Foreign policy and diplomacy are all too frequently some of the more overlooked policy topics in presidential campaigns. Often, more poignant issues like abortion, gun control, and social justice steal the spotlight on the debate stage. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of the president’s power and energy is devoted to foreign affairs. There’s only so much the Commander-in-Chief can do about social issues, while his omnipotence over international relations is unquestionable.
Whether it’s overlooking and maintaining the military and defense department, the USA’s network of ambassadors and diplomats, or negotiating and complying with treaties and alliances, the office of the executive is principally devoted to controlling and maintaining American influence around the globe. In order to be an informed voter, it’s vital to have an informed understanding of where the two candidates stand on America’s role in the world.
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy
Diplomacy is something that Hillary Clinton claims to know more about than almost anyone. The former First Lady and Secretary of State has been meeting and negotiating with world leaders for more than two decades. Her experience is well documented, but her record on both Benghazi and Libya’s Arab Spring revolution are fodder to her opponents on the right.
Hillary is fairly hawkish by the Democratic standard, undoubtedly more hawkish than Barack Obama. At times she has advocated for regime change (Iraq and Libya) and also for restraint (Syria). But it’s her unique experience that her advocates believe gives her the edge over her opponent. Clinton has experience in diplomacy having sat in the US’s highest diplomatic office for 4 years.
Expect Clinton to leverage her foreign policy expertise as much as she can as she goes head to head with Donald Trump. Trump has limited experience when it comes to foreign policy and opponents have called into question his knowledge on the subject. If Hillary chooses to play to her strengths, Foreign Affairs will become a central focus of her campaign although she will need to contend with the Benghazi tragedy that continues to haunt her campaign.
Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy
On the other side of the coin is Donald J. Trump, real estate mogul turned conservative populist icon. Trump’s lack of experience in politics and foreign affairs is something he embraces, not shies away from. His suggestions about International Relations are intriguing, and at times mesmerizing, to many in diplomatic circles. His doctrine, called by some as “America First”, does not particularly lie within any single normative approach nor does he advocate for a similar diplomatic philosophy from anyone that came before him. Republicans should have saved the nickname “The Maverick” for Trump, not McCain.
Trump can be hawkish like a Neo-Conservative, but is adamantly against nation building and has railed against the Iraq war on multiple occasions. Some of Trump’s IR stances are borderline isolationist, especially in regards to trade and immigration, but then at other times he has promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS”. He has called NATO obsolete and demanded that other member nations contribute a greater percentage of the GDPs to defense. Most striking of all was his declaration of support for proliferating nuclear weapons and supplying nuclear bombs to countries like South Korea (who immediately said they didn’t want nuclear weapons), Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Trump has, of course, retracted his statements and then reiterated them frequently, leaving both his supporters and opponents unsure of where he stands on many foreign policy issues.
Expect Trump to continue to hammer Clinton on Benghazi and paint her as the candidate who allowed American officials to be killed in the terrorist attack while Secretary of State. While it seems clear that he has less experience in foreign policy he will focus on Clinton’s perceived failures to level the playing field.