Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policies on Display


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Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. Following Bernie Sanders’ sit-down with the New York Daily News last week, Hillary Clinton took a turn in the hot seat. This interview did not make as big a splash as Sanders’ did, which, based on the reason why Sanders’ interview made news, was a good thing. The discussion did not provide much insight into her grand foreign policy (many areas of the world were missed, just like in the Sanders interview), but she did reveal a specific counterterrorism and homeland defense policy proposal:

We need it [more homeland security funding]. We need it. I want it. I don’t agree with the Obama administration on that. …

I have a great confidence in and commitment to making sure that New York has all of the homeland security funding that it needs from the federal government and I believe that its request is reasonable. And I would very much want to see the Obama administration produce that $90 million that it has otherwise decided to withhold. And in the absence, I support my former colleague and friend, [New York Senator] Chuck Schumer, in getting it through the Congress.

This statement puts her in agreement with New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who proposed a similar measure not too long ago. In a separate piece, the New York Daily News contextualizes Clinton’s comments:

The stinging rebuke of her former boss comes just months after the White House released a 2017 budget that called for slashing funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) — which pays for anti-terror ventures in large U.S. cities like New York — from $600 million to $330 million.

A stronger counterterrorism and homeland defense stance has been a hallmark of the Clinton campaign. Last month she called for an “intelligence surge” so there can be greater understanding of Islamic State developments, a better relationship between government and Silicon Valley firms to help on the technological side of the counterterrorism fight, and increasing security at “soft targets” like airports.

Last December Americans named terrorism America’s top problem, so a more forceful approach against the Islamic State and others likely resonates well with voters, especially with New Yorkers who will cast ballots in a primary on April 19. As of this writing, Clinton and Donald Trump “hold strong leads,” according to a poll of likely primary voters in their respective parties. The endorsement from the Daily News will help Clinton.

Bernie Sanders and Israel. The only Jewish presidential candidate may be in some trouble with pro-Israel voters. In his interview with the New York Daily News last week, Sanders was critical of current Israeli policy in Gaza, claiming that “over 10,000 innocent people were killed” there.

This statement, among others, has many folks calling Sanders out, to the surprise of Seth Frantzman:

[H]ow did this Jewish candidate for president who lived in Israel become a maligned “blood libeler” whom a Jewish Press op-ed derided as “not a Jew”? How did he end up being described as “seven times worse than Hamas” by an Israeli online newspaper and illustrated as being hit in the face with a bagel by The Village Voice as a Jewish heretic? He has “Israel hating advisers,” the Free Beacon claims. Evidence? He sought advice from J Street.

Yikes. Even the head of the Democratic Party’s branch in Israel said that foreign policy isn’t Sanders’ forte.

So the critics are unhappy, but maybe something else is going on here. Perhaps American attitudes toward Israel are changing, and many are not fine with that. U.S. support for Israel is decreasing, especially among Democrats — Republican attitudes remain almost unanimously positive. Further, 37 percent of Americans believe Israel has “too much influence” on the United States, which is a marked change from past attitudes. So, Sanders’ stance may prove a bellwether for changing American attitudes toward Israel.

Now here’s a hypothetical worth contemplating: If Sanders were to become president, would Benjamin Netanyahu have a better or worse relationship with him than he has with President Barack Obama?

Bonus: In the same New York Daily News interview mentioned above, Clinton offered more on her Israel stance, which was essentially the same as her AIPAC speech.

The Trump vs. Cruz worse-foreign-policy debate continues. Yet another article wondering whether Trump or Cruz’s worldviews are worse. For Trudy Rubin, it’s Cruz:

Unlike Ronald Reagan — whom he constantly cites as his role model — Cruz seems to have a very limited foreign policy toolbox. Reagan used force in proxy wars with the Soviets and spoke of them as “an evil empire,” but he also negotiated nuclear weapons treaties with Moscow.

Cruz, on the other hand, seems disinterested in dealing with the complexities of the world he lives in. He proposes that police “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods in America, a bizarre idea that insults Muslim Americans, few of whom live in isolated neighborhoods anyway. Cruz seems determined to alienate moderate Muslims at home and abroad.

She goes on to name some of what she calls the “fringe extremists” Cruz has on his foreign policy team like Frank Gaffney, retired Gen. William Boykin, and Michael Ledeen. “That prospect is almost enough to make Trump sound like a reasonable man,” says Rubin. Well, not quite. Either way, it’s amazing that the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination are talked about in terms like “who has the worst foreign policy?” instead of “who has the best one?”

Does your candidate have a foreign policy? Micah Zenko provides a questions checklist for voters over at Foreign Policy. Here are the inquiries those planning to pull a lever in November should make regarding their preferred candidate’s stances on world affairs:

1)    Is the proposed policy actionable?
2)    Does it acknowledge the existence of Congress?
3)    Is it markedly different from existing U.S. policy?
4)    If it mirrors current policy, why would it work next time?
5)    Are they recent converts?
6)    Do they stand by it?
7)    Do they acknowledge the likely consequences?
8)    Will the policy work?

These are all fair and good questions. However, they are very process-focused. I’ve added a few below that have to do with how candidates believe the world is, or is not, changing, and how that might affect America’s role in the world:

1)    Do they acknowledge the prevalence of non-state actors on the global stage?
2)    Should the United States’ “grand strategy” aim to preserve its current role of maintaining and leading the liberal international order, or try something different?
3)    What tools of statecraft does the candidate believe America must prioritize to stay competitive in the twenty-first century?
4)    Which international institutions need to be amended or abolished?
5)    What are America’s greatest strategic success and failure, and what can we learn from both?

I’ll stop there, although I always have many questions. Even if voters do not use what Zenko or I offered, I can only hope they are at least asking themselves some questions regarding their candidates. Although, if you’re reading this piece in your email inbox or on the War on the Rocks website, you likely already are doing that.

Is this “President Mattis” thing for real? Apparently “a group of billionaire donors” are trying to make it so, reports Tim Mak at The Daily Beast. Loyal #NatSec2016 newsletter readers will recall I covered John Noonan’s proposal last month in which he declared retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis could be a formidable third-party candidate for president. What seemed like a long shot then remains a long shot now, but maybe less so:

Close to a dozen influential donors — involving politically-involved billionaires with deep pockets and conservative leanings — are ready to put their resources behind Mattis. At their request, a small group of political operatives have taken the first steps in the strategic legwork needed for a bid: a package of six strategic memos outlining how Mattis could win the race, in hopes of coaxing him in.

And who is helping to lead this effort to draft Mattis? None other than John Noonan. Seems like his piece was not a hypothetical, but a feeler to see how others might react. It appears the reaction is positive, for now. Military Times recently outlined how Mattis could go from dark horse to White House resident:

1) Declare himself a candidate.

2) Ensure no other candidate gets 270 electoral college votes in November.

3) Have Congress install him as commander-in-chief.

Technically, supporters of the idea are labeling it “quite simple, but it’s difficult.”

Of course, all of this is going on without any buy-in from Mattis himself. Recall he said last July that he would not run for president, despite many Marines wanting him to. A part of me wants to believe if an actual path to the presidency were to appear, he might consider a run. I wouldn’t bet on it, though, especially since he’s not the only military leader talked about as a potential draftee for a presidential run (see Marc Lynch’s tweet for my thoughts on this piece).

Weirdest article of the week. This week Charli Carpenter’s argument in Duck of Minerva defending Sanders’ foreign policy gets the honor. Her main point:

What matters more — and what should matter for any candidate in my mind — is a consistent and appropriate overall vision, and (crucially) a willingness to seek out and listen to her/his advisers about how to execute. Sanders consistently demonstrated both these qualities in his NYDN interview. Overall, this moment tells us more about his foreign policy chops than critics admit: that Sanders thinks before he decides, is not afraid to ask for information he doesn’t have, and sees foreign policy through a consistent lens of his core principles: restraint, diplomacy and shared humanity.

So let me get this straight: Sanders has a good foreign policy because … he doesn’t have one yet and doesn’t know the answers to questions he should? That’s a weird argument. In the same piece Carpenter argues it is still too early for candidates to have “nuance” in their worldviews. Sure, no one expects detailed foreign policy agendas early in a presidential race, but it’s April, and it has been almost a year since Sanders announced his presidential run. For him not to have seriously thought out foreign policy stances at this stage is unacceptable.

Good arguments for Sanders’ foreign policy (and against) can certainly be made. But to make the argument that not having a foreign policy means you have a good one because you’re willing to ask others for help? That’s just weird.


Alex Ward is an Associate Director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where he works on U.S. defense policy, strategy, and now focuses primarily on the presidential election and foreign policy. He tweets at @AlexWardB.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore