war on the rocks

#NatSec2016: Sanders and Trump Foreign Policies Explained, Sort Of

May 5, 2016

Reviews are in for The Donald’s foreign-policy speech. And it ain’t pretty. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who presumptive-nominee Trump handedly beat in the GOP primaries, took to “Face the Nation” to say Trump’s foreign policy vision would “lead to another 9/11” because of his “isolationism.” Prominent conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer nailed Trump’s global prescriptions in the National Review (which doesn’t like the frontrunner):

Trump’s scripted, telepromptered speech was intended to finally clarify his foreign policy. It produced instead a jumble. The basic principle seems to be this: Continue the inexorable Obama-Clinton retreat, though for reasons of national self-interest, rather than of national self-doubt. And except when, with studied inconsistency, he decides otherwise.

Not only is it an incoherent view, but also it’s similar to the “Obama-Clinton retreat” philosophy, he claims — an indictment, true or not, that will unnerve many Republican voters.

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Robert Gates, himself a Republican but who served both in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, also took Trump to the mat:

Based on the speech, you’d have somebody who doesn’t understand the difference between a business negotiation and a negotiation with sovereign powers. … He doesn’t understand that there’s a give-and-take in international relations that is different than in the business community. …

He on the one hand says we need to be a more reliable ally to our friends. And then in the next breath he basically says we’re going to rip up all those burden-sharing agreements that we’ve had over the decades with them and make them go their own way if they don’t pay for everything.

As I covered last week, along with many others (here, here, here, here, and here), it was a bad speech which scared our allies and received praise from our adversaries. But, just like with the film Gigli, even a few people saw merit in it.

Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he liked that Trump was “challenging the foreign policy establishment” and that his remarks were “very thoughtful” (sounds like somebody wants to be secretary of state). Ryan Lizza, reporting on the mostly negative response to Trump’s speech in The New Yorker, noted that the candidate “has simply distilled the base’s grievances into something like a platform” and that he “would be hard-pressed to understand how Trump’s critiques [of the Obama administration’s foreign policy] are meaningfully different from those of his conservative critics.”

So, the speech may not win a Razzie after all, but it will not be looked upon fondly by foreign policy elites, whom we need, now and in the future. At least Trump has enough confidence in his foreign policy for all of us.

Is Trump really a “dove?” Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith says Trump’s dovishness is a “lie” the media allows him to get away with, and it starts with his supposed opposition to the Iraq War:

Donald Trump did not oppose the invasion of Iraq. Further, there’s no evidence that he’s ever been a “dove” — and a great deal that he’s been an impulsive supporter of military intervention around the world.

We know this because BuzzFeed News’ intrepid Andrew Kaczynski unearthed an audio recording of him saying he supported it. … In the recording, made on Sept. 11, 2002, when it mattered, Howard Stern asked Trump whether he supported the invasion. His answer: “Yeah, I guess so.” On the war’s first day, he called it a “tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

It was the most recent in a series of belligerent statements about Iraq. In 2000, he opined at length in his book how U.S. airstrikes did nothing to stop Iraq’s WMD programs and said it “is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion” in the context of a new war. He said many times in the late 1990s and early 2000s that George H.W. Bush should have toppled Saddam during the Gulf War.

Trump’s opinions during that period have all the force and thoughtfulness of a man who isn’t paying much attention and whose opinion doesn’t matter. His support for the war is also totally unambiguous.

And yet, he has somehow judo-moved the media:

[I]t’s all the more perplexing how great American news organizations have allowed a flat lie about the most important American policy decision in decades ooze its way into fact.

This has happened in plain view, as when Anderson Cooper let this slip by unremarked during the March 29 debate: “I was against the war in Iraq. OK?”

It happens when Trump talks to interviewers who know a thing or two about the subject, as when the Washington Post editorial board let his claim pass unremarked, and changed the subject to the size of his hands.

And it happens in passing, as in a recent Times piece that has Trump “reminding his audience that he had opposed the Iraq War.”

Just like how the media failed to push the George W. Bush administration on its rationale for the war, it’s now failing in telling us Trump’s opinions of it. A few things to add to this excellent correction. First, just because Trump thinks the war went well militarily, which it did in its early phase, does not mean he was for the war. The reason many people were against it is because of what happened after the fall of Baghdad. What makes him pro-Iraq War were his statements in support of the invasion and wanting to see the whole campaign through.

Second, as Smith notes, Trump’s views are all over the place, and so who knows what he really believes? Still, there is enough evidence to support that Trump is for ousting dictators, pointing to examples in Libya and Iraq.

I suspect that while the media may have given Trump a free pass on this, come the general election, Hillary Clinton will make it known that Trump supported the war, just like she did.

The Sanders Doctrine? At least that’s what Charli Carpenter, a Professor at UMass-Amherst who has “informally advised the Sanders campaign,” contends. I wasn’t too nice to Carpenter a bit ago (loyal readers already know), but she penned a good summary of the Sanders worldview. She asserts that there are “three central ideas” to his foreign policy vision:

  1. Interdependence between national security at home and security for those beyond our borders. … Sanders believes Americans are more secure, not less, if U.S. policy helps people abroad escape fear and deprivation.”
  2. Global and local politics, and economic and political power, are deeply connected. … [T]o project U.S. power abroad, the country must strengthen the moral foundations of that power with policies at home.”
  3. Examine the evidence when assessing threats. … When assessing national security threats, Sanders’s priority is evaluating data and evidence.”

This is a good distillation of Sanders’ beliefs and many people wouldn’t have problems with it. But then again, who would? The issue that some have with Sanders’ foreign policy is not that he believes these things, but rather how he will act on these beliefs. For central idea #1, how will he help people “escape fear and deprivation” if he’s unwilling to occasionally use the military from stopping bad things from happening? Would he just rely on drones? For central idea #2, even Trump agrees with this: Foreign policy begins at home (apologies to Richard Haass). Our current politics and economic woes only harm our standing in the world.

Finally, for central idea #3, which administration does not want to use evidence to make smart foreign policy decisions? Even the George W. Bush administration believed in its facts regarding the case against Iraq — it just so happened that the facts they operated with were wrong. The questions for Sanders’ camp, then, is this: How will you act upon your core beliefs? That seems to be what people want to know about Sanders, who is usually out of his comfort zone on foreign policy.

This is not to say there is no merit to what Carpenter outlines for Sanders, and some prominent supporters hope he spends more time talking about his foreign policy agenda. It’s good that he holds these tenets to be true. Now he’s given us the vision. Next we need to see the goals and then he should show us the execution plan.

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy causes “anger, unease” abroad. This from a David R. Sands report in the Washington Times:

“While Trump’s foreign policy seems random and unpredictable (he actually bragged about this), it’s hard to see how Clinton’s approach to war is much better,” columnist and press freedom activist Trevor Timm wrote this week in the liberal British newspaper The Guardian.

Noting Mrs. Clinton’s support for the 2003 Iraq War and the 2012 Libya operation, Mr. Obama’s surge in Afghanistan and a proposed no-fly zone over Syria, “her positions are often more militaristic than anyone else in the race,” Mr. Timm wrote.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency this week carried a long analysis critical of Mrs. Clinton’s record of support for U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, saying there was little sign she would reverse course if elected president.

Clinton has proven several times that her decision-making is flawed, extremely flawed,” Khaled Abdul-Jabbar, who teaches at Yemen’s Aden University, told Xinhua. “If she really means it, then why is she still committed to intervening and trying to change regimes and the political process in some Arab countries?”

Well this wasn’t that surprising. After all, Clinton’s foreign policy is to the right of those who usually write for The Guardian, and no one expected a warm welcome from China since she is likely to continue the “pivot to Asia,” which the Middle Kingdom doesn’t look upon too kindly (and neither do our European allies).

The most interesting thing about a Clinton presidency is the extent to which she would distance herself from her former boss. Will she go full hawk, or did Sanders make her more dovish? Will she make the American way of war more overt, or more covert like Obama’s? Will she renege on her disavowal of the free-trade deals, the ones she helped to create?

We will only find out under a Clinton II presidency (and a soon-to-be-named vice president). Only then we will know the true reactions of our friends and foes.

 

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.

 

Image: Gage Skidmore, CC