war on the rocks

#NatSec2016: Trump’s Foreign Policy and Hillary Clinton the Hawk

April 28, 2016

Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech. Donald Trump finally gave the big foreign policy speech everybody wanted where he outlined his “America First” doctrine. It didn’t disappoint – in that it was as bad as many assumed it would be.

Let’s start with the positive. Trump began by critiquing President George W. Bush’s and President Barack Obama’s Middle East sojourns in a way those who prefer a restrained America would like:

We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.

It was a coherent position we’ve all heard before. He then went on to explain the five things he’s unhappy about in the world: 1) our resources are overextended; 2) allies are not contributing their fair share; 3) our allies and partners don’t think we support them; 4) our enemies no longer respect our power; and 5) America has lost sight of its achievable foreign policy goals.

Again, not unreasonable. …But then it got weird.

Essentially, better immigration policies will help us defeat radical Islam, and if we don’t say those exact words—“radical Islam”—we will lose to the Islamic State and extremism. Investing in purchasing the best weaponry and military systems is actually the “cheapest, single investment we can make” (I can hear F-35 critics laughing). China somehow takes advantage of us in trade (see below for more on this). We should “never again” take any part in global trade deals. We should not go in and invade places, but ensure we “save lives” wherever they are threatened.

I could go on, but you get the idea. So, it looks like Tom Wright and I were right: Trump’s worldview is consistent, but his foreign policy positions are not. As for his policy positions, especially for those involving the military, it rubs those in service the wrong way. As a Trump and Clinton general election matchup draws closer, Trump’s retrenchment will come head-to-head with…

Hawkllary Clinton? Mark Lander makes a case in the New York Times Magazine. Here are the article’s key passages:

As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone – grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook case of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has. …

Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into “any dark corner of the world.” Unexpectedly, in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race.

Whoa. There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s take it one step at a time.

First, these kinds of articles are all over the place, so this wasn’t anything new. Second, it is difficult to disentangle Obama’s foreign policy from Clinton’s preferences; after all, they worked hand-in-hand on it for years. Despite their differences, she will always be pegged to their Obama years despite believing Obama doesn’t have the right “organizing principle”— read: grand strategy — for world affairs and that he should’ve done more in Syria.

Third, the narrative in the article overly conflates affinity for the military and belief in its role with hawkishness. You can still believe the military has a role to play in American national security and foreign policy and not be a hawk. It has to do more with how she wants to use the military.

Don’t get me wrong: Clinton is definitely the most forceful of all the candidates, but the hawk-dove dichotomy isn’t really descriptive and needs to be revisited. As our world affairs get more complex, our thinking about officials’ foreign policy views should get more nuanced.

Cruz phones a friend. Or, rather, many of them. In a pre-Trump-speech call with his foreign policy advisors, Cruz said that “national security is central to this campaign,” according to The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. Yet, the guy at the center of the campaign didn’t do much of the talking. Instead, the call served to get an idea of where his foreign policy advisors — Victoria Coates, Nile Gardiner, Andy McCarthy, and former Sen. Jim Talent — stand on the issues.

Gardiner

chastised Obama for asserting on Friday that if Britain exited the European Union, it would have to go to the “back of the queue” to cut a separate deal with the United States. Gardiner observed that these remarks had been roundly criticized by the British press and cabinet officials as meddling in an internal discussion in Britain. Gardiner said this only illustrated Obama’s “willingness to slap allies in the face in much the same way he’s treated Israel.” He added, “This is no way to treat an ally,” and went on to argue that if Britain does exit, we should embrace the decision as an act of “self-determination and national sovereignty.”

Talent

recalled the decision Obama made early on his presidency to “pull the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs” in reversing the decision to put anti-missile defense systems into those countries. Talent then pivoted to argue that it is critical to rebuilding our military so that we could have the troops and equipment to upgrade our presence in Europe. He noted that with Vladimir Putin “applying tremendous pressure,” our allies are asking, “‘Where is America? Where is American leadership?’”

McCarthy

pointed out the danger of “parallel societies” in which Muslims do not assimilate. These communities become fertile grounds for jihadists and provide a support network for those who take up violence. He was also careful to emphasize that many peaceful Muslims embrace the “western liberty culture,” but he argued against allowing in more refugees, maintaining that we cannot vet these people properly.

So, should Cruz be in the White House, those that have his ear will tell him to be fine with Britain if it leaves the European Union, to put missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic (or Czechia), and that America should not let refugees in.

Knowing how much advisors affect presidencies, these comments provide a significant insight into the kind of advice that could potentially be offered in President Cruz’s Oval Office.

Should Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate on foreign policy? The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wants to see it:

The previous debates and town halls with Clinton and Sanders were primarily focused on domestic policy. Questions on international relations were few, and the answers did not get the necessary follow-ups to bring the candidates’ foreign policy pictures into as clear a focus as their domestic agendas. And with all that’s going on around the world — with our friends and adversaries alike — voters should know how a potential commander in chief would lead the nation.

And some prominent experts wrote some of their own questions for the candidates. Like this one from Derek Chollet, formerly of the Obama administration and now with the German Marshall Fund: “What is the single greatest global threat? Single greatest global opportunity?”

Or Third Way’s Vice President for the National Security Program Mieke Eoyang (who slammed Sanders in a #NatSec2016 article): “If elected president, what would you do differently from the current foreign policy approaches? What do you think is currently working?”

Or Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass: “The president and others have criticized several U.S. allies of late for not doing enough and for being ‘free riders.’ Do you agree? If so, what would you do about it?”

Or America Enterprise Institute Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Danielle Pletka: “Do you believe that the United States has the responsibility to stop genocide and crimes against humanity, or should we simply watch and condemn them verbally?”

Good questions all. It would be great to hear any of the Democratic candidates respond to these queries. And, for whoever is wondering, I have my own questions for the Republicans (or, I guess, now just Trump).

Make China Great Again. That’s what Wall Street Journal writer David Feith, the son of former George W. Bush administration official Doug Feith, thinks Donald Trump would do. If Trump becomes president, “China may benefit more than any country in the world,” he says. Feith argues Trump doesn’t really get the whole picture of the deficit-with-China thing. Trump would focus most of his time on trying to reverse a trend that’s good for the United States. And then:

Complementing Mr. Trump’s trade paranoia, oddly, is a see-no-evil approach to actual Chinese misbehavior. China is indeed responsible for what’s commonly identified as the greatest theft ever, but it isn’t the voluntary exchange of goods between Chinese sellers and America buyers. It’s state-backed cyber pillaging of commercial intellectual property, about which Mr. Trump is quiet.

He also appears indifferent to China’s bid for a hegemonic sphere of influence in the Pacific, perhaps the gravest security challenge of our time. As Beijing subverts the liberal institutions that secured peace and prosperity for Asia after last century’s devastating wars—the U.S. alliance network, democratization, trade, open seas, rules-based settlement of disputes—Mr. Trump is silent in their defense.

Instead he denigrates U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, as he has since the 1980s, understating their frontline contributions to deterring China and its North Korean client. His occasional promises to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Pacific are undercut by his threats to withdraw troops from Asia and his casual disregard for other interests, including NATO and an independent Ukraine. That’s bad news for Taiwan, India and everyone else who fears Chinese dominance—and great news for Beijing.

Others, like WOTR’s Van Jackson in The Diplomat, have made a similar point claiming “Donald Trump’s Asia policy would be a disaster.” So, when it comes to what is likely to be the greatest geopolitical challenge in the coming years — America’s pivot to a China-contested Asia — it seems the GOP frontrunner has his priorities wrong. Instead of trying to bring China into the global economic order, Trump wants to keep China away from it. Instead of deterring China from acting aggressively in Asia, Trump would allow China to run roughshod and let our allies deal with the fallout. Only one word describes that: sad!

Clinton doesn’t like the GOP candidates’ foreign policies. She made that pretty clear during a rally in Pennsylvania, reports Julia Hatmaker in PennLive. “What they say is not only offensive, it’s downright dangerous,” she told the adorned-in-blue crowd, adding that “loose cannons have a way of misfiring.”

Shots. Fired. (Pun intended.)

She used the statements of her main opponents as a way to compare her policies to theirs. First, Trump:

When he says we’re going to bar Muslims from coming to the United States – you know, I know we have to defeat ISIS and other terrorist networks and I know in order to do that, we have to have a coalition that includes Muslim majority nations. … I put the coalition together that imposed sanctions on Iran that drove them to the negotiating table to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program.

Then:

Ted Cruz talking about religiously profiling American Muslims and having special police patrols to go through Muslim neighborhoods. … It’s easy to say these things…but it doesn’t bear up for a nanosecond.

Why is this newsworthy in this moment? After all, she and others have made these criticisms before. Because after her New York primary win, Clinton now spends much more time on the stump talking about foreign policy to potential swing-state voters, in this instance those in Pennsylvania. Clearly she’s looking beyond the primaries now, eschewing the Sanders campaign, which looks like it will struggle going forward.

This may be our first real glimpse of how Clinton will act during the general election against her opponent. She must be a little impatient to get things started.

 

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.