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Let’s cut to the chase: when it comes to foreign policy, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have proven to be less than desirable. One has consistently been accused of promptly avoiding any foreign policy-related debate questions, while the other has been labeled “bellicose.”
At this point in the race for the 2016 democratic presidential nomination, the million-dollar question presented by many here is, whose plans for foreign policy will be, well, less disappointing?
Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont, has centered his campaign primarily around income inequality and domestic issues. His pacifist tendencies will likely win over many anti-war voters, but to state the obvious: foreign policy just isn’t Mr. Sanders’ forte. It simply isn’t at the top of his list of presidential priorities.
Sanders’ non-interventionist approach to the Middle East is idealistic. His sentiments on the US’s involvement in Iraq were virtually spot-on in that it was, in actuality, creating more terrorists than it was dwindling their existence. He often cites his 2002 position on the Iraq War in his rebuttals against Clinton, who supported the war, stating that “back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way and one of us didn’t.” He has expressed an interest in internationally using military force as an absolute last resort, and plans to cut nuclear spending by $100 billion over the next decade – a laudable stance amongst many young liberal voters.
But the fact of the matter is that the dovish Bernie Sanders just hasn’t given said voters enough of a clue regarding what exactly he will do on the international stage as the president of the United States. His campaign website lists 22 issues that he considers important – only three of which involve foreign concerns.
Many of the answers to questions voters have about his foreign policy plans have largely been left up to the imagination. When asked about North Korea’s most recent missile launch, his answer did not actually include how he plans to contain North Korea. He has also primarily remained silent on the issues of Syria, the containment of Russia and the enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal. It has consistently appeared, in fact, that Sanders has simply not bothered to prepare any “basic stock answers” to potential national security-related questions.
Regardless, Sanders has asserted that he can indeed “put together a strong team to provide great foreign policy.” Evidence of this falls short, however, as he was recently asked to name a few of his foreign policy advisers, many of whom stated later that they had barely discussed these issues with him.
At the opposite end of the foreign policy spectrum stands Hillary Clinton, who is disproportionately better-informed on international issues than any other candidate in the presidential race. Serving as secretary of state under President Obama from 2009 to 2013, she undoubtedly has much more experience in foreign policy than Bernie Sanders.
But unlike Sanders, Clinton tends to lean toward a more hawkish outlook on foreign policy and America’s stance in the world, which will likely be a strike against her amongst many young liberal voters. She has expressed the sentiment that “America is a force for good in the world,” and has been compared to Henry Kissinger in her views on the relationships between states. She voted for the war in Iraq, a move for which she has been heavily criticized. She also favored an intervention in Libya and lobbied for the US to assist anti-government Syrian rebels. Some democratic voters have even gravitated away from her and toward Sanders, as a hawkish President “Clinton is…a real fear for liberal democrats who want to do less abroad.” Her stances have at times resembled those of republican politicians; she tended to agree with former President George W. Bush on issues including toughness on Saddam Hussein, for example.
She has been labeled “tough” and “bellicose,” as “again and again, [she] pointed to instances where she would have taken a tougher stance than Obama, from arming Syrian rebels to confronting an expansionist Russia,” says Anne Gearan of the Washington Post. She has also been criticized by Sanders, who has stated, “I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change, and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be…You’ve got to think about what happens the day after.”
The question now for liberal voters is, whose foreign policy strategy is more realistic: the Dove or the Hawk?
Bernie Sanders has given voters, even non-intervention enthusiasts, virtually no indication of what his foreign policy strategy would actually entail. Clinton’s strategy has not tended to be favorable either, but given Sanders’ lack of any concrete strategy, Clinton appears to have the more realistic plan, by default. In an era where the US is dealing with ISIS and containing Russia, as just two examples, it is crucial for the next president to have a realistic foreign policy approach.
Whether or not Clinton’s plan is the ideal one, however, is a different story.
An ideal foreign policy strategy would involve bits and pieces from both candidates’ campaigns. Sanders has an intriguing idea for a non-interventionist approach, which could be a prudent move for the US (whose military expenditure and occasional disregard for national sovereignty could stand a break), while elements of Clinton’s pragmatic disposition would likely be much more efficient in implementing said plans than anything Sanders has demonstrated in his campaign thus far.
But as ideal as this thought may seem, as it currently stands, neither candidate has single-handedly demonstrated that they can implement an effective foreign policy strategy as the next commander-in-chief of the most powerful country in the world.
Photo courtesy of the Washington Times