Hillary Clinton has repeatedly sought to distinguish herself from Donald Trump by characterizing herself as a strong defender of U.S. interests, values, and allies in relations with Russia. Secretary Clinton correctly assesses Putin as a “bully,” the stakes involved in regions of U.S.-Russian tension like Syria and Ukraine, and the importance of America and its allies jointly confronting him. However, Clinton’s rhetoric regarding Putin and Russia is inconsistent with her tenure as Secretary of State. The “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations over which Clinton presided as Secretary of State wrought significant and lasting damage to U.S. strategic interests and had a particularly destructive effect on our Central and Eastern European allies, contributing to a crisis of deterrence in Europe. If she is elected president, we hope Secretary Clinton adheres to the spirit of her recent comments, moves to substantially strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe, and avoids the old patterns that she set in U.S.-Russian relations as Secretary of State.
Libya today is not much more stable than Syria because of poor planning and execution following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. From the outset, the Obama administration repeatedly stressed the limits of American involvement in Libya, “leading from behind.” Intervention would establish a no-fly zone, deliver humanitarian aid, and let the Libyans sort out the rest, but would be coupled with calls for Gaddafi to step down. The failure to stabilize Libya following Gaddafi’s removal created an environment where revolutionary militias that had yet to demobilize, disarm, and reintegrate into Libyan society turned against one other, which drove civil war and provided an opening for ISIS to establish a significant foothold in the country. Because Libya has become a failed state, terrorists will continue to establish safe havens, control Libya’s vast potential wealth, and contribute to regional insecurity.
While the Chinese currency appreciated strongly in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, over the past 18 months that appreciation has almost completely reversed, with the Yuan now back to its weakest levels since the ’08 crisis. Yet that trend line obscures a number of developments that might surprise Trump and supporters of his China-related economic policy. Since 2014, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has indeed intervened repeatedly to affect the value of its currency, but almost invariably to strengthen the Yuan, not to weaken it. More recently, however, the PBoC has relaxed the intensity of its interventions, allowing markets to push the value of the Yuan downward, a reflection of both U.S. dollar strength and worries over the increasing slowdown of the Chinese economy. Despite its enduring popularity as political red meat, the value of the Chinese currency has never had a historic correlation with U.S. joblessness. U.S. job strength is not dictated by China’s currency regime, but rather by pro-growth U.S. government policies.
Trump rightly pointed out Russia’s continued investment in its nuclear arsenal and the need for the United States to invest much more seriously in the aging U.S. nuclear force. And, although Trump has made clear his personal aversion to the thought of nuclear war, he emphasized the critical point that as president, it is vital to maintain optimum flexibility and maximize options in order to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent to prevent enemies from attacking the United States or its allies, regardless of whether the attack is nuclear or conventional in nature.
Donald Trump has made anti-trade rhetoric a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump seems to view trade as a zero-sum game where the U.S. always loses and ignores the evidence that trade makes Americans richer, including middle class Americans. Trump also ignores the evidence that TPP will give the U.S. a strategic upper hand in Asia, allowing us to push back against unfair trade practices by the Chinese.
It is encouraging to hear both candidates speak of reequipping the Intelligence Community (IC)—weakened by restrictive policies, diminished resources, and a climate of distrust surrounding IC organizations and personnel—to effectively confront the multiplying challenges and threats to U.S. national security. Both candidates, however, could go further in laying out specifics. Clinton’s “intelligence surge” in response to international and domestic acts of terrorism sounds appealing but falters on some specifics. An “intelligence surge” must necessarily include a mission to persuade Congress to restore and stabilize statutory authorities, funding, broad support for the intelligence community, and investment into the technologies and personnel that will serve as the nation’s first line of defense. It must also lean more “offensive” in nature by expanding the collection of human intelligence and revitalizing covert action as a foreign policy tool.
While Trump is correct that the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” has yielded few results (North Korea has qualitatively and quantitatively improved its nuclear weapons capabilities), his policy recommendation is both flawed and dangerous. The idea that China can “solve” North Korea has been around for years. Yet North Korea remains strategically too valuable to Beijing, and it is not certain how much leverage China actually has over Kim Jong-un, who is clearly determined to lock in North Korea’s nuclear status. Moreover, Trump’s proposal would surrender our ability to shape Northeast Asia’s geopolitical environment and would discourage South Korea and Japan, leading to a weakened relationship with both. Still, the U.S. should encourage China to remain involved alongside the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and others in the region to deter North Korean provocations.
The implied proposition—which has been more explicitly stated in the past—that Mexico “benefits more” from a “defective” NAFTA agreement is imprecise, hard to measure, and overlooks two critically important effects of NAFTA for the United States. NAFTA has made U.S. businesses 1) better able to compete in the globalized world and has 2) raised standards of living in the United States by lowering the costs of commercial goods. Americans are now able to afford more products because of overall lower prices.