UPDATE: In writing this article, I proposed two possible options for why Trump would mention a non-existent U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia. He either let slip a sensitive bit of secret information or he was simply massively ignorant. It now appears to have been the latter. Trump may be receiving classified briefings (although whether he has officially begun has not been announced), but it is unlikely that he would have been given access to information as sensitive as a secret military base. In this instance, his crime was ignorance, not malfeasance.
Following the publishing of this article, the story exploded around the internet. While I tried to be careful not to stretch assumptions too far in the piece, upon further reflection I fell short. For that I apologize to our readers. Fact-checking site Snopes (rightfully) corrected some of the inaccuracies. You can read their assessment here.
We’ll do better.
Today was likely Donald Trump’s very first day of getting classified intelligence briefings as part of his role as the Republican nominee. He has been provided these briefings against the wishes of high ranking former intelligence agents, as well as many currently still working in the Pentagon. The concern for many has been Trump’s inability to keep his mouth shut, his mercurial temper, and his relentless need to boast about things he doesn’t understand.
Republicans have responded by saying Trump would be more presidential now that he’s the nominee. Surely, he wouldn’t, say, leak any classified information he receives as part of his new access to information. Surely!
But now there’s this.
At a rally in Colorado Springs, Trump was deep into a rant about making countries pay the United States for protection when he suggested we shouldn’t have to keep paying “rent” for the military base we keep in Saudi Arabia.
Trump is now complaining "we pay rent for our base to Saudi Arabia"
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 29, 2016
Among the stupidity of the statement lies an even more troubling thing: The United States isn’t supposed to have a base in Saudi Arabia.
If there is now a US military base in Saudi, it is classified and mentioning it should have legal consequences. https://t.co/LgEeMXkV7M
— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) July 29, 2016
The last American base in Saudi Arabia was supposed to have closed down shortly after 9/11. After unrest during the invasion of Iraq, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld officially closed the last remaining U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia and gave it back to the Saudi government.
If America does still have a base in Saudi Arabia it was a site not meant to be made public. The consequences of having that exposed could quite have massive consequences for America’s role in the Middle East.
There are two possibilities here: Either Donald Trump is so woefully out of touch with American foreign policy that he thinks a base that closed down 13 years ago is still open – or he just leaked a staggering nugget of classified information. Should it come to light that there is indeed a secret base in Saudi Arabia, you can forget about homebrew servers – Trump just committed a massive crime.
And here is where Trump’s maliciousness and his stupidity intersect: It’s possible that even if Trump was aware a base in Saudi Arabia existed, he wouldn’t have known it was meant to be a secret. Despite claiming he knows “more than the generals,” Trump has very little knowledge about any foreign policy issue. He’s quite literally so ignorant that he doesn’t know what he shouldn’t know. How do you give classified information to a man that dense? It’s a strong reason to trust former intelligence officers when they look at Donald Trump and say they have deep concerns.
Featured image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images