As the question of trust has emerged as a significant factor in deciding between the two major candidates for president, it is worth thinking about this issue in the context of recent news.
The terror attack in Nice, France, on July 14 rocked the world, not just as the latest mass casualty event but as a turning point in how such mayhem can be carried out. The lone, highly disturbed, but ISIS-inspired terrorist used a rented truck – not explosives or military-style assault weapons – to kill 84 innocent bystanders at a holiday event in the south of France.
How do we protect ourselves against this kind of threat? Decapitating the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaida and similar jihadist terror organizations, or recapturing geography taken over by the caliphate, might be good ideas for many reasons. But such strategies will do little or nothing to deter more low-tech, bomb-free, heavy-weapon-free terror attacks concocted by disaffected loners anywhere in the world – including the U.S.
Within two days of the Nice terror attack, Turkey, one of NATO’s most important member states – and a major force fighting ISIS in the region – was facing down a potential military coup. Turkey’s strategic location on the Syrian border and the strength of its military make that country’s stability absolutely central to containment of chaos in the region, as consistent with the best interests of the United States and its allies in Western Europe.
But for ideological purists, Turkey presents certain challenges. It held legitimate, democratic, full-participation presidential elections in 2014 that brought Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power. Erdogan, a long-time Islamic leader in Turkey, is not without controversy. His past is replete with allegations of corruption, anti-Semitism, and a host of other issues that have appropriately concerned many U.S. policymakers and elected officials.
Managing our positions and strategies in such important challenges requires deep knowledge of complex factors, an understanding of history and nuanced background, the ability to effectively process critical information, the selection of capable advisers and a steady hand.
As I imagine the prospect of a brash, incredibly uninformed, shoot-from-the-hip personality like Donald Trump in the Oval Office, I worry deeply about how critical assessments and decisions would be made. Then I think about Hillary Clinton, brilliant and experienced in ways we have rarely seen in a presidential candidate. We can actually envision her fulfilling the awesome responsibilities of the presidency with extreme competence and an ability to work across political and cultural boundaries.
I have worked enough with Hillary Clinton since she helped her husband win the presidency in 1992 to have an up-close understanding about the candidate’s trustworthiness. Here’s what I can tell you: I trusted Hillary to devote herself to her first major assignment as first lady. She worked harder than anyone I have ever known to develop a plan to make sure every American would have access to quality, affordable health care. Though her plan was ultimately rejected by Congress, she was undeterred, rededicating herself to the task of getting health care for kids, a fight she led and won in 1997.
I trusted Hillary, as one of the nation’s most effective U.S. senators, to focus on what the country needed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. She was unrelenting in making sure the homeland security infrastructure was established, that the issues were laid out, that people were heard and that all of this was done across party lines.
I trusted Hillary as secretary of state to be persistent in promoting American values around the globe, to make progress with adversaries and reinforce relationships with our allies.
Is it fair to ask if each of Hillary’s decisions over a 30-year career at the highest level of government was absolutely correct? Yes, it is a fair question. But no honest leader could ever have a track record of perfect decisions made in the fog of crisis, in information-limited, complex situations that have become the defining environment of global geopolitics. And Clinton herself readily admits regretting certain decisions, including about the management of emails while a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
So should we trust this brilliant, thoughtful woman to serve as the next president? I couldn’t be more certain, even if the alternative weren’t the most ill-prepared presidential candidate in modern history.
Dr. Irwin Redlener directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, where he is also a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health. He is the author of “Americans at Risk: Why We Are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do Now.” Follow on Twitter @IrwinRedlenerMD. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.