Candidates and Foreign Policy
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Foreign policy has taken an exceedingly low profile in this year’s presidential campaign. The major exceptions are the debate over the fence construction, cost, and payment with Mexico; international trade (which really is very much also an economic issue); and pandering to American Jewish voters at the AIPAC policy conference in early March. When they were not engaging in name calling, most of the candidates primarily have addressed domestic issues.
Part of the problem derives at least in part from the fact that many of the candidates have recognized that Americans are tired of international engagements and military sacrifices in places where they feel America is not appreciated. Curiously, what was also evident in some of the earlier debates was the ignorance and/or disconnect of many of the Republican candidates on matters of national security policy. Of all the remaining aspirants in either party at this juncture, only Hillary has a true grasp of foreign policy matters; regardless if one supports her or her ideas.
Both Trump and Cruz have either isolationist views or exceedingly bellicose ideas concerning America’s place in the world. Trump may be advising himself on these issues but, it is unlikely he would be obtaining any better guidance from the sophomoric group of so-called foreign policy advisers he has assembled. His seat of the pants responses to global issues is more than immature, it is dangerous.
Cruz speaks to all the global issues but as he did with his pro-Israel audience, he feeds his crowd raw meat. As Cruz does on many domestic issues as well, he speaks in big ideas while knowing full well that given the process of governing, this approach is utter nonsense: “Get rid of the IRS; Institute a flat tax; Repeal Obamacare; etc.” Cruz understands that none of these things can be done unilaterally by a president. In the case of foreign policy and national security policy only extreme ideologues believe in carpet bombing ISIS or tearing up the Iran treating or totaling revamping international trade overnight.
For the American public his positions on domestic issues ring true and they love slogans on international as well as domestic policies. The problem is that Americans do not understand that Cruz’s directions will either lead American into poorly thought out adventures or isolationism; neither of which will are healthy or reasonable options for the United States in 2016. He may be critical of Obama and the Democratic led foreign policy, but the ideas he has floated out could be potentially very dangerous.
Bernie Sanders comes to foreign policy from a different place, seems truly bored by it, not interested in the nitty gritty of these issues; although he clearly has positions on most of the current geopolitical questions. His exchanges over the past few days related to Israel demonstrated not only ignorance of the facts—which can happen—but was reflective of a deeper Third World, anti-Israel bias out of which much of this mindset emanates. Coupled with his interest in instituting radical economic changes in the country, Sanders’ foreign policy would be one which would be most happy to protect America’s borders and let the rest of the world solve its own fights. Sanders is isolationism from the left while Cruz is from the right.