And I don't think she's embarrassed by the use of American power. And in this age of sort of bipartisan isolationism, I think Hillary Clinton is fairly old-fashioned. And I think that's a good thing.

GERECHT: Do you think that there is a good deal of ground - bipartisan ground on foreign-policy, that people like yourself, neoconservatives, can share with Democrats from the Clinton camp?

SIEGEL: Yes, I mean, I think there is substantial overlap. I don't want to overdo it, but I think that compared to Donald Trump, where it is extremely difficult to actually know what he would do as president, and to the extent that you can guess those positions from what he's said, I would say the overlap with Hillary Clinton is substantial, I guess.

SIEGEL: This really isn't - for you, it isn't really a contrast between one set of foreign-policy ideas, Clinton's, and another set of foreign-policy ideas, Trump's. You're seeing, as she would describe it, one set of ideas and Trump.

GERECHT: And the void.

SIEGEL: The void.

GERECHT: Yeah, no, I think with Hillary Clinton, we more or less know what we're going to get. And with Donald Trump, we don't know. And what he does articulate rather passionately, particularly his aversion to the NATO, his aversion to the Transatlantic Alliance, his willingness to indulge the possibility of nuclear proliferation and his commentary on fighting Islamic militancy, which really doesn't make any sense, I think that, I mean, on all those issues, Hillary Clinton has familiar territory.

SIEGEL: Are you surprised to hear yourself talking this way about Hillary Clinton?


GERECHT: If you'd asked me a year ago whether I would be saying this, I certainly would not have predicted it.

SIEGEL: And you find that the other signatories to the open letter, when you talk about it, they still see a vote for Hillary Clinton as preferable to one for Donald Trump?

GERECHT: Yeah, I think that that view is more or less universal in the foreign policy set. I think, obviously, there's been some attrition on Republicans who primarily look at domestic policy, that many of them have fallen in line behind Donald Trump. But for the foreign-policy crowd, I think that opposition to Mr. Trump has remained fairly constant.

SIEGEL: Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Thanks for talking with us.

GERECHT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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