Establishment Republicans for Hillary Clinton?
WASHINGTON—The U.S. presidential primary campaign has been animated by a grassroots revolt against the Democratic and Republican Party “establishments,” including their approach to world affairs. After yesterday’s Indiana victory, it looks almost certain that the anti-establishment Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate. But what exactly is the so-called Republican foreign policy establishment? And why are establishment Republicans concerned with national security so distraught at the prospect of Donald Trump’s nomination as their party’s standard-bearer that many are considering voting for Hillary Clinton?
To begin, the dirty secret is that, in foreign policy, the Democratic and Republican establishments have much more in common with each other than they do with some of their own parties’ grassroots constituencies. Shared foreign policy principles across party lines include a commitment to American leadership in the world; a rejection of isolationism as a source of ultimate danger to national security; strong support for America’s overseas network of military alliances; commitment to an open international economic order in which Americans can prosper through trade; and a belief that the United States has a historic obligation to support human rights and democracy abroad.
Beyond these commonalities with the Democratic establishment, Republicans would go farther in certain areas. They are likely to frame U.S. leadership in the world with reference to an American exceptionalism rooted in the country’s unique history. Republicans are stronger supporters of free trade and would go farther than many Democrats in asserting the importance of U.S. military primacy in world affairs.
Establishment Republicans highlight how what they see as U.S. retrenchment under President Obama has produced a more dangerous world. Examples include Obama’s withdrawal of American forces from Iraq after the success of President George W. Bush’s military “surge” there, creating the chaos from which the Islamic State terrorist group has sprung; Obama’s decision to set deadlines for the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan determined not by conditions on the ground but by the American political calendar, empowering the Taliban to continue its war against the Afghan government; Obama’s refusal to enforce his own declared “red line” against President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria and general hands-off approach to a conflict that has produced the world’s worst humanitarian calamity since World War II. Republicans dislike the flawed nuclear deal with an Iranian government which continues to sponsor terrorism and prop up the Assad regime; and criticize Obama’s irresolution in standing up to China’s territorial revanchism in maritime Asia in an effort to secure Chinese cooperation on climate change and other secondary goals. Republican foreign policy leaders also bemoan the deterioration of America’s relations with core allies under President Obama including Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and NATO -- all of whose leaders have felt spurned, underappreciated, or ignored by the U.S. president at various points. Republicans lament the fact that the president cannot deliver members of his own party on Capitol Hill to support vital trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.,
Why are establishment Republicans in open revolt against a prospective President Trump? He proposes renegotiating U.S. alliances in Europe and Asia that have kept the peace for 70 years. His “America First” rhetoric recalls the arguments of opponents of U.S. intervention in the Second World War, whose isolationism would have allowed a Nazi imperium in Europe. Trump has declared war on the kind of free-trade deals that have spurred unprecedented American and global prosperity, threatening a return to the beggar-thy-neighbor policies of escalatory tariffs that deepened the Great Depression in the 1930s and fueled fascism in Europe.
Trump’s alienation of Muslims would deprive the United States of the Middle Eastern allies it needs to prevail in the long war against violent Islamic extremism; his threat to build a wall on the border with Mexico would harm American relations with a vital neighbor. Trump’s talk of respecting President Vladimir Putin in Russia as a leader with whom he could do business would subjugate concerns over Russian repression and revanchism -- making the same mistake as President Obama, who announced a “reset” with Russia early in his administration only to find himself scrambling to respond to the worst crisis in European security since the end of the Cold War when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Ironically, it is the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, who promises to stand by America’s allies in Europe and Asia, stand up to both Russian and Chinese aggression, assert America’s commitment to global leadership as the indispensable nation, and get tough on both Bashar al-Assad and ISIS in Syria, including by arming the Syrian opposition. She already calls for a more muscular approach to the world than the one pursued by the president she served. Could it be that it is not Donald Trump but Democratic standard-bearer Hillary Clinton who will most effectively champion the foreign policy principles of establishment Republicans in November?
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.