September 28, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – Thoughts on the First Debate


Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the first US presidential debate. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The highly anticipated debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took place on Monday. At times, the forum produced more heat than light, like when the candidates clashed over Clinton’s physical stamina or Trump’s spurious “Birther” claims. But overall the debate was illuminating in its treatment of several important global issues.

Trade, for instance, took center stage early on in the debate, with Trump calling NAFTA the “worst thing that ever happened to the manufacturing industry,” and Clinton defending herself against assertions that she in fact supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The candidates’ exchange reflected just how polarizing trade has become in recent years—at least at the political level. Recall that for most of the last half-century, there has been a bipartisan consensus around free trade—a widespread belief that reducing tariffs and other barriers translates into prosperity and economic growth. Importantly, the public continues to have a decidedly positive view on trade, as the Council’s recent survey underscored. Today, as the debate made clear, this political consensus is gone. (Notably, this breakdown in political support for free trade is not just an American phenomenon; read George Osborne’s recent speech at the Council for his views on the relationship between trade and Brexit).

If trade was noteworthy because of the fiery exchanges it caused, immigration stood out due to its absence. Indeed, despite being one of the cornerstones of Donald Trump’s campaign, there was no mention of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, nor was there any talk about his proposals to deport undocumented immigrants and ban Muslims. The lack of immigration talk was made all the more notable given the recent surge in violence in Syria and the decision by President Obama to increase the number of Syrian refugees he would welcome into the United States.

A revealing difference between the two candidates was highlighted in an exchange over America’s alliances. In response to a question about NATO, Trump reiterated his critique of the alliance, suggesting that NATO was obsolete and that NATO members are not paying their fair share. Clinton strongly defended the alliance, invoking NATO’s commitment to the United States in response to 9/11. The broader issue here is whether or not America’s interests are served by abrogating—or even questioning—its commitments to its allies. (For an insightful perspective on this issue, read former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s latest op-ed in The Wall St. Journal).

The two candidates covered a lot of ground during their debate but, inevitably, left a host of important issues untouched. This week’s reads provides some different perspectives on some of the topics that were discussed—and some that should have been discussed—during the debate. 

The Best Ways to Deal with the Refugee Crisis

David Miliband/The New York Review of Books

David Miliband, former UK Foreign Secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, reviews in stark detail the current global refugee crisis, providing a host of possible solutions. “Protracted conflict is the new norm,” he says, and “there is every reason to radically change our approach to direct support for the victims.” To accommodate the swelling population of roughly 65.3 million displaced persons, he says the global humanitarian system needs to reevaluate how it distributes vital assistance, better fund multilateral aid programs, and get wealthy, industrialized nations to integrate long-term refugees into new homes.

Free Trade v. Populism: The Fight for America's Economy

Shawn Donnan/Financial Times

Trade has developed into a contentious issue in the presidential campaign as both Trump and Clinton stand staunchly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama’s hallmark free trade initiative. Shawn Donnan provides an overview of the ways in which globalization is being challenged in the current era. According to Donnan, the TPP and other free trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, have been hampered by populist rhetoric that preaches against the merits of globalization, despite its role in raising nearly a billion people out of poverty.

The United States Must Be the World’s Policeman

Anders Fogh Rasmussen/The Wall Street Journal

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen believes America must maintain its role as a global superpower to save the world’s “global village.” He says the Obama administration’s reluctance to lead the world has had serious consequences, and that the world needs a US president who will lead from the front, not from behind. In his view, the United States remains the only country with the material resources and moral fortitude to play a global supervisory role.

George Osborne MP: Louis B. Susman Lecture on Transatlantic Relations

George Osborne/The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

In his speech at the Council last week, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne reflected on the cause and ramifications of Brexit. While he didn’t have definitive answers for what comes next, he made the case for continued UK involvement in the world, declaring the UK must fight fiercely for the values of co-operation, free markets and international institutions to secure its peace and prosperity.

‘From Paradise to Hell’: How an Aid Convoy in Syria Was Blown Apart

Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta/The New York Times

A carefully established cease fire between Russia and the United States to end airstrikes in Syria fell apart last week when an aid convoy was bombed, leaving at least 20 civilians dead. The head of the UN denounced the attack as a war crime, the United States blames Russia, and Russia blames the United States. “Diplomacy has failed,” writes The New York Times, “bombardment has escalated, and now even the small group of committed Syrians who were just trying to help the helpless on all sides heal and have something to eat had come under attack.”

President Trump’s First Term

Evan Osnos/The New Yorker

“Trump spends several hours signing papers—and erases the Obama Presidency,” explains a Donald Trump aid on how his would-be first day as president will unfold. Using Trump’s campaign as a model, he predicts Trump’s presidency would be fluid and unpredictable. The presidency enjoys more unchecked power than at any time in US history, and translating Trump’s words into policy would have far reaching implications on both foreign and domestic policy. “For more than a year, Trump has encouraged supporters to regard him as a work in progress,” writes Osnos, but now he’s trying to convince voters that his presidency would be something other than the campaign that created it.  

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

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