After dozens of contests featuring cliffhangers, buzzer- beaters and a ton of flagrant fouls, we’re down to the Final Four: Sanders, Clinton, Cruz and Trump. (If Kasich pulls a miracle, he'll get his own column.) The world wants to know: What are their foreign policies?
Herewith, four candidates and four schools: pacifist, internationalist, unilateralist and mercantilist.
(1) Bernie Sanders, pacifist.
His pacifism is part utopianism, part isolationism.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Sanders boasts of voting against the Iraq War. But he also voted against the 1991 Gulf War. His reaction is always the same: Stay away, but if we must get involved, let others lead.
That’s for means. As for ends, Sanders’ foreign policy objectives are global and universal. The rest is foreign-policy-as-social-work do-goodism, most especially undoing the work of U.S. imperialism.
Closest historical analog: George McGovern.
(2) Hillary Clinton, internationalist.
The “Clinton/Obama” foreign policy has been a demonstrable failure. But we need to note that Clinton often gave contrary advice, generally more assertive and aggressive than President Obama’s, that was overruled.
The Libya adventure was her grand attempt at humanitarian interventionism. She’s been chastened by the disaster that followed.
Her worldview is traditional, post-Vietnam liberal internationalism – America as the indispensable nation, but consciously restraining its exercise of power through multilateralism and near-obsessive legalism.
Closest historical analog: the Bill Clinton foreign policy of the 1990s.
(3) Ted Cruz, unilateralist.
The most aggressive of the three contenders thus far. Wants post-Cold War U.S. leadership restored. Is prepared to take risks and act alone when necessary. Pledges to tear up the Iran deal, cement the U.S.-Israel alliance and carpet bomb the Islamic State.
Overdoes it with “carpet” – it implies Dresden – although it was likely just an attempt at rhetorical emphasis. He’s of the school that will not delay action while waiting on feckless allies or farcical entities like the U.N.
Closest analog: Ronald Reagan.
(4) Donald Trump, mercantilist.
Treating countries like companies, Trump promises to play turnaround artist for a foreign policy that is currently a hopeless money-losing operation in which our allies take us for fools and suck us dry.
You could put the foreign policies of Sanders, Clinton and Cruz on a recognizable ideological spectrum. But not Trump’s because it lacks any geopolitical coherence. It’s all about money.
Thus, if Japan and South Korea don’t pony up more money for our troops stationed there, we go home. The possible effects on the balance of power in the Pacific Rim or on Chinese hegemonic designs don’t enter into the equation.
The one exception to this singular focus on foreign policy as a form of national enrichment is the Islamic State. Trump’s goal is simple – “bomb the s–- out of them.” Yet he can’t quite stifle his mercantilist impulses, insisting that after crushing the Islamic State, he'll keep their oil. Whatever that means.
Closest historical analog: King Philip II of Spain (1556-1598).
On Jan. 20, one of these four contenders will be sworn in as president. And one of these four approaches to the world will become the United States’ foreign policy.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.