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Thread: Neocon or Idealist?

  1. #1

    Neocon or Idealist?

    The Foreign Policy of Hillary Clinton [SOF.Rep]


    Hillary Clinton presents an interesting phenomenon when it comes to examining her professed and practiced foreign policy. For starters, she is a Democrat. In American politics, that places her squarely within the party that often comes down on the side of peace, and in favor of diplomacy over military action. Often, but not always. After all, Democratic presidents have attempted to overthrow governments (Cuba), have escalated wars (Vietnam), and have supported armed interventions (Libya). So, perhaps that is an antiquated view of the American left.

    Despite that, Mrs. Clinton is often referred to as a hawk, usually by Republicans or more left-leaning Democrats, seeking to disparage her. This is an accurate label, as far as this author is concerned -- Clinton has, after all, advocated armed regime change in Libya and Iraq, and more often than not, has reportedly come down on the side of military action in debates within the Obama administration foreign-policy team. Calling her a hawk is not unfair.

    If we are seeking to clarify her views on foreign policy, though, we must first stipulate that being labeled a Democratic hawk does not imply the same thing as being called a hawk within the Republican party. And, of course, neither of those labels is the same as aggressive isolationist, along the lines of the current GOP nominee.

    Therefore, comparisons and labels are probably not the most illustrative way to examine Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy. Instead, let us simply lay those policies out as they are put forward by Clinton herself,


    National security

    Herein, though, lies a bit of an open secret about Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy proposals formulated for the current presidential campaign, versus the reality of the policies she has actually supported in the past: while Clinton may profess an idealistic set of foreign-policy goals, but she has often supported and put forward approaches that can only be accurately called neocon: a more muscular form of idealism in foreign policy, in which they often advocate for the military overthrow of illiberal regimes, followed by the rebuilding of those same countries and regimes to mirror Western democracies. One can put forward Japan and Germany as successful examples of this approach. Both of those vanquished totalitarian regimes were defeated through total war, and were then remade from whole cloth into liberal democracies.

    Examples of more recent attempts at this type of foreign policy include Libya and Iraq. Things have obviously not gone quite as well so far in the latter two examples. Optimists would say, give it time. Those against neocons including most realists would say, we should never devote so much blood and treasure to nation-building: America should deal with the world the way it finds it, not the way we want it to be.

    While her professed foreign policy for the 2016 campaign is one built on idealism and international engagement based on principles and values, her record shows a more hawkish approach: neo-conservatism. Who is to say?


    Other foreign-policy issues... Standing up to Putin and holding China accountable: Clinton’s stances with regards to China and Russia are more nuanced, and probably prudently so. She calls for standing up to Putin, and for encouraging China to play a responsible role in Asia and across the world.

    In other words, Mrs. Clinton sees Russia as a dangerous regional bully looking to throw its weight around, and that it must be contained and kept in its box. She views China as a rising strategic competitor that must be managed with a more gentle touch, and not prodded into an imprudent and costly military conflict. These are smart policies.

    Finally, as far as her specific national-security policy goals, Mrs. Clinton addresses cyber security as a primary threat, as well as climate change, and outbreaks of various dangerous diseases. Experts can and will quibble over the degree of focus each of these may or may not deserve, but the overarching point is that Mrs. Clinton seeks global engagement on these and many other issues. Her approach is sure to be multilateral and international, in most instances.

    This type of internationalist approach to issues is in keeping with Mrs. Clinton’s professed foreign-policy idealism. She clearly seeks to maintain America’s leadership role in the world, and to shape global affairs through an assertive foreign policy. While she states that she will do this based on values and principles, one can also expect that she will inject healthy doses of realism into the mix, when necessary.

    The danger lies... in Clinton giving in to her more neoconservative instincts. That would cost more American lives and money. Can we expect the neocon President Clinton, or the idealist President Clinton?


    ...versus Donald Trump



    The Confusing, Contradictory Military and Foreign Policy of Donald Trump


    Before we start, though, it must be stated that this article is in no way a judgment of Trump’s supporters. I respect everyone’s right to choose who they want to be their candidate. I'm not here to insult them.

    Now, after all that preamble, let us examine the policy proposals of the presumptive Republican nominee. I'll be drawing almost exclusively from Donald Trump’s own stated foreign policy, as found here, in his only major speech on the topic. I have also looked at various of his other speeches—in which he has addressed foreign policy and military issues—as source material.

    The text of Trump’s major foreign-policy speech is, at certain points, contradictory and confusing. He ridicules the Iran deal while claiming that he in fact does want old enemies to become friends. He advocates promoting Western values throughout the world while criticizing attempts to establish Western-style democracies in other parts of the world. He wants America to act only in her own interests, while also saying that the United States must continually play the role of peacemaker.

    Mr. Trump also states that our resources are overextended, but then commits us to always help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself. That seems far from restrained, nor an effective means of husbanding our resources. He says our friends must know that we will stick by the agreements we have made, but he then threatens to tear up N.A.F.T.A., and unilaterally call for the restructuring of NATO. One cannot be blamed for experiencing confusion over what Mr. Trump truly intends as his foreign policy. The following, though, are the specific points he addresses in his foreign policy speech, to help us clarify.


    Rebuilding the Military

    Trump calls for returning to a military force structure last seen during the Cold War. He bemoans the fact that the American armed forces have shrunk over the years, which indeed they have, since the peace dividend claimed at the end of the Cold War led to a downsizing of the U.S. military. America’s military is smaller than it was at the height of the Cold War and defense budgets have shrunk since then, though they are still far higher than anywhere else in the world. These facts are indisputable.

    What Trump fails to explain though, is why they have shrunk. In the simplest terms, it is because our primary military adversary during the Cold War imploded economically, and we no longer fear a full-scale war with a heavily armed nation-state adversary. That fact has allowed the United States to trim military budgets, and begin to restructure toward a leaner, more streamlined military, in line with the threats that face us today. Has that process been perfect? No. Are we where we need to be? Probably not. Do we need to rebuild our decimated military (Mr. Trump’s words)? No.

    America has overtaxed our military members through multiple overseas combat deployments. We are exhausting our soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors. Our military faces challenges in procurement and hardware replacement, including overpriced, over-budget, or behind-schedule weapons systems and platforms. We clearly have issues with how we treat our wounded veterans. All of these things should be addressed, without a doubt. Does anyone really think, though, that we need, and can pay for, a massive military build-up, and a return to Cold War force and spending levels?

    Will this be done through increased taxes? How else will we pay for it? Is it strategically necessary at this time?

    This author fully supports maintaining American military primacy relative to the rest of the world. That is imperative for the preservation of American power. That primacy, though, is, and should always be, relative to the forces against which we are arrayed, and with an eye to preventing Russia, China, or another potential strategic adversary from overtaking us. There is no need to race far out ahead if it means bankrupting a fragile American economy in the process. Yes -- we should revamp procurement procedures and eliminate financial waste. Yes -- we should ease the burden on deployed troops by increasing the numbers of combat forces and scaling back the length of deployments. Yes -- we need a lean, agile, and superior military. But no -- we do not need a senseless build-up, nor a giant, bloated war machine.


    Stopping Radical Islam and Destroying ISIS

    He calls for halting the spread of radical Islam. I agree. In fact, I spent years of my life engaged in that struggle. He will do this through working with Middle Eastern allies, and through the use of force, where necessary. He specifically names ISIS as an enemy that he will destroy, though he does not mention how he will do that. Fine, maybe later.

    Trump also fails most of the time to address al-Qaeda, with which we have been at war for decades, and which remains strong and continuously targeted against America. That should change.

    While in principle Trump's stated goal of destroying ISIS is a good one, the U.S. must not lose sight of the need to continue to target al-Qaeda. That war should go on. We needn’t commit large-scale ground troops to defeating either group. Al-Qaeda and ISIS will not be destroyed through the use of conventional military engagements on the field of battle. They must be targeted through intelligence and special ops forces, in league with allies on the ground, in a campaign more robust than is currently being waged against ISIS in Syria, but along the same lines.

    Trump appears to be on the right track with his goal of battling radical Islam, though the immigration aspect of his policy is not helpful. Stopping immigrant flows to America will never make America great. We need immigration to keep America populous and vibrant, as we always have. Yes, we should enforce existing laws and be stringent in screening incoming immigrants, but never should we allow fear to prevent the citizens of the world from pursuing the American dream, and thus making America a magnet for the world’s most gifted and sought-after minds. Immigration is good for America -- There should never be a religious litmus test to come here, either. If there were, I can guarantee you that my Irish Catholic ancestors would never have been allowed in the country back in the 19th century. We can all agree that that would have been very sad!


    Resistance to Creating Western Democracies

    Despite calling for the promotion of Western values throughout the world, Mr. Trump calls for a halt to creating Western democracies around the globe. With this, I can agree. We should support democracies whenever and wherever we can, be they Western or not (India is a prime example), but we should avoid trying to create them from whole cloth (Afghanistan and Iraq being prime examples). This author is a realist, and if it is in our interests to support non-democratic allies, at times, then so be it. It may also be in our interests, at times, to help foster and develop a democracy, but that should not supersede the importance of the geostrategic stability of a particular region.


    Skepticism of Alliances

    Mr. Trump has made statements about the obsolescence of NATO, and has openly questioned its usefulness. With this I wholeheartedly disagree. I again draw on realism in coming to this conclusion. America’s alliances are good for America. They provide strategic value, comparative advantage, and provide us with platforms from which we can project power around the globe. They provide strategic basing throughout the world, and they allow for American influence to be wielded everywhere. They cannot be thrown away willy nilly, nor should we want to do so.

    Yes, America can ask our partners to do more—and we do. We can ask them to contribute more financially, and in troop levels in various theaters around the world—and we do. They do not always comply, given the realities of their own internal politics. They do, however, contribute when, where, and how they can. We should not disparage them publicly as Mr. Trump has done with NATO. We need them. They are a strategic force multiplier. We should never lose sight of that. Realism dictates alliances, and should proscribe us from ever trying to go it alone, if we can avoid it. Alliances are important and necessary.


    America first in trade

    It is hard to argue with someone when they push for “America first.” Do not be fooled into thinking, though, that any American president would ever fail to put what they see as American interests before all else. Each administration acts in a way that it sees as being best for America. You might not agree, but it does not mean that their intentions are not pure. When Mr. Trump calls for “America first” in trade, he is really advocating for protectionism, which he thinks will help American trade.

    There was a time when almost all mainstream Republicans believed in unfettered free trade. It was a bedrock principle for many, though admittedly, there have always been detractors within the conservative world. Well, as of today, the latter are ascendant, and they speak through Mr. Trump. They say NAFTA is bad, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad, tariff-less trade is bad, American industry should be protected, and trade wars should be initiated against countries with surpluses vis-a-vis America. They also say that taxes should be levied against American companies that would dare to go global in their business operations.

    This kind of thinking is dangerous for world order, threatens to dismantle the global pax-Americana, and will not provide for the long-term prosperity of Americans. We cannot protect our way to a healthy economy, and trade protectionism can, and has, led to many expensive wars. I am no economist, though, so I will let The Economist make the case for free trade on my behalf.


    Isolationist foreign policy

    In the same vein as calling for trade protectionism, Mr. Trump also advocates to some degree for isolationism in his foreign policy, though not completely. He would intervene in the world “where necessary,” but he has also called for leaving Syria to the Russians, for example, and backing away from many global conflicts in which he does not think America should meddle. Mr. Trump decries the “false song of globalism,” which is another way of advocating for a form of isolationism.

    If the United States wants to remain the world’s preeminent superpower, wants to preserve the world order it has so tirelessly worked to create following World War II, and wants to avoid being sucked into global conflicts it has failed to prevent through diplomatic engagement, then it simply cannot pull away from the rest of the world. Other states will fill the vacuum America leaves, and those states will almost assuredly threaten American interests through their actions. The only way to preserve a world order beneficial to America is to engage with the world, albeit in a smart, realistic, interest-driven way. Isolationism never works for us.


    Relations with China and Russia

    Finally, Mr. Trump appears to call for warmer relations with Russia, and claims to want to work with China where we can. These are worthwhile goals, in principle, up to a point. However, what Mr. Trump fails to address is whether those states want to work with us in a constructive way. When it comes to Putin’s Russia, the answer is that they probably do not.

    It behooves President Putin to frame America and the West as adversaries, and he acts accordingly. Is it worth giving in to Putin on Ukraine and stopping NATO expansion merely to appease the Russians? Is it worth handing Syria over to them so that Mr. Putin is satiated? No, it is not. It is not in America’s interests, and not worth the consequences simply to maintain warm relations with Russia. Russia is a strategic competitor. Mr. Trump should not forget it. He will not charm his way into Putin’s good graces, nor should he try.

    With regards to China, it is in American interests to maintain peaceful relations, and thus preserve Asian stability. How do we do that, though, while threatening economic warfare with the Chinese, as Mr. Trump often does? Does he think the Chinese will react passively to the imposition of tariffs and trade barriers? At a minimum, a destructive and expensive trade war might erupt. The greater danger is that almost certain economic warfare will lead to military warfare in east Asia. Simply put, Mr. Trump appears as though he will be far too accommodating to the Russians, and far too confrontational with the Chinese.

    Then again, maybe he won’t.

    What is it, really?

    This is the fundamental problem with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy. It is too hard to divine exactly what he will do. One moment he trumpets isolationism, while the next, he promotes active engagement with the world. One minute, he wants to work with allies, while the next, he proposes throwing them aside, calling alliances obsolete if they fail to meet what he sees as acceptable levels of commitment.

    In sum, Mr. Trump’s foreign and military policies are far too incoherent to adequately provide for the security of the United States, especially in the challenging and often unpredictable global environment in which we currently find ourselves. We can do better as a nation, and for the sake of American interests, we must.

  2. #2
    Assistant Coach
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    Principles and Values won't get you far in the Middle East. They have no Principles or Values.

  3. #3
    Then the Neocon in her takes over! Whatever blows her dress up!

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