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The Candidates 2016

The Candidates 2016 and Foreign Policy

Our founding fathers were deeply divided on the issue of American foreign policy. Despite owing their independence to the intervention of foreign powers largely waging a proxy war on our soil, many of them firmly believed it wise to avoid "foreign entanglements." This country struggled for over a century to be an isolated land that lets the rest of the world take care of itself, until the first half of the Twentieth Century let everyone know that such an attitude is no longer feasible for a superpower. Then, in the decades after World War II, a different lesson was taught, one about the consequences of excessive intervention, of stretching our military might too far, and of trying too hard to force our will on an unruly world. Then September 11th happened. We find ourselves now in a curious limbo, pulled in the opposite directions of increasing our military presence around the world or falling back behind our own borders in retreat. Regular readers might be shocked to learn I applaud the Obama administration for trying to have it both ways, but unfortunately, the results speak for themselves: pulling out of Iraq helped create an even greater threat in ISIS; Russia is defiantly swallowing up her neighbors; Iran is even closer to a nuclear bomb; chemical weapons are being used routinely in Syria and nobody cares anymore; we continue to get hit hard by "lone wolf" terrorists inpired by overseas hatred; Lybia is a disaster; terrorism is spreading to places like Paris and London; and our closest allies are getting more and more perplexed by our placing diplomatic relations with Iran and Cuba ahead of our promises to them. The world is on fire--more dangerous and destabilized than it was when President Obama took office--and it's a miracle we've been able to stay as insulated from it as we have. I don't claim to know what the answer is to all this, but I do know one thing: we need a leader with a consistent, articulated vision for foreign policy.

ISIS and the War on Terror

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"

I don't care who or what you blame for the rise of ISIS, the fact remains that this is a serious threat to all of civilization, and we cannot afford to ignore it. ISIS is committing horrific genocide in the name of a twisted religion, is murdering American citizens on camera, is exporting terror throughout the world, and is growing. We need a plan to deal with this, and we need it yesterday. The Obama strategy of "degrade and destroy" is demonstrably failing; targetted drone strikes aren't working (and they do more harm than good anyway); diplomacy and sanctions won't work; and the American people won't accept many boots on the ground without somebody clearly making the case for it. This is a separate issue from Syria in general (which I'll get to next), because ISIS is the real threat and the current main antagonist in the War on Terror, while Syria is just the setting.

Hillary Clinton's plan for dealing with ISIS is far more robust than President Obama's. She wants a more intense air campaign, more support for local troops on the ground, and most importantly, she wants to take out every known ISIS stronghold in Syria and Iraq. She isn't calling for more boots on the ground, but she has made it clear that "we can't contain ISIS--we must defeat ISIS."

Gary Johnson's approach to ISIS squares pretty clearly with his overall foreign policy platform: intervene only when directly attacked and wage war only with Congressional approval. He thinks ISIS can be defeated through cuts to funding, but that bombs, drones, and other military interventions will only make things worse. He also believes the threat of international terrorism is "overblown."

Despite her plans to reduce military spending by half, close "the 700+ military bases," and "end the wars and drone strikes," she does believe we should formally declare war on ISIS. However, she believes in a "peace offensive" involving weapons embargos, frozen funds, and building international coalitions to condemn ISIS' behavior. She does not believe that ISIS is a threat to the United States, and is opposed to any military involvement whatsoever in combating it.

Donald Trump is calling for an "international conference" focused on the goal of halting "the spread of Radical Islam" (which he naturally calls The Commission on Radical Islam). Though he believes pulling out of Iraq helped create ISIS in its current form, he does not support any form of "nation-building and regime change." He would also "aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cut off their funding, and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting."

On the stated merits, I can find little daylight between Clinton and Trump on the issue of ISIS. Trump takes a more multilateral approach, whereas Clinton seems willing to strike unilaterally while offering support to local troops. Both candidates want to go after ISIS in a much stronger way than the current administration, and for that, I give them both a point here. However, Stein and Johnson both naively believe we can defeat ISIS without the threat or use of military force, although they're not so sure we need to since the threat they pose is so "overblown." I'm not an ostrich--and the brutal genocides, increasing frequency of attacks around the world, and promises to destroy American interests everywhere cannot be ignored or wished away with fairy dust and hippy talk of peace offensives--which is why I cannot give either of them a point here, even though I applaud them for wanting to go through Congress.


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This cannot continue

The Syrian Civil War has been going on for over five years now, and it's only gotten worse. Bashar al-Assad, at one time, looked like he might be a moderate voice who could bring human rights to a nation torn apart by violence and repression. Alas, time has proven that to be the opposite of true, with the Assad regime only increasing the country's human rights violations. The civil war started in part because of this, but also in part because of Assad's more tempered approach to Islam, which angered the extremists who call Syria home. To be clear: there are few, if any, good guys in the war, and the Syrian people are suffering in the most unimaginable ways as a result. President Obama famously declared a red line--a point at which America would have to get far more involved--and Syria has crossed that red line again and again without consequences. The use of chemical weapons is now routine in Syria, but that's not the only reason intervention is required. Because of ISIS and its aspirations--along with the interventions of bad foreign actors like Russia and Iran--America does have a stake in the results of this horrific bloodshed, but I don't know if there's a way to get involved that wouldn't make matters much, much worse. I'm open to suggestions.

Despite calling for increased military action to combat ISIS in Syria and a more militaristic stance toward the entire region, the main thrust of Hillary Clinton's approach to the civil war is one of aggressive diplomacy. She is calling for a full review and reset of the current approach to the war, with a new emphasis on working to remove Assad from power. However, she has promised that American ground troops are "off the table."

Gary Johnson believes we shouldn't be involved in Syria, that the idea of trying to push for regime change is "a terrible situation." He has gone on to equate civilian casualties by Western involvement in the region to Assad's intentional slaughter of civilians, essentially making the case that we are no different from a brutal, tyrannical dictator when we intervene militarily in foreign affairs. His proposed diplomatic solution to the civil war is working with Russia to achieve peace, while "reducing the footprint" of American military presence and withdrawing troops throughout the Middle East.

Jill Stein does not think we should prevent Russia from bombing civilians in Syria, that our military "assaults" in the region breed terrorism, that we wouldn't need to intervene if we had clean energy, and that the whole situation can be resolved by getting Russia, the Syrian government, ISIS, the FSA, and every other disparate faction "all together at the table [to] work out a process for democratic determination of Syria’s future."

Aside from going after ISIS, Donald Trump sees no need to intervene in Syria and has no interest in removing Assad from power. However, despite not wavering much in this stance throughout the campaign, his running mate, Mike Pence, contradicted his position in the Vice Presidential debate a couple of nights ago, arguing that we should be bombing the Syrian government in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Keeping Mike Pence out of the picture (as he is not the actual candidate), the only person who seems interested in meaningful intervention in Syria is Hillary Clinton. I do believe we have to intervene--that we have no choice in the matter because our national interests are too at stake--and I am not swayed by Johnson's hyperbolic and inaccurate comparisons of Western attacks to Assad's slaughter of innocents or by Stein's laughable belief that the warring factions could all be sat at a single table to talk it out. Therefore, the only person I give a point to here is Clinton.

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-e. magill 10/6/2016

  • The Candidates 2016: Preamble
  • The Candidates 2016 and Science
  • The Candidates 2016 and Domestic Policy
  • The Candidates 2016 and the Economy
  • The Candidates 2016 and Civil Rights
  • The Candidates 2016 and Energy
  • The Candidates 2016 and My Vote