We have written of Hillary Clinton’s failures as Secretary of State.
But to be fair to her, as has become increasingly clear, many of these failures are qualified, and ultimately reflect the fact that President Barack Obama has been micro-managing foreign policy since 2009.
Certainly Hillary has a number of failures for which she alone is responsible.
Yet on substantive foreign policy, how do Clinton’s experience, knowledge, abilities, and record compare to those of Donald Trump?
First, as regards the comparison of her foreign policy record to that of Donald Trump, all we can say is that Donald Trump has no record.
Second, as to her experience in foreign policy, we can say that she has great experience, both as a Senator from New York and as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term in office. She has dealt with Syria. She knows who Bashar al-Assad is, and what he has done over the years, particulary since the rebellion which began with civilian protests in 2011. In detail.
She may not have prevailed within the administration with her advice to Barack Obama, but she was in the arena. She was in the decision-making arena where U.S. foreign policy was formulated and executed.
Donald Trump has no experience in foreign policy. None. Zero. He has never been in the foreign policy arena.
Third, Clinton’s knowldge of foreign policy issues, developments in foreign countries, and her familiarity with foreign leaders, many whom she has dealt with personally, is vast.
Donald Trump’s interest in foreign policy, in contrast, seems to be of recent vintage. We will see, in the coming months, what he has learned from his advisors in prepping for the presidential campaign. Even that knowledge, however, is not likely to be as deep and as well digested as that of a person like Hillary Clinton, who has followed foreign policy at least since she was President Bill Clinton’s First Lady in the White House beginning in January, 1993, if not much earlier.
Fourth, Clinton’s abilities are widely known, even if usually masked behind the campaign script and persona her campaign machine have created in order to win the presidency. She has been particularly careful not to criticize the foreign policy decisions of Barack Obama, in order to guarantee his support during the fall campaign.
It will be interesting to see whether her opponent and the press can prod her sufficiently so as to induce her to stake out her own positions on foreign policy issues — beyond boiler-plate platitudes — rather than hiding behind the coattails of Barack Obama as she has done to date.
Donald Trump, for his part, has great experience negotiating business deals in the private sector. Whether those skills and strategems would serve him well in negotiating with foreign countries and leaders is a case he will have to make to the electorate.
On one score, the ability to generate the support of allies and important alliances in pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives, the issues of character and loyalty are likely to be of key importance. Here readers can draw their own conclusions, now and over the coming months.
Will foreign policy issues be central to the campaign?
Hillary Clinton, eager to not criticize Barack Obama, has so far manifested a strong inclination to avoid seious discussion of foreign policy issues. Donald Trump has a huge opportunity to stress the foreign policy failures of Barack Obama and his administration (many of which are chronicled here, as elsewhere). Yet a strategy of strong criticism has its own risks, as it will lead him into territory where his knowledge and experience are thin, and where the likelihood of gaffes is high. Whether gaffes will make any difference in the political climate of 2016 remains an open question.
It will be up to the media, particularly the press, to push both candidates beyond the safety of platitudes into a real, serious, and sustained debate about the foreign policy of the United States, and the extremely grave international challenges the nation faces and will face in the next four to eight years.
The Trenchant Observer