from The Water's Edge

Campaign 2016 Weekly Foreign Policy Roundup: TPP and Syria

October 9, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal and Russian airstrikes in Syria dominated the foreign policy news from the campaign trail this week. This won’t be the last time you will hear from the candidates on those two topics. If you are counting, we are still 115 days out from the first campaign nominating event, and 396 days out from Election Day.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

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The White House made news on Monday with the announcement that it struck a deal on TPP. The celebration was short-lived, however. The White House now turns to what may an even harder task: persuading Congress to okay the deal.

TPP was always going to be a tough sell to Democrats in Congress. But that task got even harder on Tuesday when Hillary Clinton came out against the deal. Despite saying in 2012 that TPP is the “gold standard” for trade agreements, she thinks the deal falls short of where it needs to be:

I’m continuing to learn about the details of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, including looking hard at what’s in there to crack down on currency manipulation, which kills American jobs, and to make sure we’re not putting the interests of drug companies ahead of patients and consumers.  But based on what I know so far, I can’t support this agreement.

Bernie Sanders, who leads Clinton in the polls in New Hampshire, didn’t offer up any “based-on-what-I-know-so-far” qualifications. He’s against it. Emphatically.

And this isn’t the first trade deal that Sanders has opposed:

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Martin O’Malley, who has yet to gain traction with his long-shot campaign, reiterated his opposition to TPP and took a shot at the Democratic front-runner:

Wow! That’s a reversal! Secretary Clinton can justify her own reversal of opinion on this, but I didn’t have one opinion eight months ago and switch that opinion on the eve of debates.

TPP isn’t getting love from Republican presidential candidates either. Donald Trump dismissed the deal:

None of Trump’s GOP rivals rushed to endorse the TPP deal, which some Republicans now call ObamaTrade. Senator Marco Rubio said that he feels “very positive” about trade deals in general, but he wants to see the text of the agreement before he decides whether to support it. Governor John Kasich said that “I favor it on the headlines.”

Rubio’s and Kasich’s comments are a reminder that the White House has yet to release the full text of the TPP deal. When that happens, the fine print is far more likely to fire up the deal’s opponents than its supporters.

Syria: Yes or No to the “No-Fly Zone”

The question of what to do about Syria is dividing both Republican and Democratic candidates. Trump opposes imposing a “no fly zone” over Syria. He also thinks that Russia’s intervention in the conflict may benefit the United States:

I think it’s not going to be great for them, if you want to know the truth. But let’s just -- look, they got bogged down. It destroyed the Soviet Union. I mean they essentially went bankrupt. They -- it destroyed the Soviet Union, Afghanistan.

Now they’re going into Syria. There are so many traps. There are so many problems. When I heard they were going in to fight ISIS, I said, 'Great.'

Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders agree with Trump, at least when it comes to saying no to a no-fly zone in Syria. Paul fears that a no-fly zone would incite “an incident that could lead to World War III.” Sanders argues that “we must be very careful about not making a complex and dangerous situation in Syria even worse.”

On the flip side, Chris Christie favors creating a no-fly zone:

There’s now 300,000 nearly dead in Syria because of Assad and now Putin is going in and teaming with the Iranians to prop up Assad. Only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could mess up this foreign policy that badly. And anybody who agrees with allowing the Russians into the Middle East is just painfully naive.

Clinton agrees. She argues that no-fly zone is needed “to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air.” John Kasich reiterated his support for a no-fly zone and added that if:

anybody violates that no-fly zone, I don’t have red lines that I don’t stand by.

Senator Marco Rubio favors creating a “safe zone” in Syria, though he didn’t spell out exactly what that would entail. He does think that the United States is “barreling towards a second Cold War,” and that "the more our current president fails the test of leadership against Putin, the more important it becomes for our next president to pass it.”

Governor Jeb Bush weighed into the Syria debate to say that Congress should have authorized airstrikes against the Assad regime in 2013. He also criticized Rubio for not supporting President Obama’s call for a congressional authorization of military action.

Looking Ahead

The Democrats hold their first debate of Campaign 2016 next Tuesday, October 13. Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb are all set to appear. If you are wondering, Vice President Joe Biden can join the debate if he declares his candidacy by Tuesday morning. Don’t bet on that happening, though.

The venue for the debate is the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. CNN, CNN en Espanol, and CNN International will all be carrying the two-hour debate live starting at 8:30 p.m. ET. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate. CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN en Espanol Anchor Juan Carlos Lopez will also be asking questions. And because this is the Internet Age, CNN Anchor Don Lemmon will be fielding questions submitted on Facebook and Instagram. You can post a question to Facebook here. If you prefer Instagram, use the hashtag #DemDebate.

Three things to watch for in the debate. Do the Democrats spend their time criticizing each other or the Republicans? How much time do the candidates spend speaking about foreign policy rather than domestic policy? And will the candidates press each other over their differences on free trade and Syria?

In Case You Missed It

The New York Time Magazine says that “Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere.” The New Yorker profiles Bernie Sanders, “The Populist Prophet.” The Washington Post explores the political angles to Hllary Clinton’s decision to oppose TPP.

Elise Ghattas assisted in the preparation of this post.