Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Donald Trump has received a fair amount of attention, mainly because Trump didn’t know the answers to some of Hewitt’s supposed “gotcha” questions.
But how challenging were Hewitt’s queries? Not very. Consider this exchange:
HH: … But 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?
DT: 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. I knew you were going to ask me things like this, and there’s no reason, because number one, I’ll find, I will hopefully find General Douglas MacArthur in the pack. I will find whoever it is that I’ll find, and we’ll, but they’re all changing, Hugh. You know, those are like history questions. Do you know this one, do you know that one. I will tell you, I thought you used the word Kurd before. I will tell you that I think the Kurds are the most under-utilized and are being totally mistreated by us. And nobody understands why. But 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. If, if they’re still there, which is unlikely in many cases, but if they’re still there, I will know them better than I know you.
It doesn’t take someone who is the equivalent of a General Douglas MacArthur to know the personalities mentioned by Hewitt.
Baghdadi, as in Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is notorious around the world. His image is routinely splashed on the front pages of newspapers and on the nightly news. His organization, the Islamic State (or ISIS), has dominated headlines for more than year with atrocity after atrocity. It is possible that Baghdadi will be “gone” by the time the next president assumes office. (There are, for example, persistent unconfirmed rumors that Baghdadi has been seriously wounded or is otherwise in poor health.) But that shouldn’t stop Trump, or any other candidate, from knowing who Baghdadi is.
What’s especially curious about Trump’s answer is that he has made a big deal out of his claim that “nobody” would be tougher on ISIS than a President Trump. He has also claimed to have a winning plan: Take away ISIS’s oil.
But how can Trump be the best candidate to defeat ISIS if he doesn’t even know someone as infamous as the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi? Hewitt didn’t ask about some obscure ISIS lieutenant, or even Baghdadi’s recently deceased #2. If not a household name, “Baghdadi” is close to it.
Perhaps he didn’t hear all of the names mentioned by Hewitt. But consider, too, Zawahiri–as in Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda.
Zawahiri has been widely known to the American public since at least the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was Osama bin Laden’s right hand man at the time. And Zawahiri worked closely with bin Laden going back to the 1980s. After bin Laden was killed in May 2011, Zawahiri became al Qaeda’s top man. Again, Zawahiri isn’t some obscure jihadis: He is one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet and has been for the better part of two decades.
Although he is probably not as well-known as either Baghdadi or Zawahiri, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is hardly an unknown.
Julani, as in Abu Muhammad al Julani, is the leader of al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front in Syria. He has never shown his face in public and he is not as prominent as the other personalities mentioned by Hewitt. But Julani is not some figure from history either.
In the context of an interview, it is certainly conceivable that one or more of these names simply slipped Trump’s mind. Perhaps if he sat down and thought for a moment he would remember who Baghdadi and Zawahiri are.
But what is telling about Trump’s answer is how quickly he became defensive. For instance, even if he didn’t know all of the people listed by Hewitt, he could have easily said: “Everyone knows who Baghdadi is!” Something along those lines probably would have defused the line of questioning.
Instead of saying something like that, however, Trump immediately began making excuses for his ignorance.
Chances are that one or more of the four terrorists mentioned by Hewitt will still be in the game when the next American president is inaugurated. And he or she should know who they are.