Donald Trump Doesn’t Know Much About Foreign Policy

In an interview, Donald Trump reveals that when it comes to foreign policy he has no idea what he's talking about.


During a interview last night with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Donald Trump demonstrated what can only be called an appalling lack of knowledge about foreign policy issues:

Donald J. Trump revealed gaps in his mastery of international affairs during a radio interview on Thursday, appearing to mistake the Quds Force, an Iranian military group, for the Kurds, a Middle Eastern people, and growing testy over questions about foreign leaders.

“You’re asking me names that — I think it’s somewhat ridiculous,” Mr. Trump told Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative radio show host. “As far as the individual players, of course I don’t know them. I’ve never met them. I haven’t been, you know, in a position to meet them.”

At one point, Mr. Hewitt asked Mr. Trump if he was familiar with Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the shadowy commander of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force.

“Yes, but go ahead, give me a little, go ahead, tell me,” Mr. Trump replied.

“He runs the Quds Forces,” Mr. Hewitt said.

“Yes, O.K., right,” Mr. Trump said.

But Mr. Trump seemed to think Mr. Hewitt was referring to the Kurds, a group with its own language and culture.

Mr. Trump asserted that “the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated.”

Mr. Hewitt interrupted. “No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Forces.”

Mr. Trump tried to recover from the live, on-air tutorial. “Yes, yes,” he said.

He added, “Oh, I thought you said Kurds, Kurds.”

Mr. Trump, a real estate developer and brand manager who has never worked in government, has relatively little experience dealing with foreign governments. But he has boasted of his global reach and international experience as a businessman.

Mr. Hewitt said he was not interested in “gotcha” questions but wanted to be sure Mr. Trump had a baseline of knowledge about foreign leaders.

“On the front of Islamist terrorism, I’m looking for the next commander in chief to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?” Mr. Hewitt asked.

Mr. Trump’s answer was strikingly dismissive. “No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone.”

Here’s the interview:

Trump, of course, responded to his embarrassing performance the way he always does, by attacking the person asking the questions and accusing Hewitt of asking “gotcha” questions. In reality, of course, these are questions about the details of some of the most important foreign policy issues facing the country that anyone purporting to run for President should at least have basic understanding of. Perhaps the best demonstration of that came later in the evening when Hewitt interviewed Trump’s fellow Republican candidate former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and she, at the very least, was able to demonstrate a fairly well-educated grasp of the issues and the parties involved in the war on ISIS and other foreign policy questions that Trump stumbled over. Fiorina, of course, has no more practical experience with foreign policy than Trump does, the difference is that she seems to have obviously taken the time to educate herself about the issues to be able to speak intelligently about them. Trump. on the other hand, speaks in vague generalities using slogans while simultaneously calling everyone who’s running against him, including people who quite obviously known a lot more about these subject then does, “idiots” and “fools.” This is fairly consistent for Trump, of course, whose campaign to date has largely avoided specifics on most issues beyond presenting an immigration plan that even more Republican analysts agree is little more than pie-in-the-sky nonsense

The reality, of course, is that something like this is not likely to deter the true believers among Trump’s supporters. His entire campaign over the past two months has been nothing but slogans, insults, and vague generalities. During the performance at the August 6th debate, Trump gave no indication of where he stood on any real policy specifics beyond the same vague generalities that we’ve been hearing from him all along. Throughout this time, political pundits, including many on the right, and some of Trump’s opponents have been bringing attention to Trump’s lack of specifics and the fact that he doesn’t demonstrate much of a grasp of how either domestic politics or foreign policy actually work. Despite all of that, his poll numbers continue to rise. In a new Monmouth University poll released yesterday, Trump is at 30% nationally and has a 12% lead on his closest competitor, Dr. Ben Carson. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump is now at 27.2% and has a 14 point lead over Carson. None of the other candidates are even in double digits. In the Huffington Post’s Pollster average, which measures a broader range of polls, he is at 32.5%, nearly 20 points ahead of Carson with no other candidates besides Carson in double digits. As with his comments about Mexicans, John McCain, and Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Trump’s supporters, and a significant part of the Republican, obviously don’t care that Trump does not have a clear grasp on policy, so it’s unlikely that this latest incident is going to have that much of an impact on his standing in the polls.

Trump’s encounter with Hewitt yesterday, which was not the first time he’d appeared on the show, is made more interesting by the fact that Hewitt will be among the people asking questions at the September 16th debate at the Reagan Library. Joining Hewitt will be CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Just as the first debate focused on many on the inevitable questions about Trump that has surfaced since he had entered the race, it’s likely that we’ll get questions in the second debate that are more focused on the policy issues. Trump’s opponents will also likely seek to contrast themselves with him by demonstrating a knowledge of policy areas that we’re unlikely to see from him even if he does prepare for this debate. In the end, though, it’s not at all clear if Republican voters will care. The base of the Republican Party has hitched its star to Donald Trump, regardless of his past record of supporting policies more at home in the Democratic Party, his inconsistencies, his questionable record, his habit of insulting anyone who dares to ask him a question, or the fact that he clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about once you start asking him specifics. It seems unlikely that they’re going to abandon him now. What that says about the Republican Party in 2016 is something I’ll let the reader conclude on their own.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Modulo Myself says:

    Decades late. GOP is the party of people who thought Iraq was behind 9/11 and who think Iran will be nuking us in October. George W. Bush invaded Iraq because of Gog and Magog, apparently. Hugh Hewitt believed he was fighting terror because he sat his fat ass in the Empire State Building. Poor Trump is just not interested in the cosplay that leads fearful morons to memorize the names of obscure generals. His tastelessness is of a different variety. After all, it’s not like the idea that the Kurds are not the Quds has been of any use to a living Republican. The best-case for a Republican president would be some jerk who did not become tumescent whenever the possibility of invading a country with dark people arose.

  2. Mu says:

    To be honest it was a gotcha question. I feel reasonably informed on middle eastern affairs and wouldn’t have been able to pull that name out of the hat. Doesn’t make Trump less of a blustering fool, but this wasn’t a good example.

  3. Scott says:

    The line of BS that Trump spews is starting to catch up with him. Once the other candidates start attacking he will no longer be able to blame the media. The tycoon has no clothes.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    A quick look at Breitbart’s seems to indicate that this is not reportable news in that sector at this time.

  5. Hal_10000 says:

    Donald Trump Doesn’t Know Much About Policy

    FTFY. As this goes on, he crosses me as Sarah Palin: he’s almost proud of being ignorant. To be fair, Trump knows more about policy and plays the audience better. But it’s the same idea: I’m not one of those eggheads who knows things.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    What is it about the ignorant Republican base that wants a president that is as ignorant as they are?

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    If you want to understand why Trump is succeeding, observe the facile pompousness in that image of Hewitt. And here’s what he’s done:

    After leaving Harvard, he worked as a ghostwriter for Richard Nixon in California and New York, before studying at the University of Michigan Law School, where he was Order of the Coif. Hewitt received his J.D. degree in 1983, then moved to Washington D.C. to clerk for Judges Roger Robb and George MacKinnon on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1983–84.

    Hewitt worked in many posts in the Reagan administration, including Deputy Director and General Counsel of the Office of Personnel Management, General Counsel for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Assistant White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the Attorney General.

    To most sentient people, this is word-salad hackery. To a Trump supporter, this a life spent on your knees with your mouth open. Multiply Hewitt times one million and you have Reagan and Bush II. And the result at the end–a failed war, a busted economy, a cratered ideology–can’t be lied about.Trump is doing well because Hewitt and his ilk are revolting yet refuse to play the part. Trump, by playing the part, is operating honestly.

  8. JohnMcC says:

    @Mu: Well…. I dunno. Gen Suleimani is sort of a bete noir on the right wing side of the internet (and I suppose of rightwingers everywhere). He is supposed to be the point of the lance by which Iran infiltrated and ‘took over’ various Iraqi Shiite militias. He is blamed for introducing to the Iraqi’s fighting against US troops a kind of shaped charge weapon that penetrated American armored vehicles and so is called a killer of American troops. He was reported to be in Moscow fairly recently which would be a violation of the sanctions on Iran. (The Russians denied this…BUT THEY WOULD!)

    To the extent that asking about him was a ‘gotcha’ question (which maybe it was) it was to expose to consumers of rightwing news that Mr Trump is not one of them. I doubt the intent was to make Mr Trump look uninformed to a larger audience that would include left-side folks who mostly, like yourself, don’t hear much about the Quds force or Gen Suleimani.

    Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference here but I think it’s meaningful to the intra-mural Repub debate.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Modulo Myself: Big big YOOOGE upvote.

  10. CB says:

    That interview is horrifying.

    That’s all I got. Not capable of snark after reading that insane mishmash of gibberish.

  11. Laurence Burton says:

    For those who haven’t actually taken the time to read the interview or listen to it, here’s the transcript:

    Q. Mr. Trump, you are wonderful. Truly wonderful. Can you please talk about immigration.
    A. I am wonderful. I will fix our immigration problems in the best way.
    Q. Yes, you are really terrific. How would you solve the problem of the debt?
    A. I am really, really smart. And rich. It’s a horrible problem. Stupid people caused it.
    Q. Great answer! What is the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah?
    A. It’s not important, and yet is so important that I will know the answer even better than you do someday. I’m that smart.
    Q. Yes, and handsome. Sorry about that gotcha question, by the way.
    A. That’s ok. I am used to the lies you media types tell. You are stupid.
    Q. Yes. Thank you for talking to me.

  12. Tillman says:

    @Mu: That was my response this morning as I heard parts of the interview over the radio. When Trump mistook Kurds for Quds, I thought, “Yeah, that’s kind of a basic mistake, not horribly revealing.” And then I thought, “who the hell is Suleimani?”

    I mean, if you’d asked me if there were paramilitary groups in Iran, I’d respond affirmatively but I wouldn’t be able to say much about them.

    @JohnMcC: Ah, that makes sense. He’s kinda like Alinsky then in that I’d never heard of him until a Republican brought him up.

    Saul Alinsky : the right :: Leo Strauss : the left, I guess.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Considering that a majority of Trump’s supporters think that President Obama is a Muslim, are we all that surprised that their darling Donald shows a similar indifference to reality?

    More and more, I’m giving up on the US experiment. Develop the technology, build a Space Elevator, and let’s get outta here.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    @grumpy realist: Sorry, there really no other place to go. Mars has no atmosphere but more important has no magnetic field to block solar and cosmic radiation. A trip to Mars might as well be a one way trip since the radiation will fry you. I love science fiction but it’s just that, fiction.

  15. dmichael says:

    @Mu: What is a “gotcha question?” I hear it commonly used by those who are surprised by the question and are unable to answer it (including Jeb when asked about the Iraq war). It implies that the question is unfair. However, if the question can be answered by readily available information and one that a reasonably informed public figure should be able to answer, it is not unfair. If the question calls for some obscure knowledge, then the appropriate response is something like: “I am not aware of the specific name of leader of the Quds forces but know that the Quds are a paramilitary force that has attacked western forces.” In other words, when I hear “gotcha question” I hear someone attacking the questioner in an attempt to deflect attention from their own ignorance.

  16. Rafer Janders says:


    Saul Alinsky : the right :: Leo Strauss : the left, I guess.

    Except when’t the last time you’ve heard anyone reference Leo Strauss?

  17. Tillman says:

    @Rafer Janders: During the Bush administration, so it’s been nearly a decade. Activists seem to want to find intellectual boogeymen who charted a diabolical rise to power when their dude isn’t in office.

    @grumpy realist: This is an understandable reaction to things.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    What is it about the ignorant Republican base that wants a president that is as ignorant as they are?

    People with too much fetchin’ up can’t be trusted to agree with Conservative Common Sense™.

  19. JohnMcC says:

    @dmichael: Via TPM, Steve Schmidt tweeted this morning:

    “We’re at this moment in time when there’s a severability between conservatism and issues. Conservatism is now expressed as an emotional sentiment. That sentiment is contempt and anger.”

  20. humanoid.panda says:

    @Hal_10000: The again, he did say yesterday that the US can’t just rip out the Iran agreement and force everyone to follow, because “that’s not how life works.” That makes him a statesman in a field of gnats when it comes to foreign policy..

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Laurence Burton:

    For those who haven’t actually taken the time to read the interview or listen to it, here’s the transcript:

    Did Jeb do a simultaneous Spanish language translation for the Univision Telemundo listening audience?

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Mars has no atmosphere but more important has no magnetic field to block solar and cosmic radiation.

    Mars ain’t no kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell.

  23. Gustopher says:

    Real Americans don’t want nuance in their foreign policy — fiddling little things like slightly messy compromises, taking others’ needs into account, or even learning their names.

    Real Americans want strength.

    Trump blew this question. The right answer was “It’s not important if I know the name of every crazed Muslim over there, it’s important whether our drone pilots know, and under Obama, our drone pilots don’t know, and I’m going to fix that!”

  24. gVOR08 says:

    There are days I wonder if conservative voters, heck, average voters, have any clue what the President does. For that matter, whether more than a couple of the GOP candidates for the Presidency have any clue what the job entails.

  25. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: There are days I wonder if conservative voters, heck, average voters, have any clue what the President does. For that matter, whether more than a couple of the GOP candidates for the Presidency have any clue what the job entails.

  26. CB says:

    “I hate politicians. Donald Trump is not a politician. So I’m going to vote to make Donald Trump the most important politician on Earth.”

  27. John says:

    I think the job mostly entails copious amounts of golf and extravagant vacations.

  28. Pinky says:

    @JohnMcC: Wow, if the Republicans have lost TPM….

  29. michael reynolds says:


    OK, I’m totally not going to point out that it has taken Steve Schmidt 6 1/2 years to figure out the screamingly obvious.

    Of course “conservatism” is nothing now but “contempt and anger.” Duh.

  30. michael reynolds says:


    It’s not TPM, Pinky, it’s John McCain’s campaign manager.

  31. Mu says:

    So, this was a reverse gotcha question? Not showing him off as a guy who doesn’t know much about general middle eastern politics, but as a guy that is not informed on whom the right wing considers enemy Nr 1 through 3409. Makes sense, in a perverted way, considering the interviewer.

  32. M. Bouffant says:

    To paraphrase Barnum’s sad truth: “You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

  33. Tillman says:

    @M. Bouffant: Could’ve sworn that was Mencken, but the two of them certainly agreed on that.

  34. JohnMcC says:

    @M. Bouffant: @Tillman: Simply due to a mental tic (or illness?) on my part I am compelled to look into this sort of important issue. I found on the internet where no one ever lies and mistakes are autocorrected, that Mencken made that statement. I think the equivalent Barnum quote is ‘there’s a sucker born every minute.’

    I apologize for taking up everyone’s reading time.

  35. Pinky says:

    @michael reynolds: Yeah, my mistake.

  36. Jim Henley says:

    I have to note the bigger sickness here. This so-called “foreign policy” discussion seems to have been about nothing but war issues. There’s a lot more to foreign-policy than that, but in elite discourse any more you’d never know that.

  37. Pinky says:

    @Jim Henley: Only if you buy into the false dichotomy that the only alternative to this Iran nuclear deal is war. And even then, there are other foreign policy issues in the conversation. Immigration is a foreign policy issue. Our relationship with China has been talked about, too. Actually, thinking about this, I can’t think of a single “war issue” that’s been talked about in the campaign. Am I missing something?

  38. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @humanoid.panda: As a counter-intuitive approach to the issue, is it possible that the statement from today on the Iran deal and Trump’s announced support for gay marriage (paired in the same Yahoo story I saw earlier), combined with his signing of the pledge, is the beginning of his self-immolation as a presidential candidate?

  39. Jim Henley says:

    @Pinky: The interview controversy is all about whether Trump can identify the leaders of various terrorist groups. I haven’t seen any non-war-related “foreign policy” discussion of the interview specifically.

  40. wr says:

    @Pinky: “Am I missing something?”


  41. bill says:

    @Ron Beasley: well, considering who’s in office now and his ineffective foreign policy….seriously? at east trump said he’d just hire qualified people to deal with it- as opposed to what obama actually did. what did obama actually do anyways…….maybe start with the heralded “arab spring”, then segue into the ukraine and maybe finish with bowing down to the iranians……..jimmy carter looked masculine compared to obama.

  42. Pinky says:
  43. wr says:

    @JohnMcC: Holey moly, I just learned something on the internet! I always thought that as Barnum, too.