Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have now delivered major speeches on foreign policy. If you are looking for a presidential candidate who favors conservative foreign policy prescriptions and such traditional Republican positions as promoting free trade, strong alliances, and the selective but robust projection of American force abroad, look no further than the presumptive presidential nominee – Hillary Clinton.
That’s right. In most key foreign policy issues, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is to the right of her rival, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Consider the following.
On Russia, while Mrs. Clinton has called Putin a “bully” and has described the relationship between Washington and Moscow as “complicated,” Mr. Trump has floated the idea of establishing a new alliance with Russia, whose cooperation he says is needed to help end the six-year war in Syria, fight terrorism, and diffuse tensions. While he says that more should be done to support Ukraine, which has been battling Russia-backed separatists since Russia annexed Crimea, he has not detailed what specifically he would do to help end Russia’s occupation of Crimea and combat Russian meddling in Kiev’s internal affairs.
Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has become steadily more critical of Russia since 2009 when she and Mr. Putin famously pushed a red “reset” button on their relationship. By the end of her tenure as secretary of state, The Wall Street Journal reported, she had written a private memo to President Obama declaring the Russia “reset” dead and asserting that relations with Moscow had hit a new “low.”
To combat Russian aggression, Mrs. Clinton, like most Republicans and Democrats, has staunchly supported working closely with the 28-member NATO alliance which helped contain the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1991. Mr. Trump, by contrast, has criticized the alliance as “obsolete” and too costly for America, saying he would insist that either its members “pay up” or “get out.”
Or consider America’s war in Iraq. While then New York’s Senator Clinton voted in favor of authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002, Mr. Trump now claims to have opposed that intervention. Putting aside the pesky issue of whether that claim is true (and several contemporaneous and recent reports indicate that Mr. Trump once supported the invasion) he now asserts that “From the beginning I said it’s gonna destabilize the Middle East and Iran will take over Iraq…We decimated that country’s military and now the country’s a mess.”
Mrs. Clinton has said that if she had known then what she knows now, she would have voted differently on the Senate resolution authorizing intervention. But she has not apologized for her action. And she has proposed more intrusive intervention in Syria to stop the civil war than either Mr. Trump or President Obama. A proponent of arming “moderate” or pro-western rebels in Syria and expanding American airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, she has also pushed for establishing a no-fly zone over Syria to protect refugees. President Obama rejected that option partly because it would put the U.S. in potential direct military conflict with Russia, which has sent military advisers to Syria to protect Syrian president Bashar Assad and bomb not only ISIS but other rebel forces there.
For his part, Mr. Trump has talked tough about defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, saying he would bomb the “expletive” out of them and kill families of terrorists, which Mrs. Clinton and others have noted would be a war crime). But he has consistently refused to disclose his plan for defeating the jihadis on grounds that it would deny Washington the element of surprise. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, he has opposed arming Syrian rebels. In his isolationism and reluctance to use force to secure American goals, Mr. Trump resembles Democratic presidential aspirant Senator Bernie Sanders more than he does Hillary Clinton.
Or consider North Korea. While Mrs. Clinton has adopted a tough stance towards North Korea’s brutal young dictator Kim Jung Un, whose abuse of his people and quest for nuclear weapons she denounced yet again in her foreign policy speech in San Diego Wednesday, Mr. Trump has offered to sit down with Mr. Kim and try to negotiate a deal. While Mrs. Clinton would shudder at being praised by the mercurial leader in Pyongyang, Time magazine reported this week that official state media called Mr. Trump a “wise politician” and “farsighted candidate who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”
Mr. Trump has also threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea if Seoul does not pay more to support them and also to let South Korea and Japan – and even Saudi Arabia – develop their own nuclear weapons (another position he now denies having embraced) rather than depend on American military deterrence. Mrs. Clinton has proposed stiffening sanctions against Pyongyang to force Mr. Kim it to abandon his nuclear program. Plus, she has strongly opposed nuclear proliferation in any region, preferring to rely on American leadership thru traditional alliances to deter Russian and Chinese aggression and to fight ISIS.
On trade policy, too, Mr. Trump sometimes seems to the left of his Democratic rival. While Mrs. Clinton has opposed the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, she strongly embraced the trade talks that led to the free trade agreement when she was secretary of state. Mr. Trump, by contrast, argues that the trade deals so beloved of fellow Republicans have invariably cost Americans jobs and revenue at home. He vows to tear them up, negotiate better deals, or start a trade war with China if necessary. “We’ve been taken advantage of by globalization because we have leaders that are incompetent,” he says, often sounding more protectionist than his Democratic rival.
On Israel, Mrs. Clinton has been a fierce champion, praising the Jewish state and vowing to defend it yet again in her speech today. Not so, Mr. Trump, who having retracted an earlier desire to be “neutral” in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, has questioned Israel’s commitment to peace. “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it,” Mr. Trump said, adding: “A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things. They may not be, and I understand that, and I'm OK with that. But then you're just not going to have a deal.’”
Staunch support for Israel is among the issues that have led many prominent neo-conservatives, most prominently Bill Kristol, once supportive of Republicans, to embrace Mrs. Clinton and oppose or be skeptical of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump has staunchly criticized Mrs. Clinton for her interventionism – what he calls her mishandling of foreign policy as secretary of state during her 2009-2013. He has been especially harsh on her preference for military interventions in Libya and her handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by Islamist militants on an U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, where jihadists killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. While he has talked tougher than his Democratic rival about the need to make America’s foes “respect” America again and has condemned her embrace of the Iran nuclear deal and recognition of Cuba – two areas where Mr. Trump appears more hawkish than Mrs. Clinton -- there is less practical difference between them than it may seem. Mr. Trump has vowed to renegotiate the nuclear deal, though how he would do that is unclear, and has endorsed toughening sanctions on Iran to secure concessions. But he has not echoed Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s vow to tear up the agreement on “day one.” Nor is he likely to walk back recognition of Cuba.
While Mr. Trump will have to cope with his myriad foreign policy faux pas and flip flops, Hillary Clinton will have her own challenges. Whatever her current views, she has little to show for her years as secretary of state. Perhaps harder, she will have to separate herself from the legacy of President Obama's foreign policy -- two still failing wars, over 500,000 dead in Syria, tens of millions of refugees displaced from their homes and flooding Europe, and the disdain of so many Middle Eastern and other allies for America's indifference and lack of leadership.
Small wonder that neither candidate may want to dwell on foreign policy as they head to November.