Now that the primaries are over and the party conventions are just a couple of days away, it’s time to have a look at the foreign policy orientations of the two presumptive nominees – the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton and the Republicans’ Donald Trump – who offer contrasting approaches to the U.S.’ role and leadership in addressing global conflicts.
Retrospectively, Turkish-American relations under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama have gone through ups and downs over the last eight years, but went further downhill in mid-2013. Moreover, the tackling of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq have resulted in old trust issues resurfacing between Washington and Ankara within the context of the Kurdish issue.
On top of everything, given the perceived retreat of the United States from the Middle East during Obama’s term, it is a critical question as to whether this trend will continue under the next president, who is likely to shape future alliances in the region.
In this respect, what do the two presumptive nominees offer Turkey in terms of their Middle East policies?
To begin with, Trump’s suggested ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “to prevent terrorist attacks” has attracted severe criticism from Turkish officials for fueling Islamophobia.
At the risk of hurting his real estate investments in Turkey, Trump refused to shy away from accusing Ankara of being “on the side of ISIL more or less based on oil,” referring to the allegations of oil smuggling along the border.
When asked about his views on the U.S.’ role in the Middle East, Trump seems to be critical of the U.S. undertaking much of the burden of security in the region. He criticizes regional powers for not committing enough militarily in the fight against ISIL. He even argues for charging states which host U.S. military bases for enjoying Americanprotection. In this context, he makes it clear that he is not opposed to either Russia’s presence in Syria or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power as long as he fights ISIL.
The Iran deal, however, is awful and has to be renegotiated on better terms, according to Trump.
Interestingly, Trump questions the nuclear non-proliferation policy and sees no harm in the event that friendly states, such as Saudi Arabia, seek nuclear weapons if it will make them feel more secure.
As for the Kurds, an overly sensitive issue between Turkey and the U.S., it is important to note that Trump confused the Kurds with the Quds army of Iran during an interview – something that speaks volumes about the extent of his foreign policy expertise.
Against this backdrop, Clinton, the first woman to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, can call upon her experience in governance.
Having served as secretary of state during Obama’s first term, Clinton has indeed had a hard time distancing herself from Obama’s legacy without abandoning her policy decisions at the time.
She is known for her support for the U.S. invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the operation in Libya, and she also offered her endorsement for the Iran deal, albeit while maintaining her distrust for the regime.
Inevitably, her candidacy is perceived more or less as the preservation of the status quo. Due to her close ties with the military establishment and her liberal interventionist political standing, she is considered one of the most hawkish democratic nominees in decades. But in running against a rival such as Trump, this may turn into an advantage in terms of appealing to Republican voters wary of their ostensible nominee.
In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton depicts Turkey as an important and occasionally frustrating partner.
In contrast to Trump, Clinton is in favor of strengthening alliances and global institutions. Her views on Syria especially strike a chord with Ankara, in the sense that she promotes the establishment of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Syria, something Ankara has been seeking for years. She is also known to be in favor of arming Iraqi Kurds directly in the fight against ISIL despite Baghdad’s opposition.
Although she does not openly suggest the deployment of U.S. troops overseas, she is more pro-engagement than Obama.
According to Clinton, “if America does not lead, it leaves a vacuum – that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush to fill the void.”
So it’s Clinton vs. chaos…Pick one!