Clinton or Trump: Can either handle foreign policy in the White House?

If one looks at the base facts the situation seems quite clear, these two seem most likely to be the choices for President of one of the most influential nations in the world, and it seems that their foreign policy experience has not gotten proper lip service. Hillary Clinton, coming from a career centered in government, and Donald Trump, a government outsider with experience in the international sphere via his businesses, do not have much in common. Obviously this comparison does not tell us much, as the businessman and stateswoman archetypes fail  to discern whether either truly has the chops to take on the job.

Image courtesy of Nilington, 2006. Public Domain.
Image courtesy of Nilington, 2006. Public Domain.

Clinton, naturally, has more experience using government channels to dictate and disseminate foreign policy, but did she actually accomplish anything of note while  Secretary of State? The answer is unfortunately less than clear. The first issue of her time in office that comes to mind is her embroilment with the Benghazi scandal where inaction on embassy requests for greater security due to local intelligence were ignored, resulting in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stephen and three American embassy employees. This is clearly quite a tarnishing mark on her record as the last time an American Ambassador was killed was in 1979, not to mention that some of Clinton’s comments seemed to be vague and full of avoidance. At one point she claimed the security lapses were due to the fragmented intelligence and the ‘fog of war’. However, it was later revealed that  the committee holding the Benghazi hearings was driven by partisan motivation s and meant to disproportionately damage Clinton’s image.

On the other hand, Clinton made a large push as Secretary to bring both women’s rights, and human rights in general, to the forefront of American policy. While certainly  not a groundbreaking policy, the efforts she made are commendable. Furthermore, she was willing to do so by standing up against Russia and Putin’s human rights violations, which certainly does display a willingness to promote action in lieu of ambivalence. Closer examination here, however, seems to prove more bark than bite, as Putin appears to have brushed off the accusations and simply condemned the United States for trying to intervene in Russia’s domestic affairs.

Moreover, it seems as though Clinton could have been more aggressive in regards to China’s current waging of a cyber war against the United States. If one examines her first visit to China as Secretary of State she stated that the issue of human rights would not ‘interfere’ with American-Chinese relations, leaving many to argue that she appeared weak in the face of the rising superpower.

In addition, Clinton also sought to pursue policies to help support the Arab Spring democratisation movement. Although not entirely successful it was a noble cause, one that truly espouses what American foreign policy goals of should be: focused on promoting democracy and freedoms. Lastly, it would be unfair to not also point out that she supported and advised President Obama on the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, a decision which may trump her other moves as Secretary, especially in terms of public image. All in all, like most Secretaries her record is a mixed bag, with few real highlights aside from the Bin Laden assassination and the one major stain of Benghazi.

Now as this examination turns to Trump it enters a much more convoluted area. First off, no one knows how Trump would, or if he even could, properly negotiate the inner channels of government to ensure successful implementation of policy. Moreover, he has already burnt quite a few bridges with other nations due to his extremely ‘off the cuff’ style. Trump seems to think that being President is as easy as sending out a memo of what he wants done and that then it will just materialize.

Now, aside from his plan of having Mexico build a wall for the southern border of the United States, one may not have heard much from him in terms of foreign policy. For one reason or another he really has not discussed the issue very much, or at least not in any helpful detail, as is the case with his insistence that he has the winning ‘secret plan’ to defeat ISIS. This is quite concerning, as one would hope that a Presidential candidate would be able to vocalize a bit more about his foreign policy before he gets given the reigns to steer it. It is genuinely surprising that more people are not concerned about this.

If one solely looks at his business experience, however, it is quite impressive. There is no denying the man knows how to run a business, but people have given that fact too much credit. The United States is not a business and does not strive to make profits. Moreover, it is important not to neglect the fact that Trump did not entirely pick himself up by the bootstraps, as his father left him a nice little nest egg to get started. For he is not a true self made man, and he certainly will be receiving no parental aid in the White House.

It is also worth noting that his whole campaign seems to be built on a sand foundation as, if one examines Trump’s past policies and political tendencies, it does not take long to see that he has flip-flopped quite a lot. He only seems to have joined the Republican camp recently, which is not ideal for someone who is meant to steadfastly run the foreign policy of the United States. Moreover, he also has not been the most reliable source of information (which can only go poorly when setting out foreign policy), as has been shown by his unsubstantiated claims that he saw Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11. So ultimate there is not much to go on here, as Trump seems to be running with a phantom foreign policy, which may or may not materialize, which depends on if he is properly pressed on the issue.

The conclusion here, is that sadly there is not enough to go on at the moment. Yes, Clinton has more actual experience, but she did not make any real waves. Trump is bold and has some business acumen, though he is unhelpful in describing any other facet of his policy. adly, the debates after the primaries may be the first chance to see the true faces of their foreign policies. This is pretty horrific for the American public, as they must choose their options for president and only then find out what they entail. Until then one can only hope for journalists and the public to be relentless and not tolerate any more question dodging or vagueness. Both candidates seem unwilling to reveal any true intentions they would bring to the office, providing just rhetoric and snip-its that seem only useful for the press, rather than the general public electing them.

So we are left with the flakey government outsider who is truly a maverick (not in the good sense) and the more traditional, yet slightly underwhelming record of a true establishment candidate, both not providing us with much information on future plans of action and spotty records. This leaves the American Presidential race in a tough spot, and can only end poorly, with no real time for voters to consume and analyze these candidates policies (as they have not been fully revealed) it seems as though it will get swept under the rug or overshadowed by petty news stories. Despite the importance of foreign policy at this moment of conflicts spread throughout the globe, semantics and finger pointing seem to have taken first place to actual policy and what politics should be.

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