Former Pentagon Official Has A Change Of Heart Over Trump's Candidacy
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It was just a letter, but what a letter. Fifty former high-ranking national security officials who had served Republican presidents wrote that, if elected, Donald Trump would be the most reckless president in American history. Mary Beth Long signed that letter. She was a high-ranking Pentagon official and assistant secretary of defense under George W. Bush. But she has now changed her mind, and she's in our studios to talk about it. Mary Beth, welcome to the program.
MARY BETH LONG: Good morning.
GREENE: So remind me why you initially opposed Donald Trump and signed that letter.
LONG: I signed the letter early on in the campaign process, wherein a lot of the positions on foreign policy by candidate Trump were not very nuanced. They were very blunt. They seemed to be rather harsh. They seemed not to reflect some of the principles that I thought were foundational to a good foreign policy.
GREENE: What's an example? What's an example of something that just didn't seem nuanced at all and went too far for you?
LONG: Well, the - some of the statements regarding foreigners, particularly Muslims and Latin Americans or Hispanics, seemed to be offensive.
GREENE: Him saying that, for a time, Muslims should be banned from entering the country.
LONG: Well, he said that, but then he very quickly nuanced it as to whether he thought they were able to be vetted and from what countries they were coming and whether those countries supported terrorism, and there would be a vetting process.
GREENE: OK, so is that what changed? You started to see nuance that you hadn't seen initially?
LONG: A number of things. There was a number of nuances that started to emerge. I also talked to a number of individuals, including those higher up in his - his candidacy, that really put the comments in context, not only nuancing them, but showing them in a larger idea of a policy that I thought was more pragmatic and not quite the bumper sticker that we were all hearing not only from the media but from the candidate himself.
GREENE: Isn't that a problem, though? I mean, I wonder if we should ever trust what candidates say if we're just going to listen and then let other people explain what they really mean when they would be president. I mean, isn't that a problem? Don't words matter?
LONG: Words absolutely matter. I think part of it is our campaign process goes on so long. There became a point where bumper stickers were all about what people were about to tolerate. They were very sick of the whole process, quite frankly. And I think that drove both of the candidates into making statements that were lacking in nuance and context.
GREENE: You heard Hillary Clinton make statements that were as lacking in nuance as Donald Trump, you're saying?
LONG: Oh, worse. I heard her, like - Clinton tell - I think it was the Goldman Sachs folks - that she definitively had a public and a private position, so...
GREENE: And you're talking about one of the - one of the speeches that...
LONG: Yeah, absolutely.
GREENE: ...We saw the transcripts of. Let me just use a case study here. I want to - you were a NATO adviser in some way at some point. Is that right?
LONG: I was.
LONG: I was responsible for NATO as the assistant secretary and then as a subject-matter adviser after I left office.
GREENE: Well, let's listen together here to something Donald Trump said about the U.S. commitment to NATO. This was back in the spring.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense. And if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.
GREENE: This is an alliance that is based on the notion - Article 5 - that if a country in NATO is attacked, other countries will be there to defend them, including the United States. The words, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves, I mean, doesn't - don't European nations have a right to be nervous hearing that?
LONG: Oh, absolutely - not only European nations, but other non-treaty alliances. But I understand that what the candidate meant was really two things - number one, that NATO members as well as other allies have to step up and assume the fair share of their burden in not only funding but resourcing for man and et cetera. And that's no different than what Secretary Rumsfeld said to NATO and others and what Secretary Gates said on a number of occasions, albeit in private.
Secondly, I think what he's trying to convey that - is if - if the resourcing and the funding isn't there, that putting - putting folk on notice that the U.S. cannot continue to support at the level that we've been supporting when other countries have not stepped up, even in NATO's case to their self-imposed goals of their own fair share.
GREENE: But isn't all of this a message that, clearly, Russia is hearing? I mean, Russia would love nothing more than for the United States to back away from NATO. And in fact, Vladimir Putin's spokesman just the other day came out and basically said, hey, Donald Trump, could you get NATO forces away from the Russian border? That would be great. I mean, we've heard Donald Trump talk fondly of Vladimir Putin, so it sounds like there could be more behind those words. Are you worried about Trump and Putin and what - what that could mean for NATO allies?
LONG: Oh, absolutely. And I think that the number of the statements that both candidates made - but in particular candidate Trump made - encouraged Russia and encouraged Vladimir Putin's aggression and - and him asserting Russian power over areas that he hadn't heretofore. It's a problem, and we need to address it, but we need to get behind this president and behind his team in having him address those and other developments.
GREENE: Do you think he wants you behind him? He referred to the people who were part of the administration that started the war in Iraq. He said he wants new approaches, and he doesn't want people with perfect resumes but who have very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies. I mean, it sounds like you two have different visions.
LONG: I don't think we have different visions. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn't matter whether he wants me. I changed my position, actually, publicly, well before the elections. I haven't changed my mind recently on the letter. But the issue is, people like me and even people that opposed him or even worked for Hillary have an obligation - actually, I believe a moral and a civic duty - to get behind this president.
GREENE: Just very briefly, would you work for him if he asked you to?
LONG: I'm opening a new business today. I'm not available.
LONG: But I'd be happy to help in other ways.
GREENE: All right. Best of luck with it.
GREENE: Mary Beth Long was assistant secretary of defense in George W. Bush's administration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.