A recent “Pew Research Center” (PEW) survey finds the American people divided and uncertain, having mixed views about how assertive a role the U.S. should play internationally. With sharp differences about the greatest threats to the U.S. and the measures to deal with them, the 2016 US Presidential Elections may well decide the future US role in the world in the rest of the 21st century.
“Considerable apprehension and concern” describes the mood of the American public, almost half (46%) said that US power and importance as a world leader has decreased from what it was 10 years ago. 21% believe the US more powerful while 31% consider it as powerful as before. While 35% want to maintain the US increase military spending, 24% want it cut and 40% want it to remain the same. 77% Americans overwhelmingly support US NATO membership as good for the country. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Atlantic Council recently repeated his warning of five years ago to NATO member countries about their less than adequate contributions to NATO, “there is dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress and in the American body politic writ large to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources to get their internal security to deal more effectively with terrorism, they must increase their investment in their defense capabilities,” unquote.
A majority Republicans (74%) are concerned the U.S. is not doing enough to stop Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, only 23% in contrast to a majority of Democrats (57%) believe that the U.S. will go too far and become too involved militarily. Divided on the best way to defeat global terrorism, 47% Americans believe in using overwhelming military force. An equal number believes that this strategy will create hatred, leading to more terrorism. The wide partisan gap: 70% Republicans favoring military force, 65% Democrats opposing it.
As possibly the first female U.S. President, Hillary Clinton is experienced in foreign policy matters and would likely focus more on foreign policy. With an insider’s view of Presidential life as First Lady, she demonstrated resolve in weathering personal and political crises. Hilary will confront a Congressional brick wall unless she wins by a landslide, with Democrats riding on her coattails to control Congress. Given that she is not an ideologue and with experience as a skilled politician, she would be prepared for political fighting with a highly partisan and polarized Congress. During the Obama Presidency the US President lost ground on domestic issues. Her considerable baggage includes (some for no fault of hers), Whitewater, Vince Foster, Bill Clinton’s women, Benghazi, use of personal email for confidential government matters, etc.
Unpredictable and having no discernible philosophy himself. Trump’s gung-ho style and flamboyant mannerisms has caught the imagination of mainly white males. He is temperamental, troublesome and has authoritarian tendencies. Presidential candidates do not flout white lies like he tends to do, these play well with the frustrated mass of voters supporting him in an all-time Republican Presidential Primary record (more than Reagan over 10 million). Stirring controversy vowing to build a wall bordering Mexico to stop illegal immigration, banning muslims temporarily from the US and threatening forcible deportations of 11 million “illegals” resonates among mainly white males. Backtracking about remaining neutral on Israel, he threatens to remove American troops from Japan and South Korea. Espousing views bordering on extremism, whether as President he would actually implement these unpopular measures remains highly debatable.
Far more isolationist than others, supporters of Trump worry about just about every global menace except climate change, their biggest concerns being ISIS, cyber attacks, Syrian refugees, and global economic instability. Robert Gates was scathingly critical of Trump’s “America First” policy, “Americans and America’s leaders must reject isolationism, whether prompted by the need to address domestic needs or believing that some of our allies are taking advantage of us. Their inaction must not become an excuse for our own. Contrary to the views of some politicians, continuing American global leadership is in our own economic, political, and security interest, not simply and only an altruistic act. America turning inward not only will make the world more dangerous for others, but also for us.” Nevertheless Trump is more in sync with the PEW finding, most Americans want the US to just deal with its own domestic problems and let other countries deal with theirs.
The Republican’s conservative element had their party hijacked by Trump in the primaries. David French wrote in National Review “the party of Lincoln is in ruins. A majority of the primary voters have torched the founder’s legacy by voting for a man who combines old school Democratic ideology, a bizarre form of hyper-violent isolation fringe conspiracy theories and serial lies combining with an enthusiastic flock of online racists to create the most toxic election coalition since George Wallace”, unquote. While Trump may vow hard-core white males, Hillary scores very heavily over Trump in the women vote and that of minorities like Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc all of whom Trump has alienated. A recent poll showed her behind in some crucial swing States that Obama won like Ohio, she must mobilise the youth vote effectively used by Senator Bernie Sanders (possibly a Vice President nominee?) in beating her in some Primaries. The Republican establishment inFebruary 1980 said that a conservative Hollywood actor could never become President, Reagan won two landslide (1980 and 1984) elections. Consistently underestimated throughout, very few who a year ago thought that Trump would be the Republican nominee are reluctantly lining up behind him. Frequent critic House Speaker Paul Ryan has not quite endorsed him as yet but after a meeting with Trump, with RNC Chairman Priebus sitting in, he spoke about being “honest” about their differences and working them out to defeat Hilary Clinton in November.
A reader commented in “USA Today” recently, “The Republican focus on morality conservatism has alienated many moderates and even Democrats who could possibly support Republican candidates (the so-called Reagan Democrats). While the Democrats seem to be pandering to the far left whereas American beliefs are in the middle. What it boils down to us the negative vote, the depth of the dislike/hatred for either Hilary or Trump. Barring the unexpected, like an economic recession late this year or a major terrorist attack, each of which can help Trump obliterate Hilary, will the US voters opt for the best choice, or for whoever they think is the lesser evil?
The writer is a defense and security analyst