June 9, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads — Two Visions of US Foreign Policy


US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump. REUTERS/Mike Blake and REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. As she prepares to face off against Donald Trump in November’s general election, the differences between them—in style and temperament and experience—are truly striking. Nowhere are these differences more consequential, however, than in foreign policy, where the two candidates have laid out diametrically opposing visions for America’s role in the world.

Trump’s foreign policy vision begins with the notion that America is weak and in decline. His prescription is to look inward. Build a wall with Mexico. Slap huge tariffs on China. Ban immigration from Muslims. Loosen commitments with US allies; perhaps abandon some alliances all together. America comes first, the rest are an afterthought.

Clinton’s worldview is entirely different. Hers rests on the idea that America is already great—and importantly, that America’s greatness is sustained by its engaged leadership around the world. Where Trump wants walls, Clinton calls for bridges. Where he flirts with isolationism, she wants engagement.

These differences matter. The challenges we face today—from Russian military aggression to Chinese economic volatility to the Israel-Palestine conflict—have never been more chaotic and complicated. They will require wise policy and thoughtful leadership, and the paths that each candidate has set out to respond would lead America in vastly different directions. This week’s reads illustrate some of the foreign policy issues at stake in the US election this November. 

President Trump Would Hand the World to China

David Ignatius/The Washington Post

A Trump presidency could open the way for China’s strategic dominance in Asia and elsewhere, writes David Ignatius. Arguing that Trump’s “America First” policies would reinforce the drift away from US global leadership, he notes, for instance, that the US failing to ratify TPP would empower China and bring bad terms for US goods and services. Ignatius also cites Trump’s comments about banning Muslims as a security risk that would alienate the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. “Trump’s call to ‘Make America Great Again’ is incoherent because it is accompanied by inward-looking, reactive policies.”

Trump and the World: What Could Actually Go Wrong

Ian Bremmer/POLITICO Magazine

Trump’s foreign policy is hard to analyze because he issues contradictory statements, lacks clearly stated foreign policy plans, and has few aligned experts to draw upon when forming his administration, says Ian Bremmer. Nevertheless, in an attempt to “separate sound arguments from hype,” Bremmer applies global risk-mapping techniques to review the implications of a Trump foreign policy. “With Trump, the biggest risk comes from the way he’d handle a crisis that no one saw coming,” Bremmer notes, adding that other risks are a loss of confidence in the dollar, undermined US alliances, aggressive and political fair trade suits, and increased targeting by Islamic militant groups. Bremmer also points out things not to worry about in Trump’s foreign policy, including US-China relations, Asia’s geopolitics, and Iran policy.

The Boy Who Escaped Trump Country

Edward Luce/Financial Times

Donald Trump received his highest share of the Virginia vote in Buchanan County, a place of shuttered mines and collapsing property prices. In a long-form dispatch, Edward Luce introduces some of Trump’s most passionate supporters, reports on life in Buchanan County, and profiles one 22-year-old in particular who is swimming against its tide.

Why US Diplomacy Can't Fix the Middle East

Aaron David Miller/The Washington Post

Describing lessons from his own failed efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Aaron David Miller writes that “the more we try and fail” in the Middle East, “the less credibility and leverage we have in the region.” Noting that US mediation can’t make up for the weak leadership of the parties to a negotiation, he believes “the inconvenient reality is that we will never have a greater stake in this region, or more power to remedy its ills, than those who live there.” Sometimes, he concludes, “it makes more sense for our diplomats and negotiators to stay home rather than look weak and ineffective while searching for solutions to problems they simply cannot resolve.”

How China Fell off the Miracle Path

Ruchir Sharma/The New York Times

Contrary to popular belief from the past decade—and current rhetoric from today’s campaign trail—China is now a threat to the United States not because it is strong, says Ruchir Sharma, but because it is fragile. Sharma analyzes four key forces that have shaped the rise and fall of nations since the 2008 financial crisis and applies them to China: debt, capital inflows and outflows, exchange rates, and labor availability. In each category, Sharma concludes that none of the forces bode well for China’s future.

Obama: A Virtual Museum of His Presidency

The Washington Post

This week The Washington Post unveiled “Commander in Chief,” the second installation in its virtual museum of Obama’s presidency. Eventually the museum will span five multimedia rooms, each covering different aspects of the Obama legacy. “Commander in Chief” focuses on Obama’s approach to war and leadership, the “parade of generals” during his tenure, the rise of ISIS, Libya, and more. The museum’s first installation, “The First Black President,” was revealed in April.

Donetsk Faces a Creeping Russification

Roman Olearchyk/Financial Times

Two years after the Ukrainian conflict erupted—when Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings across the country’s Russian-speaking east and set up their own breakaway republics—the Donetsk and neighboring Lugansk regions have not (unlike Crimea) been annexed by Moscow. The Russians held back, perhaps fearing further western sanctions—although many say it was more Moscow’s reluctance to shoulder the cost of a densely populated region and its hundreds of thousands of pensioners. Yet even without annexation, more than 25 years since Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union, Donetsk is a city that feels increasingly Russified—politically, economically, and socially.

In a Reversal, Germany's Military Growth Is Met with Western Relief

Alison Smale/The New York Times

Back when the Berlin Wall fell, Britain and France in particular feared the re-emergence of a German colossus in Europe. By contrast, Berlin’s pledge last month to add almost 7,000 soldiers to its military by 2023 and an earlier announcement to spend up to $148 billion on new equipment by 2030 were warmly welcomed by NATO allies. The United States and others have welcomed Germany’s efforts to build a NATO rapid response force in Eastern Europe and want Germany to do even more for European security, including broadening its deployments overseas.

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