Election issue profile: Foreign policy

, and | Forum Writers

Over the next five weeks, the Forum section will be profiling the most pressing economic, political and social issues of the 2016 presidential race. We will examine the views of the top three candidates: Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson and Donald Trump—to give students an inside view on who and what we will be voting for (or against) in the upcoming election.

In a series of debates that continue to play out like trainwreck rehearsals of a middle school play, we have seen a surprising amount of (mildly) coherent discussion on the candidates’ foreign policy. While you could spend hours identifying all of the countries and organizations that the U.S. has a hand in, we’ve seen Trump and Clinton talk consistently about ISIS and the Middle East, NATO and perennial favorite, Mother Russia. With all this going on, what exactly do our candidates think on foreign policy, and who is most prepared to lead us?

Donald Trump

Russia: We all know that Trump has been a notorious supporter of Vladimir Putin throughout this bizarre election cycle. Unlike most politicians, the Donald has stated his interest in trying to sit down at the table with Putin and repair our relationship with the country. Arguably, this may help the United States deal with the entire Syrian mess (since Russia has been antagonizing U.S. involvement there for some time now). But, some experts think that Trump has been quietly promising to severely limit economic restrictions imposed on the country currently. So maybe that’s why he and Mike Pence have both praised Vlad’s leadership style?

NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has become a rather crucial part of the debate season, as Trump continues to slam its purpose as a strategic military alliance designed to deter serious conflicts throughout the developed world (hey, Russia!). Trump is convinced that NATO is an outdated, useless body that continues to be the United States’ cheap first date—he has suggested that we should withdraw from NATO if other allies don’t pay their fair share of NATO costs.

Middle East: ISIS! ISIS!! How many times can a candidate bring up ISIS in a debate without making the crowd audibly groan. Trump continues to parade his desire to destroy ISIS, even as a deflecting tactic for his “locker-room talk” scandal. America is going to be so great that ISIS will eventually just magically disappear. The minimal strategy Trump has offered includes arming the Kurdish people, who have been displaced by the terrorist organization, and bombing the crap out of ISIS. There’s no way we can lose. Elsewhere in the volatile Middle East, Trump wants to make the Iran deal obsolete because he believes that Iran is using their financial assets to sponsor terrorist groups.

Hillary Clinton

Russia: As Secretary of State, Clinton has had many dealings with Russia. Her relationship with Putin is like your relationship with your in-laws: thinly veiled hatred, if the veil is there at all. In the past, Clinton has questioned the existence of Putin’s soul and brain, which is…nice. Putin is rumored to have been involved in her Democratic National Committee server hacks—true or not, Clinton’s campaign seems eager to fan that fire. Either way relations with the Russians under her tenure were certainly cold, beyond securing the New Start treaty to reduce nuclear arms. Under her tenure, the Russians have sold weapons to Syria and have backed Assad in the bloody war that has been going on for over five years now. Before leaving her position as Secretary of State, Clinton advised President Obama to be a little less cooperative with the dictator—“Don’t flatter Putin with high-level attention.”

NATO: Despite the amount of money the U.S. spends to fund NATO, Clinton is a big proponent of the organization, calling it one of the best investments our country has ever made. Where many view NATO as a force that only encourages Russia’s aggression, Clinton views NATO as necessary to curb it. In fact, she calls the organization “one of the best investments that America has ever made” on her website.

Middle East: On her website, Clinton proposes a three-step plan for taking on ISIS, involving greater efforts to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, working with allies from other countries to stop the spread of ISIS and guarding against attacks on our home soil. While much of her plan centers around general “common sense” tactics like allying with European intelligence and working with Kurdish forces (something that Trump also agrees with), she has a reputation for being hawkish for a left-wing politician, something that could hurt her image with already-ambivalent progressives.

Meanwhile, Iran has remained a major conflict in U.S. politics for a number of years. Clinton has criticized Iran for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions preventing ballistic missile testing and for detaining sailors. Where many Republicans may criticize the left for being too lax on Iran, Clinton used her hawkish approach to U.S.-Iran relations as campaign leverage against Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Many also love to claim that Clinton was the mastermind behind the Iran Nuclear Deal, even though Clinton left her position as Secretary of State in 2013 (the deal was presented in 2015). In fact, Clinton pressed sanctions against Iran during her first 18 months as Secretary of State, and wouldn’t be opposed to doing it again as president.

As a Senator, however, Clinton did push for a nuclear agreement with Iran, which has put her at odds with many Israelis. Even so, Clinton claims Israel as “one of her top priorities,” supporting the political chestnut of a two-state solution that, while likely unrealistic, can’t do much to anger either side.

Gary Johnson:

Russia: Normally, we don’t hear from a former Governor of New Mexico on foreign policy matters, but Gary Johnson is done with the U.S. acting as the world’s police force! Heck, if we’re abandoning historical U.S. foreign policy, we may as well add in an ambiguously defined alliance with Russia, because Russia is the new brussels sprout of the 2016 Election! Disgusting to a lot of people and only marginally better if you cook it right (but still definitively an awful choice for the American people).

NATO: Gary is an American patriot! But Gary is also a Libertarian and hates giving away the American people’s’ money. So…we couldn’t really tell you either way what Gary would do about NATO.

Middle East: Gary’s limited foreign policy knowledge became immediately clear when he indicated that the wasn’t aware of Aleppo, a Syrian city widely covered in recent years. This was alarming for many people who likely also didn’t know what or where Aleppo was, but those people aren’t vying to be the next leader of the free world.

On principle, he is in favor of engaging foreign governments diplomatically. Which is nice, in an annoying way. And he likes Israel. Like most politicians.

Which is the most experienced?

While many disagree with the effectiveness of her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary is the only candidate who has engaged foreign leaders diplomatically. Clinton has a record to show for it and even secured a new nuclear treaty with Russia, despite rocky relations. Her opponents are too unclear in their specifics on foreign policy and lacking in knowledge.

What was the best Late Night moment on this issue?

When Seth Myers declared that Trump’s main foreign policy experience was the time he invaded Scotland with a golf club. Seems about right.

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