2016 Wasn’t a Foreign Policy Election, But It Will Have Foreign Policy Consequences
Despite predictions that 2016 would be a “foreign policy election,” foreign policy played a remarkably small role in the campaign and the presidential debates. These issues rarely came up in the general election, and the few times they did come up the treatment of them was as superficial as possible. Trump could not exploit Clinton’s weaknesses on foreign policy, and she in turn said as little about it as possible. As a result, we have completed a long campaign season with the least coverage of the candidates’ foreign policy views that I can recall for decades. Regrettably, this has happened at a time when the U.S. is in its fifteenth year of continuous warfare somewhere around the world. If ever there was a time for a serious foreign policy debate, it was during this year’s election campaign, but the incumbent party’s candidate had no interest and the opposing party’s candidate lacked the knowledge and competence to hold her and the current administration accountable.
The U.S. has been engaged in hostilities in at least one country ever since October 2001, and for most of the last decade and a half it has been fighting or aiding others’ wars in a half dozen countries or more. Not only have the major party candidates managed to evade any serious questions about their policies around the world, but they have been allowed to endorse the continuation of current war policies with virtually no questioning at all. The next president will take office as the third consecutive president to be in charge of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the second in a row to be in charge of a war in Syria. At the same time that, the U.S. is bombing or supporting the bombing of at least three other countries, and there is no reason to expect any of that to stop under the next administration. The voters have scarcely been told what the next president’s plans are for these wars, and they and their representatives have never seriously been consulted about them. Congress’ abdication of responsibility means that the new president will inherit at least one illegal war and another appalling U.S.-backed war in Yemen with no consent or input from the people’s representatives, and we are more likely than not to be stuck with a president inclined to continue or even escalate current U.S. military interventions. Presidents never have mandates for their agendas, but there is definitely no mandate for a more aggressive foreign policy. Nonetheless, that is almost certainly what we will get as a result of this largely foreign policy-free election campaign.