Hawkish lawmakers and former military officials skewered Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama Monday night, painting them as weak and incompetent. Under Donald Trump , they promised, America would pile up foreign policy wins — but their fiery remarks were thin on just how the billionaire businessman would do that.
They came to a massive stage in Cleveland and promised Trump’s administration would bring “unconditional victory” against violent Islamic extremist groups, vowed that he would always use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” and win wars rather than seek to end them.
But none offered specific strategic and tactical policy proposals or changes that would turn any of those sweeping pronouncements into reality. Other than ripping up a nuclear deal with Tehran, the national security speakers’ collective message was Trump would simply do almost everything differently on national security and foreign policy than did Obama and his team — especially Clinton, Barack Obama’s first secretary of state.
Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton , who was an Army infantry officer for five years, delivered a message aimed at independent voters: Trump will make national security his “chief responsibility.”
[ Special Coverage: 2016 Republican National Convention ] Cotton used his convention speech to cast a potential Trump administration as more competent on national security than the Obama administration. And the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran made clear Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, would be more willing to use U.S. force than Obama.
“Our warriors and their families don’t ask for much. But there are a few things we’d like,” said Cotton, an Armed Services Committee member and subcommittee chairman.
“A commander in chief who speaks of winning wars and not merely ending wars, calls the enemy by its name, and draws red lines carefully, but enforces them ruthlessly,” he said. “And politicians who treat our common defense as the chief responsibility of our federal government, not just another government program.”
Cotton told a packed house at Quicken Loans Arena, home of LeBron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers , that that kind of commander in chief “isn’t much to ask for.”
“But eight years without it is more than enough,” Cotton said. “In a Trump-Pence administration and with a Republican Congress, help is on the way.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani practically yelled much of his national security speech, including this line: “It’s time to make America safe again.”
“I know it can be done because I did it by changing New York City from 'the crime capital of America' to, according to the FBI, the safest large city in America,” Giuliani said. “What I did for New York City, Donald Trump will do for America.”
[ At GOP Convention, Lots of Talk But No New Evidence on Benghazi ] Giuliani, whom Trump has mentioned as a possible head of a radical Islamic terrorism commission, offered only one major Trump policy proposal, saying the likely GOP nominee would rescind the deal Obama and other global powers brokered with Iran over its nuclear program.
He called it “one of the worst deals America ever made, alleging that it “will eventually let them become a nuclear power and put billions of dollars back into a country that the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism.”
When the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York asked the attendees if they would trust Clinton to be the next commander in chief, they responded in unison with a thunderous “No!”
“Donald Trump will change all of that,” he said. “Donald Trump is a leader. He will reassert America’s position as the nation with the best values to lead the world.”
Giuliani hit Clinton and Obama for, as GOP members and pundits have put it for years, "following from behind." And retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn later picked up on that theme -- but not before appearing to contradict the man who put him on his vice presidential candidate short list.
Flynn said the U.S. must defeat its enemies by "finding and capturing" them. In so doing, he seemed to contradict Trump, who repeatedly has vowed to "bomb the [expletive] out of" the Islamic State.
"My message to you is very clear: Wake up America! There is no substitute for American leadership and exceptionalism," Flynn said. "America should not fear our enemies." He called Clinton a "clone" of Obama.
[ Celebrities on Trump: He'll Protect Family, Country ] "Tonight, Americans stand as one with strength and confidence to overcome the last eight years of the Obama-Clinton failures such as, bumbling indecisiveness willful ignorance and total incompetence that has challenged the very heart and soul of every American, and single-handedly brought continued mayhem, murder and destruction into our neighborhoods and onto the world’s streets," Flynn said.
Flynn was fired from his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's premier intelligence organization, in 2014 by James Clapper, Obama's director of national intelligence.
Flynn, who has been advising Trump on national security issues, warned America's place in the world is "in jeopardy," but declared a Trump presidency will kick off "a new American century." Flynn blamed Obama for the rise of the Islamic State , and vaguely promised a new "path" under a President Trump.
But, again, he also offered few specifics, suggesting only that Trump would cease releasing terrorist detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. And he promised the New York real estate mogul would use tougher words than has Obama.
But hawkish words and bold promises do not always solve squabbles within the national security and foreign policy establishment that advises the commander in chief, nor his or her own West Wing staff. And words about values, no matter how passionately spoken, do not necessarily translate into U.S. policies that can be neatly implemented around the globe.
For the GOP, little else was on display Monday night in Cleveland.