By Sabah Kochhar:
Following Donald Trump’s emergence as the lead GOP candidate in the run up to the 2016 American elections, and given Hillary Clinton’s popularity against fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders, it appears most likely that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be the two frontrunners for next US President. While much has been said about Trump’s “building a wall against Mexico”, “banning Muslims” and Clintons’ past on prison justice reform and allegations of corruption: few have looked at both candidates’ foreign policy proposals with equal thoroughness.
What is evident is that regardless of whoever the winner is, both Trump and Clinton fail to offer much promise in the foreign policy department, particularly in respect to the vast inconsistencies vis-à-vis the Middle East.
Trump, who has pushed forth his rhetoric of “America First”, has been quite vague on issues of how he plans to engage (or not) with Iran, post the historical Obama-Rouhani talks marking the end of the sanction era. Moreover, Trump is said to have spoken passionately about “fighting the Islamic State”, but that has also been one of Obama’s priorities in the past, and Trump has yet to state a concrete plan except heavy-handed rhetoric amidst nativist frenzy.
On April 27, the projected Republican nominee for President spoke at the Center for the National Interest, where he did state that America had been overburdened in paying the NATO’s dues and that its allies such as South Korea or Japan were not doing enough. This has, so far, been one of the only concretely laid out measures Trump has proposed. What’s also interesting is that Trump seems to be in denial about BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, calling out his lie: that of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Which is at a direct clash with what Trump said to reporter Anderson Cooper in an interview in March – “I was against the war in Iraq. OK?” However, as Ben Smith pointed out, “On the war’s first day, he called it a “tremendous success from a military standpoint“.” Most importantly, though, while Trump hasn’t officially stated them as policy missions, he has indulged the thought of using a nuclear bomb even in Europe, as well bragging about doing away with the entire families of terrorists, if his past is something to go by.
But while Trump seems more about all-talk, double standards and no action, opponent Clinton’s approach to war is only marginally better. Many have pointed out how Hillary has advocated for a more hawkish foreign policy than both Democrats and Republicans, her past actions being cited as militaristic than anyone else in the race. Her legacy includes her support for the Iraq war, the 2011 Libyan war and the siege in Afghanistan. Her friendship with Henry Kissinger is also a matter of notoriety, given Kissinger’s role in 1971 Bangladeshi war crimes (he continues to remain non-indicted; a parallel to Bush and Blair’s roles in Iraq). Hillary’s firm stance in favour of sidling up with ally Israel and the murky track record regarding the accountability of Israeli and American violations in Palestine makes her ‘liberal’ stamp even more dubious. In one of her recent speeches, given at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, some onlookers went so far as to say that her die-hard, pro-Israel belligerence “sounded like Netanyahu“!
But then again, for all the talk of framing Republicans and Democrats as two sides, it’s crucial to note that the American approach to foreign policy in the Middle East has long been pursuing the same underlying theme: that of global superpower as well as super-policeman. Even as many of us, my own self included, hails Obama’s relatively socialist policies, and a progressive, charismatic attitude, the reality remains that he too has failed to live up to many of our expectations. Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald writes in a scathing account of Obama’s drone policies that despite Obama’s Democrat and socialist labels, his foreign policy and failure to live unto the promises of shutting down Guantanamo, have proven the Democrats’ hypocrisy. “Somehow,” says Greenwald, “it was hideously wrong for George W. Bush to eavesdrop on and imprison suspected terrorists without judicial approval, yet it was perfectly permissible for Obama to assassinate them without due process of any kind.”
When it comes to drones, the seeming invisibility of an attack makes it virtually harmless. And unlike a full-scale war that the Bush era bought, the imminence of drones is yet to be registered in the minds of the American public which remains far removed and disaffected from its lived realities; unlike a Pakistani or Yemeni victim killed by a drone in a remote region.
Even though we talk about “likely foreign policy” that the incoming President would bring, the chances of any radical change are slim. American support for Israel will not wane. Neither does there seem to be a near-end to the crisis in Syria with Clinton herself proposing a “no-fly zone” (a probable war with the Assad regime and bombing down ISIS at the same time?) albeit with the risk that the US will be drawn into further military involvement without any long-term and sustainable solution to this vicious cycle.
What’s clear from all this is that most Americans have no choice. It’s not “progressive” Democrat Hillary versus “bad for the Middle East” Republican Trump so much as it is a choice between a slightly lesser evil. But all through this heavy-handed talk, it only seems that the very people living in these regions – the non-American civilians at risk – are the only ones entirely left out of the debate.