American Foreign Policy Post-Elections: A Forecast of What’s to Come
Many are breathing a sigh of relief that the U.S. Presidential primaries seem to be finally approaching their end, with only two frontrunners from the GOP (Trump and Cruz) and two from the Democrats (Clinton and Sanders). But while much of the battle thus far has focused somewhat myopically on domestic issues facing U.S. voters such as income inequality and corruption in politics, there remains a whole host of international issues that will be featured prominently in the coming final campaigns, such as radicalism in Syria or Chinese incursions into territory in the South China sea. From that standpoint what follows is a brief overview of what American foreign policy would look like under the administrations of the four remaining front-runners.
As a former Secretary of State under the Obama administration, Clinton is the most adept of her peers when it comes to navigating social issues. On hot-button issues like the Islamic State and China, Clinton tends to follow the lead of her predecessor and fellow Democrat, Barack Obama. She supports the arming of “moderate” rebels as a method of combatting the spread of militant groups like IS and supports the previous administration’s decision against deployment of US troops on the ground in Syria. In terms of China, whose continuing ascent into a global power has many Americans worried about the future of American exceptionalism, Clinton advocates something along the lines of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” She said in her memoir that the Sino-American relationship isn’t one that “fits neatly into categories like friend or rival”: she believes that the U.S. should work to develop the “security and economic architecture” of China and the broader Asia-Pacific region in a fashion similar to its Post-War efforts in Europe, but she also hasn’t been reticent to speak out against China’s domestic human rights issues as well as its increasing militarization within the South China Sea. In any case, given her role as an establishment politician, it is highly likely that Clinton would continue to support many of the foreign policy endeavors pushed forward by the current administration.
In contrast to Clinton, Donald Trump has been highly critical of the status quo in American foreign affairs since day one. In his campaign announcement speech Trump singled out China as a specific threat to American economic interests and accused them of currency manipulation and theft of American intellectual property. He has promised to address these issues with Chinese leaders and to levy taxes on Chinese imports if they refuse to cooperate. Another big issue that has played a role in Trump’s campaign is national security, particularly with respect to immigration. Since he famously accused Mexican immigrants of being drug smugglers, criminals and rapists, Trump’s campaign and his supporters have mostly been unapologetically racist, often singling out either Latino or Muslim Americans as their targets. He has stood in opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the US, and in the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino shootings he called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States. He also plans to construct a border wall along the entire southern border of the United States and has said he would use similar methods to the ones he plans to against China, economic sanctions, to force Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall. The feasibility of economically bullying one of our largest trading partners into funding a divisive infrastructure project like the wall is shaky at best. For its part Mexico’s government has flatly refused to fund the wall, with former Mexican president Vicente Fox being quoted in an interview saying that Mexico is “not gonna pay for that f***ing wall.” Trump seems to favor economic warfare over military action however his end goal is similar to that of many others in the same nationalist arena of political thought. Trump wants to reassert America’s dominance on the world stage though his plans to “Make America Great Again” seem dubious at best.
Sanders’ campaign has largely focused on domestic issues in the U.S., with a specific focus on economic inequalities and corruption. Although this has gained him the adoration of many young voters who see him as a crusader against a corrupt and jaded political establishment, it has left others wondering if the Senator has enough range to deal with issues outside of his normal spiel. During his tenure as Senator however, he voted against normalized trade relations with China and in general opposes trade treaties as he feels they have been detrimental to American jobs. He also has a long history of opposition to US military involvement in the Middle East and supports collaborative efforts with regional countries to combat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, such as the international coalition currently carrying out bombing campaigns against Islamic State targets in. Were Sanders to become we’d likely see a shift in tact with regards to American military hegemony. The senator generally opposes unilateral military action and as commander-in-chief would likely dial back America’s self-proclaimed responsibility to be the “World’s Policeman.”
Cruz’s approach to foreign policy seems to stand more in line with the establishment Republican approach, shying away from the rather hawkish approaches of his opponent Trump. On China, Cruz has emphasized the necessity to re-establish American economic and military might in the face of China’s rise, advocating former President Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength” as a model for the Sino-American relationship. Despite categorizing himself as an advocate for immigration he has continually voted against immigration reform measures and vowed to overturn Obama’s 2014 executive order that opened a path to citizenship for many undocumented migrants currently living in the States. Similar to Sanders, Cruz has run largely on a platform centered around domestic issues, but given his conservative bent it’s easy to imagine that a Cruz administration would pursue policies centered around the projection of American power abroad rather than the development of diplomatic cooperation.
Overall the outlook for American foreign policy remains extremely unclear. Each candidate has their own unique approaches to what voters see as the most pressing international issues facing the nation. However as the pace of globalization continues to increase the divide between domestic and international issues is becoming harder to delineate. The idea that Americans are now beholden to the vagaries of the global economic and political landscape has serious implications for the national psyche of a country whose identity rests fundamentally on the idea that it is somehow different, better and exceptional.