Foreign policy experts identify national objectives and the means of achieving them as the two fundamental elements in foreign policy. It is also said foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy. Foreign policy decisions on wars, alliances and aid programmes have domestic consequences while domestic issues such as political party manifestos and economic reforms could create anxieties at international level.
The fact that ears the world over are now attuned to pick pieces from the political platforms of the United States elections underscores this truism in the foreign policy realm. But this truism applies more with regard to Hillary Clinton’s policies than to her Republican rival Donald Trump’s outlandish utterances.
Although pundits predict that there is little chance that Trump will make it to the White House in the November 8 presidential election, with one prediction giving Hillary Clinton an 87 percent chance of winning the race, forecasts, however scientific they are, can go haywire. A recent example is the Brexit vote. Even a day before Britain’s June 23rd Brexit referendum, opinion polls were giving a clear lead to the stay camp, predicting Britain would remain in the European Union. But the contrary happened. In the United States, in 1948, pollsters predicted Harry Truman would lose the presidential election badly, but he pulled off one of the greatest political upsets in modern history.
Trump is not a write-off, at least not yet, despite opinion polls predicting a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton. So what he says on policy matters needs to be taken seriously. The debates that can make or break a candidate are yet to take place and there are more than two months to go for the polls. Apart from the email issue and Hillary’s policy blunders in Libya, we do not know much about the weapons Trump has in his armoury to scuttle her campaign.
So it is worth paying attention to what he says, even if it makes little sense.
In a Presidential system of government, it is the President who takes foreign policy decisions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs providing guidance. In the United States, Article II of the constitution empowers the President to declare war and peace, enter into treaties, and maintain diplomatic relations. It places the president at the apex of the foreign policy making process in which the secretary of state and secretary of defence also play vital advisory, administrative and implementation roles.
But the president’s power to make foreign policy decisions is not absolute. There are checks and balances in the United States constitution. Every presidential action under Article II is subject to the consent of the Senate. Thus Congress plays a key oversight role in foreign policy, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee being charged with leading foreign-policy legislation and debate in the Senate. Apart from endorsing high level diplomatic positions, the committee is also responsible for scrutinising treaties, foreign aid programmes, arms sales and technical cooperation with other nations.
In October last year, this committee summoned Hillary Clinton and grilled her for eleven hours for her role as the Secretary of States in the United States’ 2011 intervention in Libya and also with regard to the blunders that led to the killing of the United States ambassador during an attack on the consulate office in Benghazi in September 2012.
In Ohio last Monday, Trump’s Foreign Policy speech was touted as an attempt to shift his campaign to a more serious platform from taunted theatrics or antics. But whoever in his campaign team prepared the 48-minute speech has apparently done a shoddy job. He was once again heard making weird comments on global terrorism, ISIS, its alleged founders, immigrants, refugees, the Iraq war, and ties with Russia. The New York Times, which has endorsed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, in an editorial dismissed Trump’s speech as “a collection of confused and random thoughts that showed little understanding of the rise of the Islamic State and often conflicted with the historical record.” Others called it a mishmash of logical fallacies, lies, and contradictions.
It was quite obvious that Trump had got his facts wrong. The blunder of blunders was when he lumped Shiite Iran together with Sunni terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. Obviously the speech writers did not know that the Sunni terror outfits are Shiite haters. The most preposterous were his comments that the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil assets after the 2003 invasion and deployed American troops, presumably indefinitely, to protect Iraq’s oil resources, which he described as the “spoils” of war.
There were also some good points. He said that as president he would end “our current strategy of nation-building and regime change” because it does not work. He ended the speech on a positive note saying he would build bridges, erase divisions and reject bigotry, hatred and oppression in all of its many ugly forms.
Such remarks would have won over progressives who do not want their country to be seen as an empire builder, if he had been a Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party’s near-successful candidate. But Trump came up with these remarks to fault President Barack Obama, not realising that it was during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush that America was seen as an imperialist nation.
However, Trump’s speech has created more anxieties than hope. Though foreign policy decisions in the United States are made by the President and scrutinised by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, experts say the character traits of the president do reflect on foreign policy decisions. Thus decisions made by a president who exercises caution differ from those made by a president known for his rashness. A hot tempered president’s decisions are qualitatively different from those of a president who is prudent. Then there are world leaders such as Adolf Hitler, and to a lesser extent, Winston Churchill, who, according to a study carried out by Erich Fromm, a renowned psychoanalyst, were often fascinated by destruction.
Trump’s fear-and-laughter-evoking idiosyncrasies raise one’s adrenalin levels against the backdrop of a possibility where he as president is called upon to take a quick decision to deal with a crisis situation that affects the lives of millions of people. Mind you, the US President is also the custodian of 7,100 nuclear warheads, each one of which is 3,000 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1946 following the orders of the then President Harry Truman. Trump has already suggested that the United States use nuclear weapons to bomb ISIS, and according to some critics he has a fascination for nuclear weapons.
Trump speaking his mind out may appeal to his voter base, but certainly not to peace-loving people. Let saner counsel prevail.