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What does the 2016 US Election Hold for America’s Role in the World?


2016 has seen the rise of a political culture mired in populism, with the dialectic divide between the left and right holding at perhaps its strongest in recent memory. Democrats have been divided into sects of pro-Bernie fundamentalists and grudgingly complacent Hillary supporters whose main argument is that, despite her ludicrous record of foreign policy erring’s and financial cronyisms, she is not Donald Trump. On the other hand, Republicans have been presented with a situation they have not found themselves in for some time, faced with the prospect of a nominee whose main concern is arguably his own reputation, and actively campaigns on a platform that he is not a career politician, and just someone who ‘tells it like it is’. Trump’s triangulations and oratorical misgivings, combined with his unclear policy objectives, and seemingly sporadic temperament have driven many republicans to disavow their nominee entirely and question the stability of the once conservative ‘party of Abe’.

Faced with a lesser of two evils decision, many Americans have found solitude in supporting third party candidates, the leading one being Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who has found arguably the perfect time to advocate for fiscal conservatism and social liberalism expounded from the political centre, giving American’s a third option in the midst of a political continuum where only two polarized positions have been popularized. The real question for Americans concerned about their nations role in international affairs, and for outsiders who worry about American power and preeminence on the world stage is how do these candidates plan to use American power?

Clinton’s record as an interventionist has been a dismal one. Her handling of the Libyan crisis destabilized what could have become, through patient and well-measured transition, a peaceful liberal democracy, rather than a state ruled by sectarian violence. She openly supported and proposed a ‘train and equip’ program to arm Syrian rebels with United States weapons that was even larger than what was executed by the Obama administration, of which the seemingly modest amount of ‘support’ has proven to further threaten stability within the nationand fuel a domestic divide between civilians, rebels and the Assad regime. All this, coupled with her open support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan paints her as some form of liberal internationalist whose primary response to threats abroad is intervention, without a clear endgame in mind. Should Clinton hold the reigns of the world’s most powerful military, it is likely we may see a stronger U.S. military presence in Syria and the broader middle-east. This may not be a necessarily bad thing given the growing power of the Islamic State in the region. However, the question that will make or break her potential presidency is whether she can ‘right her wrongs’ that she undertook as secretary of state and stabilize the regions she damaged, in order to foster broader international stability, and strengthen America’s position on the geopolitical landscape.

Johnson holds a slightly nuanced realist perspective on American foreign policy. He has proposed that foreign aid sent to nations that do not protect the United States’ national interests be cut altogether. This is typical of an isolationist; someone who believes trade, aid and economic power all should be used to satisfy their nation domestically first before being projected out onto the rest of the world. On the contrary, Johnson has also expressed support for the Eisenhower doctrine, and believes that American power can be used to help allied nations in need, but also believes that ultimately this is just a moral justification for acting in the strategic interests of the United States. Hearticulates a respect and understanding for America’s role as a great power actor, but also balances this with a consideration for domestic implications brought about by foreign objectives. What he lacks in comparative foreign policy experience to Clinton, he certainly makes up for in his balanced sensibilities toward action abroad; but questions still hang in the air about how a third-party candidate whose platform is built on mostly domestic policy could succeed as a curator for the international policy of theindispensable nation.

Trump is a candidate whose foreign policy seems to be as enigmatic and malleable as his toupee, or perhaps more appropriately, his stance on domestic issues. In some respects, Trump’s foreign policy is comparable to Clinton’s, as he has self-declared that he is a ‘hawk’ who believes America should project its power wherever and whenever it has the opportunity to, in order to assert its international dominance. He has, however, articulated that he did not support the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and said that George Bush ‘made a mistake’ in doing so. It appears that there are some limits to Trump’s self-suggested ‘hawkish’ interventionism, but where Clinton and Trump certainly differ is on the role of the United States in NATO.Trump has said he will demand financial reimbursement from nations that the United States protects within NATO, otherwise they will be left to defend themselves. The mere fact that this is a possible course of action for the United States does not mean it is a preferred one, as the international instability caused by American inaction and restraint could lead to the geopolitical expansion of hegemons like Russia and China into NATO secured regions, ultimately threatening not only the national interest, but western world order. If Trump truly wants America to ‘stay on top’, his hawkishness and reluctance to intervene without direct incentive will need to synthesize into one finite position before he can fashion a rational foreign policy platform.

This may all seem like doom and gloom grandiloquence, but this election cycle will hopefully make the citizens of America, as well as the citizens of its allied nations, think deeply about what kind of a world they want to live in, and what kind of foreign policy they want the leader of the free world to foster, in order to bring peace, stability, and world order for years to come.

Disclaimer: All views/opinions stated in this article are of the respective writer and not of The Youth Observer.

About Nick Faulks

Nicholas Faulks is a Law and International Relations student from Australia with an avid interest in global politics and international jurisprudence. He has a particular interest in American foreign policy and when he isn’t locked away in his room reading till some absurd hour, he enjoys writing, listening to music and discussing the politics of the day with friends and family.

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