Trump v Clinton: What we can expect on foreign policy

By Emma Shortis. Tutor in American politics, University of Melbourne

When it comes to their visions of America's role in the world, the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump run deep.

'No puppet. You're the puppet.'

It’s unlikely that either of them would be anyone’s ‘puppet’ (as Trump accused Clinton in relation to Russia in the final presidential debate). But it is not overstating the matter to suggest that the world stands on the brink of two starkly different futures.

Should Clinton win the Presidency, as seems increasingly likely, the US’s foreign policy trajectory will change little.

Clinton doesn’t support the Trans Pacific Partnership

While Bernie Sanders did his best to drag Clinton towards a less interventionist foreign policy, he succeeded only in gaining some concessions when it comes to so-called 'free trade' agreements. Clinton has said that she no longer supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an opposition she is now wedded too, however reluctantly.

Clinton is widely expected to be ‘hawkish’ in the Middle East

On security matters, though, Clinton would undoubtedly double down on the current strategy of the Obama administration. Widely considered to be more hawkish than the current President, Clinton would likely continue his administration's use of drone warfare in the Middle East.

While she has stated that she ‘will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force’, she has left herself some wriggle room to deploy 'advisers' or to increase air strikes. Either way, the American presence in the Middle East is unlikely to decrease under a Clinton Presidency.

Clinton may also push for stronger intervention in Syria and for a harder line in negotiations with Russia. America’s relations with its historic foe may in fact take on a darker hue, as the Russian hacking first of the Democratic National Committee, and then Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta's emails, have outraged both the campaign and the American intelligence community. Clinton has also hinted that she will take a less conciliatory tone with China over the sovereignty of the South China Sea.

The seasoned diplomat

Clinton has a is a seasoned diplomat with a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the conduct of international relations. Her experience on the international stage makes her arguably the best-qualified candidate in the modern history of the presidency; a fact that led the magazine Foreign Policy to endorse her – the first time the widely respected publication has done so in its history. It may not be inspiring or revolutionary, but Clinton's foreign policy will be familiar and predictable to both allies and foes.

Trump wants to restore a long-gone era

In the unlikely event that he wins the election, Donald Trump's foreign policy, or at least what we can glean of it from his sweeping and at times contradictory proclamations, would be neither. Rarely straying into specifics, Trump tends to rely on broad appeals to a particular understanding of America’s role in the world.  

His campaign slogan of 'Make America Great Again' borrows unashamedly from Ronald Reagan, that most beloved of modern Republican presidents. It signals a yearning for a simpler time of good versus evil, with the  and the United States as dominant superpower.assuming its rightful place as leader of the free world.

Beyond that, much like the rest of his campaign, Trump’s positions are almost impossible to predict.

Invoking Nixon, he claims to have a 'secret plan' to defeat ISIS. He has been remarkably cavalier in his statements about deploying nuclear weapons, and their potential proliferation. He has also claimed, though, that Iran will get nuclear weapons and endanger the world, all because Obama signed the 'stupidest deal of all time'. This, of course, is not to be confused, in Trump’s words,  with 'one of the worst deals ever made' -- NAFTA.

In what surely must be a deliberate misrepresentation of the powers of the executive, Trump has claimed he will rip up NAFTA and almost any other international agreement he can get his hands on.

Building the wall between the US and Mexico

He will then build a wall to cement this severing of relations between the United States and its southern neighbours. No matter that several studies have shown the wall to be both impossibly expensive and logistically impossible - Trump has, he tells us, defied our expectations before.

After he has built the wall - or perhaps before, or during - Trump will kick out all the 'bad hombres' that he claims have swamped the U.S. with crime, drugs, and terrorism.  

He will use, in contrast, the 'best' people to renegotiate trade deals with, amongst others, China. The same country, incidentally, that somehow managed to trick the rest of the world into believing that climate change is real. Trump will ignore the effects of global warming because it is nothing but a conspiracy, and, by the sheer force of his personality, restructure the global economy.

Beyond the slogans, it is unclear precisely how Trump sees America's role in the world; perhaps not even for him. What he has said, though, is that 'nobody can believe how stupid our leadership is'.

Let's hope, for all our sakes, that's not also a prediction of the future.

Photo: US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaking at the United Nations in 2011, source Wikipedia commons


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