For many unfamiliar with the American election process, the current Presidential primary campaigns for both the Republican and Democratic parties can appear confusing and occasionally bizarre. The sheer diversity of opinion (not to mention personality) is staggering, especially when it comes to foreign policy. This handy cheat sheet outlines the top three candidates in each party, their foreign policy experience, top foreign policy issue, selected quotes, and a brief analysis of their candidacy as it relates to America’s dealings with the rest of the world. Some among you may point to the absence of figures such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Martin O’Malley and decry this as blatant cherry-picking, but I prefer to think of it as a shrewd application of political foresight. All information is accurate as of the time of writing.
Senator Marco Rubio
Experience: Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Top Issue: Economic and Security Threat of China
“We must never shy away from demanding that China allow true freedom for its 1.3 billion people.”
“Cuba is 90 miles from our shores. It is not in the national security interest of the United States to have a communist, anti-American tyranny 90 miles from our shores.”
Rubio’s foreign policy chops are impressive to say the least and his platform is surprisingly detailed for these early stages of the election. Drawing on his experience on two of the Senate’s most crucial foreign policy committees, Rubio has acquired a reputation as the leading Republican candidate for national security and world issues. His robust opposition to the President’s Iran deal, obvious passion for the plight of the Cuban people, and unequivocal calls for pressure on China are backed up by lengthy and detailed policy plans.
Experience: Hewlett-Packard CEO, One Woman Initiative (OWI) Fund Chair, Opportunity International Global Ambassador, CIA External Advisory Board Chair
Top Issue: Curtailing Russian Expansionism
“I wouldn’t talk to [Vladimir Putin] at all… what I would do immediately is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defence program in Poland, I would conduct regular aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states, I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany, Vladimir Putin would get the message”
“I would hold a Camp David summit with our Arab allies, not to talk them into this lousy deal with Iran, but to say to them, ‘What is it that you need to defeat ISIL?’… We have Arab allies. They are not perfect. But they need to see leadership, support and resolve from the United States of America, and we can help them defeat ISIS.”
With little political experience to speak of, Fiorina points instead to her tenure as the first female CEO of Hewlett-Packard, during which she built business relationships with several world leaders. Her original foreign policy emphasis was primarily on leadership style, e.g. standing up to an aggressive Vladimir Putin, but recently she has been far more specific in terms of policy solutions, specifically in mobilizing American allies to effectively neuter both Russia and ISIS. Though she will need to convince the American people that business executive experience is transferable to political executive office, Fiorina is articulating clear solutions with forceful leadership and should not be underestimated.
Former Governor Jeb Bush
Experience: Governor of Florida
Top Issue: Defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
“We should pursue the clear and unequivocal objective of throwing back the barbarians of ISIS, and helping the millions in the region who want to live in peace.”
“How to deal with [Vladimir Putin] is to confront him on his terms, not to create a more bellicose environment but to simply say that there is going to be a consequence.”
At this point in the campaign, Jeb Bush’s interests have been primarily fixated on domestic issues such as education and tax reform. His foreign policy statements have been fairly vanilla, adhering to the basic Republican narratives without getting too specific. The most exciting part of Bush’s foreign policy of course relates to the fact that it is a Bush foreign policy. He has flip-flopped several times on his position towards the 2003 War in Iraq, led by his brother, then-President George W. Bush. It remains to be seen whether Bush can dispel the spectre of that still-unpopular conflict and forge his own foreign policy legacy.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Experience: Secretary of State, First Lady, Senate Committee on Armed Services, Clinton Foundation Named Member
Top Issue: Enforcement and Implementation of the Iran Nuclear Deal
“I’ve stood up to adversaries like Putin and reinforced allies like Israel, and I was in the Situation Room on the day we got [Osama] bin Laden.”
“As president [I would] be absolutely devoted to ensure that the [Iran] agreement is followed.”
Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is, like most things about her, murky and contradictory. As Secretary of State, she should have a record to run on as a leading architect of President Obama’s foreign policy. However, she has both embraced and distanced herself from the White House at varying times on issues such as free trade, involvement in Syria, and relations with Russia. Though her institutional experience is unquestionable, Clinton still must face the electoral consequences of her time in office, especially the Benghazi attacks, the comical failure of her “Russian reset,” and the violent conflagration that is Iraq and Syria.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Top Issue: Withdrawal of American Military Engagements
“Well, I think [Vladimir Putin] is already regretting what he did in Crimea and what he is doing in the Ukraine. I think he is really regretting the decline of his economy. And I think what he is trying to do now is save some face.”
“When our country is threatened, or when our allies are threatened, I believe that we need coalitions to come together to address the major crises of this country. I do not support the United States getting involved in unilateral action.”
Sanders is a political outlier in every sense, and his foreign policy is no different. Though he prefers to stick to domestic issues of income inequality and campaign finance, he has articulated a clear philosophy when it comes to the rest of the world, if not a policy. Few candidates for President of the United States would completely take unilateral military action off the table in all cases, but Bernie Sanders is undeniably one of the few. His solutions to almost all foreign policy issues are exclusively diplomatic or economic. Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Sanders’ approach, but he has certainly set himself apart and this has endeared him to a substantial slice of the progressive electorate.
Vice President Joe Biden
Experience: Vice President, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Top Issue: Expansion of NATO in Europe
“If we can take the nuclear bomb off the table, it’s better dealing with those guys [Iran] than if we’re dealing with those bad guys and the nuclear bomb is on the table.”
As of the time of writing, the Vice President has not yet declared if he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. However, this analyst is going to take a shot in the dark and predict he will choose to enter the race. Biden has more than forty years of experience in the US government and his most recent stint as the Vice President has put him in charge of diplomatic efforts in the Western Hemisphere, including the expansion of NATO into Central and Eastern Europe. Though he has articulated no foreign policy positions of his own yet due to his lack of a campaign, Biden can be expected to toe the line of the current Presidential foreign policy. This may prove to be a poisoned chalice, however; polls show the President’s foreign policy is fairly unpopular and has been for some time. Biden will have to present a fresh perspective to voters while supporting the administration’s status quo.