Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Foreign Policy Teams in the US Presidential Election

The quality and the quantity of the foreign policy team indicates each candidate’s view and dedication to the US role in the world. Also, the selection of policy advisors shows policy focuses of current contestants. The advisor team is a barometer for us to see which candidate is well prepared for the presidential job. From this point of view, Republican candidate Donald Trump was stupidly overconfident to say “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain” when he was asked about his foreign policy (“Trump: I consult myself on foreign policy”; Politico; March 16, 2016). But when his rival, Senator Ted Cruz announced his foreign policy team, Trump followed suit a few days later (“Trump begins to peel back curtain on foreign policy team”; Hill; March 21, 2016). In view of the above mentioned aspects, I would like to talk about each candidate’s advisory team.

Both in terms of quality and quantity, Hillary Clinton’s advisory team overwhelms those of other candidates. She delivered a keynote speech at the foundation ceremony of the Center for New American Security in 2007. The CNAS has provided foreign policy staffs for the Obama administration, notably its co-founders Michèle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell. Also, Clinton has an extensive personal contact among foreign policy and national security communities from her experience as the First Lady, Senator, and the Secretary of State. Her foreign policy team is in huge advantage, not just in the sheer size, but the coverage of policy areas. The team is headed by Jake Sullivan and Laura Rosenberger, both were Department of State staffs when Clinton was the Secretary. In addition, high profile figures like former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, are in contact with the team as outside advisors. Even though Senator Bernie Sanders have met some renowned Middle East experts to fill his weakness in foreign policy, such as Lawrence Korb, Ray Takeyh, and Tamara Coffman Writtes, they are associated with Clinton (“Inside Hillary Clinton’s Massive Foreign-Policy Brain Trust”; Foreign Policy; February 10, 2016).

Furthermore, Clinton has deep ties with Republican foreign policy leaders, as typically shown in Henry Kissinger’s endorsement upon her inauguration to the Secretary of State. Ever since the Gulf War, Democrats had shared common policy objective with Republicans to remove Saddam Hussein. The Clinton administration even embraced the idea of regime change in Iraq, which was proposed by the Project for the New American Century. The Bush administration acted in line with this. As if reflecting this point, Republican national security élites strongly disagree with Trump’s non-interventionism on the Iraq war, Libya, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Russia. So far as foreign policy is concerned, both parties share common understandings, and favor an orthodox candidate of the rival party, rather than a bigoted and unorthodox candidate of their own party. Even a non-mainstream Republican like Senator Rand Paul prefers Clinton, as Trump’s remark about water boarding and the wall against Mexico are utterly at odds with his libertarian values (“Hillary Clinton Has Long History of Collaboration With GOP on Foreign Policy; Intercept; March 13, 2016). There is every reason that Clinton is far more preferable to Trump for numerous Republicans.

Actually, some conservatives notably Bryan McGrath of the Hudson Institute say that they trust Clinton on foreign and defense policy (“Vocal Trump critics in GOP open to supporting Clinton”; Hill; March 24, 2016). Particularly, neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan and Max Boot openly state that they prefer Clinton to Trump. Also, former Bush administration officials from Dick Cheney to Condoleeza Rice expressed favorable views to Clinton as the Secretary of State and potential rival to Barack Obama (“Neocon War Hawks Want Hillary Clinton Over Donald Trump. No Surprise—They’ve Always Backed Her”; In These Times; March 23, 2016). Commonly regarded as a liberal hawk, Clinton monopolizes the brain trust of both parties in Washington political corridors.

In contrast, rival candidates’ advisory teams are far more insufficient, both in terms of the quality and the quantity. Sanders hardly founded something deserves to be called a foreign policy team. On the Republican side, their teams cater to popular fears against Islamic terrorism, but hardly capable of showing the vision of American role in the world. First, let me talk about Ted Cruz’s team. He announced his advisory staffs ahead of Trump. The team is led by former Senator Jim Talent and Elliot Abrahams who was a deputy national security advisor of the Bush administration (“Cruz unveils national security team before Trump”; Washington Examiner; March 17, 2016). Both neocons worked for Senator Marco Rubio’s team until he dropped out of the race (“Marco Announces Support of Top National Security Experts”; MarcoRubio.com; March 7, 2016). On the other hand, anti-Islam conspiracy theorists like Frank Gaffney argues that a quarter of Muslims in the United States plot anti-American jihad, and their Sharia law poses a critical threat within the country (“Cruz Assembles an Unlikely Team of Foreign-Policy Rivals”; Bloomberg View; March 17, 2016).

Cruz’s recent comment to tighten security checks around Muslim residents (Ted Cruz: Police need to 'patrol and secure' Muslim neighborhoods; CNN; March 23, 2016) may reflect such views, but Republican mainstream does not accept those ideas. The Cruz team covers a broad range of ideological stands within the party, but the chasm between universalist neocons and nationalist conspiracy theorists can break out when their disagreements on specific issues are serious. Also, the selection of advisors of this group is disproportionately concentrated on Middle East and Islamic terrorism experts. That is far from meeting requirements to manage global challenges that America faces today.

Finally, I would like to mention Trump’s foreign policy team. Like Cruz, Trump’s team places disproportionate emphasis on Islamic terrorism. As if rivaling Cruz, Trump unveiled his foreign policy led by Senator Jim Sessions, a few days later. He has chosen neither high profile figures, nor former senior government officials for his advisors. Remarkably, his team is extremely commercialist, as if indicative of his businessman backgrounds. Carter Page and George Papadopoulos have an important position in the team, both of whom are oil and energy consultants (“Trump begins to peel back curtain on foreign policy team”; Hill; March 21, 2016). Some of them are with quite dubious and outlaw backgrounds. To begin with, Joseph Schmitz quit his job at the Pentagon in 2005 due to continuous corruption. Another member Walid Phares murdered Palestinian refugees when he fought for a Christian militia in Lebanon, and such a man of criminal conduct joins the team as a counterterrorism advisor. More startlingly, Retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg has no employment record in the army, despite his claim of working for the occupation forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 (“Top Experts Confounded by Advisers to Donald Trump”; New York Times; March 22, 2016).

In view of an appalling lineup like this, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, comments, “Either [Trump] doesn’t care about experience. . . or no one wants to taint his reputation by working for a guy whose views are often so harsh and unthinking” (“D.C.’s Foreign-Policy Establishment Spooked by ‘Bizzaro’ Trump Team”; National Review Online; March 24, 2016). There is no wonder why Trump’s foreign policy viewpoints are totally at odds with bipartisan and trans-ideological common understanding of foreign policy and national security communities in Washington, DC. He is completely scornful of the value of a global network of American alliance. Typically, Trump’s suggestion that Japan and South Korea be armed with nuclear weapons by themselves, is a complete defiance to America’s critical security agenda to stop nuclear proliferation throughout the world. (“In Japan and South Korea, bewilderment at Trump’s suggestion they build nukes”; Washington Post; March 28, 2016). The problem is no longer racketeering, bilateral alliance, and burden sharing. His remark is a sheer ‪insult‬ to ‬‪‎bipartisan foreign policy‬ experts who are dedicated to ‪‎nuclear‬ ‪‎nonproliferation‬. Trump must know more nuclear armed powers in the world imply more likelihood of terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons.

As to the appointment of policy advisors, a leader must be much more farsighted than the public. A candidate needs to meet people’s demand. But that is not enough. A good leader must drive people to pay more attention to unnoticed, but important issues, but not pander on populist outrage. In view of this, Clinton’s advisors are the best, and Trump’s are the worst. It is possible that the Cruz team will expand and upgrade, as more advisors can join from the Bush and the Rubio team.