2016 Election Issues: Foreign Policy and World Affairs

(Side note: this is an incredibly condensed analysis of the current state of world affairs. I am an absolute geek when it comes to this stuff and will be pursuing a masters’ degree next year in International Conflict & Security. Leave a comment down below or email me, amoore36@elon.edu to discuss any of these issues further!)

Foreign policy has, to me, played a surprisingly small role in the two respective primary elections. This can likely be attributed to the fact that, on the GOP side, the candidates best fit to campaign as foreign policy hawks (Rubio, Bush, Graham) failed to gain traction and dropped out. Moreover, the Trump hurricane has basically just turned the race into a verbal roast session that has embarrassed the country. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has been challenged to her far left by a candidate that has made other domestic issues the predominant topics of their race. Sanders’ lack of interest/knowledge with foreign policy based issues is wonderfully encapsulated by him responding: “Um, I’m not up to date with that issue” when asked about Colombia’s peace negotiations with the FARC insurgency there. However, I do expect foreign policy based issues to gain more traction, particularly during the general election.

One big reason is the fact that Obama’s foreign policy record is shaky. It is easy to make the argument that his cautious realism has kept the country out of unwinnable quagmires in conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War and the fight against ISIS in Iraq. However, it is easier to point to these conflicts that arose and deepened under his watch as failures of the Obama Doctrine (which is, quite literally, “don’t do stupid shit”). Clinton has made the calculated decision to embrace Obama’s legacy on the campaign trail. This means that she is embracing his foreign policy legacy as well. In conjunction with this, of course, is the fact that Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State from 09-13 and therefore was one of, if not the biggest foreign policy voice for four years of the Obama administration. With this in mind, you can expect the Republican nominee to hammer Clinton on her foreign policy track record.

One particular issue that Clinton will almost certainly have to defend is that she was one of, if not the biggest proponent of the armed intervention in Libya in 2011 to oust despotic tyrant Muammar Gaddafi (side note, if you’re bored, read about Gaddafi. Guy was an absolute PSYCHOPATH who functioned off of cocaine and whiskey). While the intervention featured a vast international coalition, including numerous Muslim states, the on the ground situation in Libya has since deteriorated drastically and the resource-rich country is now unequivocally a failed state. Two separate governments claim to rule Libya, while numerous Salafi jihadist groups, including ISIL and the Al-Qaeda linked Ansar al-sharia operate freely throughout the country. In short, no semblance of state building took place following the intervention and Libya is now a mess. Expect the GOP candidate to hammer Clinton for her enthusiasm behind the initial decision to intervene.

Generally speaking, Clinton is a relatively hawkish Democrat. She espouses a form of smart power realism that emphasizes that American force can and should be used to uphold our national security interests. Basically, she is a slightly more hawkish version of President Obama (for example, she supports escalating our presence in Syria to include a no-fly zone against the government of Assad, something Obama is opposed to). This will be the foreign policy vision I expect her to convey in the General Election, a vision that encourages the smart and pragmatic use of American force to achieve national security imperatives. Moreover, expect rhetoric from her about bolstering our strategic alliances throughout the world (NATO, Japan, South Korea) as well as more specifically within the Middle East (Israel, Saudi Arabia, the other gulf monarchies).

As for the GOP, front-runner Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision is as clear as mud, rendering it impossible to analyze what a Trump foreign policy would look like or how he will campaign in the general election. Trump and Cruz have both embarrassed the United States on a variety of occasions as both have outwardly advocated for the egregious violation of international law. Moreover, Trump has become ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s best friend from a recruiting standpoint after his ridiculous proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US. Seriously, ISIS and Al-Shabaab (Somalia’s AQ affiliate) have used Trump in multiple recruitment videos.

As I mentioned at the top, this is very condensed. I’ll just go ahead now and list an assortment of global issues that the next POTUS will face. As I said, I’m happy to discuss any of these in further detail. As you can see, the next commander in chief will have a lot on his/her plate.

Syrian Civil War/ISIS/Al-Nusra Front (Syria’s AQ affiliate)


Countering lone-wolf radicalization amongst those inspired by ISIS

Iran/the Nuclear Deal/relations with Israel/Iranian power grabbing in the Middle East



Tunisia/making sure the only success of the Arab Spring remains a success


Nigeria/Boko Haram


Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of Congo

Saudi Arabia & Iranian proxy war

Russia/conflict in Ukraine/Putin’s boldness

North Korea/containing their nukes/whatever the hell they will pull

Cuba/balancing removing the trade embargo with getting human rights concessions

Colombia/the FARC peace negotiations/countering narco-trafficking out of Colombia and the other Andean nations

China/containing their rise in military power/enforcing fair trade practices/promoting human rights/ensuring Taiwan’s safety/South China sea tensions

European Union/making sure they find solutions to their immigrant and debt crises

Venezuela/their looming sovereign debt crisis

India & Pakistan relations/preventing a nuclear conflict between the two

The strategic importance of the Arctic/containing Russian aggression there