Foreign Policy Election 2016

According to a Gallup poll in May this year, 61% of the respondents described named “foreign affairs” as an extremely or very important issue that could influence their vote come the 2016 elections. This was well below the frontrunner issue, “the economy,” and still lower than other issues such as terrorism and healthcare.

Since then, however, the focus has shifted back to foreign affairs, not least because of the entrance of Donald Trump and his clear-cut views in the area. Even more recently, the circulating news of Russian troops entering Syria to support Assad against the ISIS is bringing the question back.

Hillary Clinton: Clenched Fist and Olive Branch

According to the Iran nuclear deal (between Iran, the UN Security Council, and the European Union), Iran must lessen its nuclear facilities, cannot expand them, and can only enrich uranium for power resources, not weapons-grade material. Hillary Clinton is a firm advocate of the deal.

Hillary Clinton Immigration

“Either we move forwards on the path of diplomacy and seize this chance to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon or we turn down a more dangerous path leading to a far less certain and riskier future.”

She adds at the same time, “I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon.” Under Clinton’s term as Secretary of State, negotiations with Iran were won through economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

She is equally strong against Russia, saying:

“I think Russia’s objectives are to stymie and to confront and to undermine American power whenever and wherever they can.”

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Clinton’s proposed solution? To “confine, contain, deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond.”

The theme of Clinton’s foreign policy is diplomatic negotiation at its best, with clearly stated and drawn conditions if the diplomatic approach were to fail. The policy brings a combination of pressures to bear rather than focusing solely on the militaristic aspect.

Martin O’Malley: Economic Diplomacy and Political Solutions

The condensed version of O’Malley‘s foreign policy was stated in his speech at the Center for National Policy TruCon15 Conference on June 26.


“Because our country’s security—and our children’s prosperity—demand that we be more engaged with the world around us, not less. We do this primarily by making our nation more prosperous and secure here at home.”

On this note, O’Malley focuses on global issues where the U.S. may lead. First on the list is global climate change, second is cybersecurity, third sustainable development. The main approach to these issues, he suggests, is through U.S. development programs such as USAID and the State Department. In other words, economic diplomacy.

Concerning the Iran nuclear deal, O’Malley is a clear supporter, saying, “If we reach a verifiable, enforceable agreement that cuts off Iran’s multiple pathways to a weapon—and its ability to sprint to a bomb—Congress would be wise to support it.”

Foreign Policy Election 2016

On the ISIS issue, O’Malley states, “Containing, degrading, and defeating ISIS will require an integrated approach—an approach focused not only on military power, but on political solutions.” He suggests, not in so many words, that the U.S. should provide its allies in the region with the means to resist the ISIS.

O’Malley’s approach is mild, seeking diplomatic and political solutions to foreign issues. However, it might not sit well with those who criticize the current administration for its perceived slow movement, especially in the Middle Eastern region.

Bernie Sanders: Diplomacy First, Decrease Free Trade

During the Iraq War in 2003, Bernie Sanders was vocal on the wisdom of the engagement. He stated: “War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first.” His stance here flows into other issues. In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, Sanders appreciates the approach that focused more on negotiation than overt militaristic threats.


“A victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling [that] could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East.”

In the case of the ISIS, Sanders is clear-cut in his stance: the United States may support, but in no way should it have a direct military presence in the removal of the ISIS.

“This is, as I understand it, a war for the soul of Islam and if that is the case, the Muslim countries in that area have got to stand up and they have got to fight.”

Sanders does not feel mild, in part because he is so militantly on the side of diplomacy. What Sanders brings to the table is proven foresight when it comes to U.S. military in foreign policy, which would be particularly needed in the current ISIS issue.

Jeb Bush: American Leadership = Peace

Bush is staunchly against the Iran nuclear deal, partly because of its sponsorship role in the current ISIS sweep, and additionally because of its attitude towards Israel. He prefers that the economic sanctions on Iran not be lifted at all. With a nuclear deal, he says:

Jeb Bush Immigration

“In effect, the primary investors in a violent, radical Middle East have just received a new round of funding, courtesy of the United States and the United Nations.”

To answer the ISIS question, Bush proposes to deliver support to the Iraqi forces so they can hold off the ISIS. Without directly committing to the provision of more troops, he does present the possibility.

“We must make better use of the limited forces we have by giving them a greater range of action. Right now, we have around 3,500 soldiers and marines in Iraq, and more may well be needed.”


Part of the strategy to resist the ISIS comes through active intervention in Syria, even to support of the establishment of a moderate government, and the improvement of the Syrian military facing the ISIS. The approach has two planned results: save Syrians from ISIS with Assad’s army, and save Syrians from Assad.

“We have seen what ruin and suffering can follow when America doesn’t lead. […] And I assure you: the day that I become president will be the day that we turn this around and begin rebuilding the armed forces of the United States of America.”

Ben Carson: Wage Just War

In a bid to clearly lay out his foreign policy, in the absence of attention in the Republican debates, Ben Carson wrote an op-ed laying down clear, specific points of a foreign policy that does not go beyond a clear plan of action for the ISIS, at the moment.

Ben Carson Immigration

Carson’s first suggestion is the waging of “ideological and information warfare.” The people on the ground, in the Middle East, should find themselves with access to information that undermines the ISIS. Carson also suggests arming the Kurds, and creating an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Turkey policy, such as the one for Russia during the Cold War.

Most importantly, Carson supports the possible waging of a “just war.”

“If we develop a coherent plan of action and implement it with vigor, we can destroy ISIS and break this seemingly endless cycle of violence. Just War Theory demands that any war be waged in such a manner as to make the war as short as possible and limit the suffering and destruction of innocent people. The various phrases we have created, including […] a myriad of other soft words and catchy phrases describe, in fact, the slow incineration of human beings.”

Ben Carson evidently believes that the slow, roundabout manner of the current administration is simply prolonging the regional agony. For Carson, the waging of a just war would be the most effective approach to the situation.

Donald Trump: Look Out For Number One


On the Iran nuclear deal, Trump notes, and repeats several times in a single speech, that it would be “bad for Israel.” He resists the deal mainly on those grounds, that it may strain U.S.-Israel relations, or at least create conflict of interest. This idea comes from the section of the Iran deal that requests the co-signers of the treaty to train Iranian forces to protect their nuclear elements from theft. Trump is also adamant: the economic sanctions should not be lifted.

“We will never give you back your money. We will never…give you back your $150 billion. You’re never getting your money back.”

Trump’s ISIS plan? Let the Russians take care of them. As Russian troops enter Syria to back the national government against the ISIS, Trump sees that as an opportunity for the U.S. to sit back, relax, and watch the show.


“If Putin goes there and if he is able to knock out ISIS […] to me that’s not the worst thing I have ever heard of. […] If Russia wants to do the job on ISIS it would be something I would not be extremely concerned about.”

The natural bent of a nation’s foreign policy is to watch over itself first and foremost, but Trump manages to take it to a whole new level. Basically, Iran is best left powerless, under sanction and relatively harmless. At the same time, if someone else can take care of the ISIS, let them do so. He seems to completely discount the problem of allowing another world power to actively participate in filling the power vacuum.

Foreign Policy and National Security

To summarize, if a Democrat is in the White House come 2017, the Iran nuclear deal is likely to push through. The ISIS provides a confusing problem for all, but there is general agreement that support should be given at least to the nations already fighting. Russia does not figure prominently in the discussion, at least as an opponent. The ISIS provides a common enemy.

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The presidential candidates know that the elections depend on more than just their foreign policies. However, they also know that addressing issues of national security is necessary to inspire trust in their voters. Perceptions of national security shape the well-being of the economy, social peace and order, and long-term national stability. On the hierarchy of needs, it is one of the most basic, which will always make it a significant election issue.

About the author

Esther has a B.A. in Humanities and an M.A. in Political Economy. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing Sequence with her family, training in Aikido, and curling up with coffee and a good book.