America's former top spy is worried about Donald Trump

Michael Hayden.Business InsiderMichael Hayden.

Michael Hayden didn’t mince words when asked about Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslim immigrants and tourists from entering the US.

It’s not legally possible, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency told Business Insider in an interview. It’s morally reprehensible.

And, frankly, “it’s dumb as dirt.”

“Why in God’s name would you want to close the borders of our nation to the adherence to one of the world’s great monotheisms?” Hayden said during an interview in Business Insider’s Manhattan headquarters. 

It was part of extensive comments critical of Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee of whom many top Republican officials remain wary.

Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency whom President George W. Bush nominated in 2006 to head the CIA, is one of a number of prominent past and present national-security officials who have remained sceptical of Trump’s qualifications as commander in chief.

Hayden took aim at Trump over his plan to erect a wall along the US-Mexico border, his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US, and his suggestion that the US might have to target the families of terrorists, among other things. 

“He has not shown me the capacity to treat international issues with the complexity and seriousness that they deserve,” Hayden said. “And again, if I’m supposed to ignore those things — ‘that was just done for the crowd’ — frankly, that’s an even worse problem. I’m going to take him at face value.”

Hayden’s first two choices succumbed to Trump. He had endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, swinging to Ohio Gov. John Kasich after Bush’s ouster from the race. 

Now? Out of the three major-party candidates left, Hayden says Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, is best prepared in terms of national security.

“Of the candidates left, the only one who in any way seems to embrace the American liberal post-World War II foreign-policy consensus, have a fairly active American role in global things — the only one left standing is Hillary Clinton,” Hayden said. 

Hayden is hardly alone in the pantheon of national-security officials, especially those who have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who served under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told Business Insider in January that it was difficult for him to imagine a Trump administration. Though he didn’t name Trump specifically, he criticised what he portrayed as candidates’ fantastical proposals.

And Leon Panetta, who worked as both secretary of defence and CIA director, said in an interview published Friday that Trump’s foreign policy is simply “crazy.”

“The difference between Secretary Clinton and Trump — I mean, Trump is talking about the world in a way that takes us back to the 1930s. I mean, he’s talking almost isolationism, America first. He’s talking about distributing A-bombs around the world. Those are crazy positions,” Panetta told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. 

He added:

I’m not sure what he stands for. I’m not sure what his positions are. He takes one position one day, he takes another position the next day. He takes positions on, you know, immigration and building a wall, on getting rid of 11 million immigrants. He talks about distributing atomic weapons so that it’s OK if Japan gets atomic weapons, if Korea gets atomic weapons. He says these things almost as if he’s not even thinking. And then, you know, the next day he kind of changes his position to try to soften some of the things he says.

For his part, Hayden suggested Clinton is the best choice in the narrow lane of national security and foreign policy. But other policy prescriptions, he said, would make him hesitate before casting a vote for either of the likely nominees.

Hayden has been struck by the phenomenon of both Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains a challenger to Clinton for the Democratic nomination. But he said they represent a “primal scream” from each party’s electorates that doesn’t necessarily translate to governance.

“I get that. I understand the anger. I’m kind of angry, too,” he said. “But sooner or later, you have to realise you can’t govern on a primal scream — that you need more stuff behind it. And I haven’t seen the stuff.”

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