Donald Trump’s latest victory, and Clinton’s increasing momentum, seem to be clarifying the picture in the primary elections. Although nothing is final yet, it’s worth the trouble to write a few lines looking at their visions of the world, and at what they think the role of the United States should be.
Hillary Clinton is part of the political establishment; she has bought into the foreign policy ideas and traditions that circulate in Washington.
Donald Trump is part of the business world, and is more at home with the language of investments and returns than with educated discussions of the complexities of foreign policy. Clinton exhibits a greater conceptual sophistication, so much so that she can sound vague or inconsistent. Her political instinct tells her that the public is leaning more toward the hawks and less toward the doves, or at least she understands that that is the way to put distance between herself and Obama, without moving too much closer to the Republicans
This explains her progressively tougher stance on Iran, Russia and Syria. Her grand strategy aims at building in the Asia Pacific region what the United States built in the Atlantic: A dense network of cooperation that would guarantee U.S. power. Trump is a different story; he expresses himself in a simple, almost vulgar, way, bringing to bear a xenophobic populist manner that draws attention to the greatness of the United States.
But this doesn’t necessarily make him a hawk. Solving the problems of others doesn’t interest him much, if the others aren’t doing their part. Unlike Clinton, he contends that the United States has a world presence that is too extensive and too costly. He’s not interested in being the world’s policeman, or building global regimes, or promoting democracy. In Washington jargon, he’s neither a neoconservative nor a liberal-minded internationalist. He simply wants to have fewer commitments and more opportunities to get a bigger piece of the action.
He’s the kitsch version of Senator Robert Taft, or Silvio Berlusconi speaking English – your choice. Trump is tired of Europe, South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Mexico taking things from the United States, whether natural resource concessions, jobs, protection, business, arms, money, even citizenship. And he wants them to pay for it. With this, Trump shows that he doesn’t have a grand strategy for the United States, and that he shouldn’t have to have one. He doesn’t understand that providing security for South Korea and Japan is part of a much bigger game, having to do with global hegemony and regional balance of power — a game about which Clinton is much more knowledgeable. In a nutshell, Clinton would be change with continuity; Trump would be a grand experiment.