Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The Election That Killed Foreign Policy

Lobelog

The current election campaign has done more to set back U.S. foreign relations, and the cause of good foreign policy, than has any other American presidential election within memory. One reason is the overall sordid image of American democracy in action that is being projected to people around the world, and to governments with an interest in exploiting that image.  The ugly picture includes the amount of attention given—unsurprisingly and necessarily so, given the character, comments, and conduct of Donald Trump—to such things as allegations of a candidate sexually assaulting women.

 

Even more damaging in terms of the picture being projected overseas is what Trump has done to the part of that picture involving the essential standards and practices that make American democracy work and keep the country politically stable.  What separates the United States in that respect from many supposed democracies that are far less stable are peaceful transitions of power and respect for the will of the people as expressed in elections.  This means that losers gracefully accept election outcomes, and that winners let losers walk away with freedom to campaign again another day.  That’s much different from countries where losers launch insurgencies or winners throw their opponents in jail.

Trump has attacked both of those American standards of behavior.  On the first, he has incessantly told his followers that if he loses it will be because of a rigged election, and the biggest headline coming from last night’s debate was his refusal to commit to accepting the election result.  On the second, he has led rallies at which the chants about Hillary Clinton have been “lock her up,” and in a previous debate he threatened to do exactly that if he wins.  Then last night, for good measure, he said that Clinton should not have been allowed to run for president in the first place.

The projection of this picture overseas sours millions on America and the American political system, and the United States loses some of its soft power as a result.  Many get soured on democracy in general.  And governments that have good reason to be defensive about their own political processes gleefully exploit the picture to divert attention from their own deficiencies and to accuse the United States of double standards.

Iran-watcher Robin Wright notes that “Iran’s media has generally been obsessed” with the U.S. election even more than with Iran’s own presidential election due next spring.  Supreme leader Ali Khamenei has tweeted, “US presidential race & issues two candidates raised is a typical result of lack of spirituality & faith among those in power.”  Wright reports that “Trump’s allegations that the U.S. election is rigged have particularly resonated across Iranian media,” partly in revenge for foreign allegations of election fraud when Mahmoud Admadinejad won the Iranian presidency in 2009.  And the hardline clerics on the Guardian Council, who have routinely disqualified presidential and parliamentary candidates whose politics they don’t happen to like, undoubtedly were smiling last night when Trump said Clinton should not have been allowed to run.

Another blow to well-formed foreign policy and a public that is well-informed about it has been the torrent of falsehoods, overwhelmingly from Trump, that has encouraged not just ignorance but firmly embedded misbeliefs about important foreign policy issues.  In last night’s debate, for example, Trump repeated a previous blurt about how the nuclear agreement with Iran, which closed previously open pathways to a nuclear weapon and subjects Iran to the most severe restrictions and monitoring of a nuclear program that any country has ever accepted, supposedly would guarantee that Iran would get the bomb.  Amid the umpteenth claim by Trump about opposing the Iraq War and all the other charges being hurled across the stage, Clinton never got back to commenting on that subject herself.  And so not just a mistaken, but a completely upside-down, notion of what the agreement with Iran is all about has been further cemented in the minds of many Americans and especially Trump’s followers.

Such problems are related to the overall low amount of time and attention devoted to foreign policy in this campaign, except insofar as it involves immigration, trade, or terrorism.  In some previous elections, an entire presidential candidates’ debate was devoted to foreign and security policy.  This year the pattern was exemplified by last night’s debate, in which just one of six issue areas identified by moderator Chris Wallace was “global hot spots,” which translated more narrowly into a question about Aleppo and U.S. troops in Iraq.  Even the Iraq-Syria theater got nowhere the attention it needs.  When Clinton talked about her backing for a no-fly zone in Syria, Wallace appropriately challenged her to justify that position given that the incumbent president and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have resisted creating such a zone, but Clinton deflected the challenge with a non-answer.  And so an important question, one that will face the new president early and on which there are legitimate arguments on each side, was left unexamined.

The damage to U.S. foreign relations, foreign policy, and public understanding of foreign policy that has already been done in this campaign will persist past the campaign’s end.  Still more damage probably is yet to come.  How a losing Donald Trump reacts on election night will partly determine that, but there are additional ways in which venomous domestic politics have repercussions beyond U.S. borders.

If Hillary Clinton is victorious next month, she will be the first non-incumbent Democrat to win an election to succeed another Democrat since James Buchanan won in 1856.  Buchanan also was the last previous president to have been secretary of state.  But however well that experience may have equipped him to formulate and conduct foreign policy, domestic divisions overwhelmed everything else during his single term of office.  The slavery issue, with war drums of the coming Civil War already being heard, sapped energy from other initiatives.  Buchanan’s foreign policy, which was centered mainly on Latin America, was as undistinguished as the rest of his presidency.

Even if a reprise of the Civil War is unlikely, poisonous and divisive domestic politics are likely to be at least as big a challenge to a President Hillary Clinton in trying to sustain a coherent and effective foreign policy as will be any threats overseas.

This article was first published by the National Interest and was reprinted by Lobelog with permission. Copyright The National Interest.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The millionaire pastor of the Cornerstone Church in Texas, John Hagee argues that U.S. support for Israel will play a “a pivotal role in the second coming” of Jesus. He has also risen to new prominence during the Trump administration.


Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian who served as a chief aide and speechwriter in the George W. Bush White House, is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post and one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics on the right, calling him an “unhinged president.”


Robert Kagan, a cofounder of the Project for the New American Century, is a neoconservative policy pundit and historian based at the Brookings Institution.


Mira Ricardel, former weapons marketer for Boeing, is the deputy national security adviser under John Bolton. She is a well-known foreign policy hawk who has served in key positions in the administration of George W. Bush and, earlier, in the office of former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS).


Fred Fleitz left his role as chief of staff at the National Security Council under John Bolton to succeed notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

U.S. supporters of Israel are in a bind: public opinion is changing; there are more actors publicly challenging Israel; and the crude, heavy-handed tactics they have successfully used in the past to silence criticism now only aggravate the situation.


As the civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen grows and the backlash against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder escalates, former Sen. Norm Coleman’s control of Republican Party campaign purse strings positions him as a key influencer of Republican congressional action, or inaction, in curtailing the increasingly aggressive and reckless actions of Saudi Arabia.


Increasingly, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are positioned as rivals, each with pretensions to Middle Eastern influence or even hegemony. It’s not clear whether they can continue to coexist without one or the other—or both—backing down. This has made it more difficult for the United States to maintain its ties with both countries.


What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing — and arguably quite a lot.


The Donald Trump administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia promises to lay bare some realities about security issues and nuclear programs in that part of the world that the administration has refused to acknowledge.


Eminent U.S. foreign policy expert Stephen Walt’s new book critique’s the “liberal hegemony” grand strategy that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.


(Lobelog)  Retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told LobeLog he will remain on the board of the Gatestone Institute, a right-wing think tank that receives money from Trump megadonors Robert and Rebekah Mercer and disseminates anti-Muslim and anti-refugee conspiracy theories. Last week, LobeLog reported that Dershowitz received $120,000 from the Gatestone Institute in 2017 and…


RightWeb
share