07 03 2016

Who should we fear most? Trump or Hilary?

A lot of people are horrified by the idea of Donald Trump becoming presidential candidate for the US Republican Party. And rightly so. They tend to look to Hilary Clinton as the sane, moderate mainstream US presidential candidate, who they hope will win. But when we look at their foreign policy statements, it is not so clear, which candidate would be more dangerous for the rest of us as a possible future American president. Taken at face-value, it looks as if it is Hillary.

Of course, Tea-Party backed Teddy Cruz, is a traditional neo-con. The same is the case for Marco Rubio. So there would be no major surprises with them. If one of them becomes presidential candidate for the Republican Party, he will probably be the more bellicose. And hence dangerous.

But let us suppose it is Donald Trump who becomes the candidate. And let us suppose we can trust his one-liners on foreign policy (which we probably can't – populist European politicians sometimes make surprising stances, but experience is that once in power, they are rather traditional, boring right wing politicians). But let us for the moment take both candidates at face value and look at some of the main foreign policy issues, some historic and some actual, and see, how they compare.

Let us start with the 2003 Iraq war, no doubt the biggest foreign policy since the Vietnam war (or the “American war”, as they say in Vietnam). Hillary voted for the invasion of Iraq (Obama voted against). Trump claims he was against even before the war, which looks dubious, but he actually turned against the war early on. It looks as if his worry was mostly about how it would affect his business investments. During his campaign he proudly exposes his opposition to the Iraq war. Hillary now says voting for the war was a mistake. This is more than most of the coward European political parties participating in the war have said. So, one point in her favour.

On to Iran. Even if the deal is done, and it would be politically very difficult to reverse the deal made by Obama, this has been an extremely dangerous foreign policy issue. If Hillary had been president instead of Obama, there would probably have been an Israeli-US war with the country. She said last year that if elected, she would back it up with the threat of military action. And then Trump. In 2007 he advocated air strikes on Iran (as did Hillary). He has criticized the Iran deal, but unlike the other Republican contenders he does not say it should be undone.

On to Libya. The Libya war was Hillary's big victory as Foreign Minister (Obama was apparently weary). “We came, we saw, he died!” she bragged, when she saw the photos of Gadaffi being lynched. Apparently no remorse today, as Libya has turned into a failed state. And what about Trump? He says he was against at that time, which as so often with him seems to be untrue. But at least he says he now thinks it was a blunder – as was the war in Iraq. You will never hear Hillary say that.

And then Syria. Hillary thinks Obama has been to weak – he should have used military power. And she still thinks US should do that (we can of course hope that the war is over before Obama hands over the Presidency, so she can't do too much harm). She advocates the Turkish claim for a “no-fly zone” in Syria, where our moderate jihadist allies can be safe from Syrian and Russian bombing campaigns. And she wants US troops deployed, even if she says it should not be on a massive scale. When she was asked: “So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?”She responded: “The no-fly zone, I would hope, would be also shared by Russia”. Apparently you should not expect major coherence from her. And then to Trump. Well, don't expect coherence here either. Only contradictory one-liners. On the refugees:On the war: “..let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight them in Syria. We can fight them in Iraq.”. Makes some sense – what is it actually, the US doing in Iraq by the way?

And then to an issue, where Trump has horrified the US establishment: Russia. Not that Hillary is evoking much trust either. According to Washington Post, Hillary's “harsh rhetoric about Russia raised eyebrows among hawks and doves alike. At a California fundraiser event last year, she reportedly compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Even the neo-con Republican candidates sound less bellicose. But Trump's standpoint has caused more concern. He has said there could be a good relation with Russia. And that driving Russia and China together has been a major blunder by Obama.

And finally Cuba? Here, surprisingly, both are doveish. Hillary says she supports the timid opening towards Cuba, and that she wants the embargo to go. Trump says the same, while the other Republican candidates are vocal oponents of Obama's Cuba policy.

So the verdict? Difficult to say. Hillary has a terrible track record on foreign policy, and she does not seem to have learned much. Trump is a racist and misogynist. His declarations on Mexican immigrants are incredible (according to him they are all drug dealers and rapists). Many of his foreign policy declarations are, however, more reassuring than Hillary's. His one-liner statements are very much like Ronald Reagan's. However, contrary to Ronald Reagan it does not sound as if he has an apocalyptic world view, or shares his fascination with Armageddon. But then, I wouldn't trust Trump. Neither would I trust Hillary. It is not an appetising choice the Americans have. Unfortunately, due to the enormous power of the US military machine, their choice has big repercussions for all of us. And we can only watch the show, as a horror film. But unlike the horror-film, we can't just turn it off. We are forced to watch it to the bitter end.

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Thorbjorn Waagstein

Thorbjørn Waagstein, Economist, PhD, since 1999 working as international Development Consultant in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

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