The [terrorist] attacks and the migratory crisis in Europe have put international issues firmly in the middle of the discussion [among U.S. politicians]. These are the issues that allow candidates to show their differences.
Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, political analyst and specialist on U.S. trans-Atlantic relations and international security issues, is the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Paris and a lecturer at Sciences-Po. In this interview, she analyzes the political stances on foreign issues of the candidates in the primaries.
How important is the outside world during the campaign?
Foreign policy, which is very rarely an electoral topic in the USA, is back in center stage in the 2016 campaign and very much at the forefront of Americans’ preoccupations. For Americans, the Paris attacks and the migrant crisis in Europe have put terrorism and immigration on the same level of concern as the national economy and unemployment. They can no longer ignore the crisis in Syria and the Middle East, Russia’s show of military strength, or the emergence of China as a partner in issues of climate and economy, and also as a strategic competitor.
Foreign policy issues take up a big part of the primary fight, during which the candidates are trying to show how their visions differ and also show Americans that they are trustworthy, both as diplomats and as potential commanders-in-chief of the Armed Forces. Voters will turn to the candidate who will seem to them as the most likely to protect them and defend U.S. interests abroad.
Is Hillary Clinton any different than Barack Obama on this?
Architect of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Hillary Clinton claims to be his heir, albeit with nuances that were already noticeable when she was secretary of state. What they do have in common is their will to use, in the most efficient way possible, all the means of American power — diplomacy, economic sanctions, military force. She already adopted this approach as early as 2009, under the name “smart power.”
Described by one of her former colleagues, Kurt Campbell, as a “hawk,” Clinton defended the most interventionist positions while serving in the Obama administration: in Libya in 2011 and in Syria, where she pleaded for the opposition to the regime to be armed as early as 2012. She was also in favor of maintaining U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq after 2011, and of an exclusion zone in Syria in 2015. She is, however, not in favor of sending ground troops to Iraq and Syria.
Can the U.S. go back to being a "great nation" by remaining isolated from the world and by building walls, as Donald Trump is advocating? Is there a coherent "Trump doctrine"?
Trump’s foreign policy principles can be found in his 2011 book, “Time to Get Tough”: It is all about defending the national interests of the United States; fighting war in order to “win it”; staying true to allies and being wary of enemies; retaining technological advantage; and anticipating threats before they appear. One of Trump’s promises is to strengthen the U.S. Army, without providing any details on how he will achieve that.
The Trump doctrine is neither interventionist nor isolationist — he opposed the intervention in Iraq in 2003 but supported the one in Afghanistan in 2001, while criticizing the duration of the intervention. It is transactional, founded on negotiation and the obsession of obtaining “better deals” with America’s allies, as well as with the country’s enemies. The Trump doctrine can be summed up in two words: “America First.” But the rest of the world must suffer the cost; for example, the allies will have to pay for U.S. military presence in Europe and in Asia, and he will start a commercial war with China. Trump’s vision for international relations is ambiguous. On the one hand, he advocates a stronger role for the U.S. in the world; on the other hand, if he were elected, he would ask America’s allies to shoulder more of the security burden in their respective regions.
This is a vision shared by the Obama administration with its “leading from behind” policy, which led to its regional role as policeman in the Middle East — for example, in the delegation of the management of the Yemeni civil war to Saudi Arabia.
Will the next president in the White House redesign the world alliance map?
Obama’s foreign policy has already largely contributed to the shuffling of the alliance map. His management of the Arab Spring, and notably his dropping Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is a good illustration of this. Other examples are the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran and the normalization of relations with Cuba. In a way, Trump or even Clinton would be pursuing these policies, but could be even firmer with countries such as Russia or China, or with allies such as Saudi Arabia. And in the case of Clinton, she would reinforce some relationships, such as the Israeli one.
Trump, however, speaks highly of Vladimir Putin …
This type of speech does not mean there will be a new era of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. It is an indirect way of criticizing Obama’s “weak” leadership: He believes that the current president in the White House did not hold his own against Vladimir Putin, and gave up too much in Ukraine and Syria.
What are the visions of those coming in second in the race, Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Bernie Sanders?
Ted Cruz advocates an increase of the defense budget but rejects any long-term future military occupation, calls the 2003 military intervention in Iraq a mistake, and believes that the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan lasted far too long. He does not share Trump’s vision on NATO and believes that it is crucial that the U.S. military should remain present in Europe. But he agrees with Trump that the U.S. should no longer take in refugees after the Paris attacks.
Bernie Sanders, for his part, is against any increase in the defense budget, especially if this means less money for social programs. He rejects unilateral military force and favors alliances and coalitions. He thinks that Saudi Arabia and Turkey should take more responsibility in the fight against the Islamic State, whereas U.S. military intervention in Syria would provoke, according to him, a “perpetual war” in the region. Sanders’ view differs from Clinton’s in that he disagreed with the 2003 war in Iraq. His believes that war should be a last resort.
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