Sunday Opinion: Clinton vs. Trump on Foreign Affairs

The United States currently faces more danger than at any time since the conclusion of the Second World War.


However, in the candidates’ debates, and in media coverage overall, questions and reviews about the international perspectives of the two contenders for the job of commander in chief, and their views on foreign affairs and national security in general, are few and far between. At a time when global affairs are more unsettled than at any time over the prior seven decades, that lack of appropriate emphasis  has not served the public well.


Hillary_Trump_PatrioticTrump and Clinton portray each other as unqualified for the role as America’s top policy maker on foreign affairs.  Clinton emphasizes Trump’s inexperience and his blunt language. Trump points to what he describes as America’s deterioration in influence and military strength during the period when Clinton served as Secretary of State.


A review of the candidate’s  speeches, position papers, and various statements reveals their overall approach to the key international challenges the nation faces reveals these basic positions:


Clinton outlines her policy in several key points: Continuing traditional relationships with allies, embracing diplomacy and development, being “firm but wise” with rivals, and enacting an overall strategy for confronting terrorists. She strongly supports the Iran nuclear deal, of which she was an architect.  She would increase the number of refugees from Syria, and support more opportunities for undocumented immigrants to move into the U.S. mainstream. Her position on U.S. military strength is somewhat more dovish than President Obamas’. Of particular note is her reluctance to support generally accepted levels of funding for the maintenance and modernization of the American nuclear deterrent. She has not taken a clear stand on international trade agreements, both supporting and opposing the Transpacific Partnership at various times. She mixes in domestic policy with her international perspectives by calling for greater economic equality at home.


Trump’s basic approach to foreign affairs and national security includes increasing military spending and insuring that U.S. conventional and nuclear armed forces are the world’s strongest; pressuring allies to pull their own weight, (often in blunt language) and if they do so, providing substantial U.S. support to deter threats to those nations; opposing the Iran nuclear arms deal; halting illegal immigration; and stopping the flow of refugees from areas that threaten the U.S. with terrorism. He would use ground troops if necessary to combat ISIS, but would refrain from becoming involved in foreign disputes which America has no stake in. He believes that international trade agreements have harmed more than helped the American economy and the American worker.

Areas of sharp disagreement

Trump points out that due to the Obama/Clinton “Reset” with Russia, Moscow now, for the first time in history, possesses the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. Clinton emphasizes that Trump has frequently stated that Putin has restored Russian pride.


Clinton notes that the Iran nuclear deal prevented Tehran’s near-imminent acquisition of an atomic bomb. Trump counters by noting that the agreement freely allows Iran to build nuclear weapons within the next decade, and provided the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism with a vast amount of funding which could be used to further support those activities.


Trump has endorsed a more muscular policy stance towards China’s pacific adventurism, while Clinton tilts towards a more diplomatic approach.


Perhaps the greatest overall debate between the two contenders is the battle of Clinton’s claim to significant experience versus Trump’s outlining of significant policy failures under her watch. Clinton contrasts her eight years as the first lady and key adviser to President Clinton, her tenure in the U.S. Senate, and her role as Secretary of State to Trump’s inexperience. Trump counters with the unprecedented decline in America’s fortunes and the numerous missteps that occurred during her tenure, including the transfer of nuclear supremacy to Russia, the dissent into chaos in the Middle East and the rise of terrorism, and the growing aggressiveness of China.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-choef of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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