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The 2016 Candidates and Our Warped Foreign Policy Debate

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Noah Millman sums up the depressing state of foreign policy debate in the presidential election:

Clinton’s neoconservative tilt in foreign policy is not news — and that’s precisely what is wrong with it. She’s the candidate of experience, but she seems incapable of learning from it — her overall worldview is virtually unchanged from what it was 20 years ago. If Trump’s views feel like little more than an emotional reflex, Clinton’s feel eerily faith-based. And the one thing they appear to share in common is a groundless conviction in the efficacy of force properly applied [bold mine-DL].

The reactions of the candidates to the Orlando massacre are a good example of this last point. Trump and Clinton gave very different speeches following the shooting, but the one thing they agreed on was that the U.S. should intensify its bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. It didn’t matter that Mateen cited the bombing campaign as one of the reasons for his attack, and it didn’t matter that dropping more bombs on Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with making an attack like that one less likely in the future. More bombing was the automatic, reflexive answer that both candidates gave because that is assumed to be the “tough” response to a horrific event. We saw the same reaction from both of them in 2011 on Libya: Trump’s first instinct was that the U.S. should “take out” Gaddafi, and obviously that was what Clinton thought should be done as well.

The point here is not to say that Trump and Clinton are “the same” on foreign policy, since they clearly aren’t, but that both are inclined to respond to events like these by starting or escalating military action. If there is a domestic attack or a foreign conflict, the impulse is to respond to it by inflicting death and destruction on some other part of the world. Neither of them doubts that military action will be successful, and neither is all that concerned about the destabilizing effects of war. That shared, unfounded confidence the efficacy of using force reflects just how warped our debates are by the militarization of our foreign policy over at least the last quarter-century.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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