Andres Oppenheimer

Trump’s advisers will be ‘yes men’

Roger Noriega, the former head of the State Department’s Latin American department in the George W. Bush administration, in 2011.
Roger Noriega, the former head of the State Department’s Latin American department in the George W. Bush administration, in 2011. El Nuevo Herald

If Donald Trump becomes the next U.S. president, he will have a hard time assembling a team of experienced foreign policy advisers, especially when it comes to Latin American experts: Key Republican specialists in the region are running away from him as fast as they can.

That’s the impression I got when I talked with several former Latin America policymakers who served in recent Republican administrations. Several of them told me they couldn’t work for somebody who has insulted Mexico and Latinos, and who doesn’t listen.

Take the case of Roger Noriega, the former head of the State Department’s Latin American department in the George W. Bush administration. He is a conservative Republican and foreign policy hawk who has served in every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan’s.

I recently ran into Noriega and asked him whether he plans to join the Trump bandwagon, He looked at me as if I had insulted him and said, “No way!” What’s more, he said that while he won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, he won’t vote for Trump either.

Two weeks later, I asked Noriega if he had changed his mind, like so many other Republicans who — after calling Trump a “con man,” as Sen. Marco Rubio did — are recanting their previous stands, deleting their old anti-Trump tweets and vowing to support the presumptive Republican nominee. Noriega responded, “Not a chance!”

Trump’s statement that most Mexicans are “criminals” and “rapists,” as well as his calls for building a wall on the border, deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and slapping a 35 percent tax on Mexican imports “show ignorance, intellectual dishonesty and utter disregard for serious diplomacy,” Noriega told me.

These attitudes poison U.S. relations with key countries, and may even endanger U.S. national security, he said. “By speaking the way he does, he devalues the most important relationships we have in the world, economically and from a national security point of view,” Noriega said.

“Mexico is not only our second largest trading partner, but is also the front line against narco-trafficking, terrorism, and illegal immigration,” he said. “Trump’s statements will make it much harder for Mexico to continue cooperating with us.”

Asked about the possibility that Trump’s Mexico-bashing is just campaign rhetoric, and that he may change it if he surrounds himself with seasoned foreign policy advisers, Noriega said, “Anyone who has a TV set knows that the guy doesn’t listen to sound advice. He wants yes men.”

He added, “It’s clear that there is no learning curve with this guy. You are going to end up with very inexperienced people.”

If Trump wins, “every U.S. diplomat is going to be like the guy sweeping the floor at the end of the parade of elephants,” Noriega concluded.

Many Republican foreign policy experts think likewise. They are concerned about Trump’s careless proposals — often retracted within hours, but only halfway — to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, start a trade war with China, dismantle NATO, be “neutral” in the Israel-Palestine conflict and many other issues.

In March, 121 former senior foreign policy officials in Republican administrations — including former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick — signed a letter warning about the dangers of a Trump presidency to U.S. national security.

“He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence,” the letter said. “His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world.”

Otto Reich, another former State Department Latin America chief who served in several Republican administrations — but was not among those signing that letter — told me when asked if he would work for a Trump administration, “I’m not looking for a job.” Asked why, he declined to comment.

My opinion: Many, if not most, Republican foreign policy experts are staying away from Trump. Most consider, accurately, that he is a racist and intellectually dishonest demagogue who has insulted almost every country with which the U.S. should seek better ties, and who doesn’t take advice.

If Trump wins, he’ll do what he has always done: surround himself with yes men. Most of them will be opportunistic losers — to use a Trumpian term — who have no other place to go. It’s already happening.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español