Foreign Policy in Campaign 2016

Foreign Policy in Campaign 2016

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James M. Lindsay, senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at CFR, discusses the role that foreign policy will play in the upcoming presidential election, as part of CFR's Academic Conference Call series.

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James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations Academic Conference Call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program & Outreach here at CFR. Today’s call is on the record and the audio and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share it with your colleagues and classmates.

We are delighted to have James Lindsay with us today to talk about the role of foreign policy in Campaign 2016 election. Dr. Lindsay is CFR’s senior vice president, director of studies, and the Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, where he oversees the work of more than 70 fellows in the David Rockefeller Studies program.

Previously, Dr. Lindsay was the inaugural director of theRobertStraussCenterfor International Security and Law at theUniversityofTexasatAustin. And he also served as deputy director and senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution as well as professor of political science at theUniversityofIowa.

From 1996 to 1997, Dr. Lindsay was director for global issues and multilateral affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. He has written a number of award-winning books on America foreign policy and international relations and has contributed to op-ed pages of The New York Times, Washington Post, and the L.A. Times.

Dr. Lindsay, thank you very much for being with us today. We are, I think, about 26 days out from the election and so I thought we could talk a little bit about what you think is the likely impact of foreign policy making a difference on the vote in November.

LINDSAY: Well, first, Irina, thank you for that very kind introduction, and hello to everybody listening on the phone call.

I want to sort of preface my remarks by saying this is the most unusual presidential election I have followed, and I’ve been following them since 1976 when—again, I think we are in many ways looking at an election that is very different than what has come before it. But let me try to address Irina’s question and make three broad points.

The first is that, heading into 2016, this presidential election had the potential to shape up as a foreign policy election; that is, one in which foreign policy proved to be the decisive issue in the campaign.

And I say that because Mr. Trump, as he emerged as the favorite in the Republican primaries, launched a very sharp criticism of how American foreign policy has been practiced for the last quarter-century. Indeed, his call for a policy of America First suggested a return to something along the lines of its predecessor, America First, beforeU.S.entry into World War II, where theUnited Stateslooked more inward than outward.

But I would say, overall, despite the number of pieces being written about how this would be a foreign policy election, 2016 has turned out, like most presidential elections, with foreign policy playing second fiddle to domestic policy. And on that score I’ll just point out several things.

One, in polling, the Gallup organization has consistently asked people what they consider the most important problem to be. And if you look at the most recent poll done last month, 33 percent of respondents name an economic issue as the biggest issue facing the country. Only 14 percent of people named defense or foreign policy as the most important problem.

And interestingly, even though there’s been a lot of commentary about trade in this campaign, trade didn’t show up in the most important problem question at all. In other words, people weren’t volunteering trade as something they considered to be the most important issue facing theUnited States.

Likewise, if you look at the first two presidential debates, they skew very heavily toward domestic issues and character issues rather than foreign policy. And what’s really notable about the second debate is some of the questions were drawn from, this device by which people could suggest questions and then vote on them. You can still go to and see the questions that Americans generated from the debate. And what’s interesting is you look at the top 20 questions, only two of them were about foreign policy. Interestingly, both of those were about climate change.

The second general point I will make is that to the extent that foreign policy has figured in the 2000 presidential campaign—2016 presidential campaign, it’s really been focused on a very small slice of the foreign policy universe, essentially terrorism and to a little bit lesser degree Syria. But there’s been very little discussion, certainly in the debate, about issues such as what should the United States do about Chinese island-building in the South China Sea or about North Korea’s nuclear program, or about Iran’s nuclear program, or about growing unrest in Venezuela, or about Russian aggression, or about climate change, or about (larger things ?).

I could continue listing substantive issues, but my point here is that these are the sort of issues that are going to dominate the next president’s foreign policy inbox and they’re not featuring prominently in the campaign.

Third broad point I would make is that although foreign policy seldom decides a presidential election, presidential elections can have a major impact onU.S.foreign policy, and it does so for a very obvious reason: Presidential elections determine who is going to be the president, and depending upon who the president is, they have very different foreign policies. And what we get will be based on what Mr. Trump has said and what Secretary Clinton has said, that they would pursue very different foreign policy if they sat in the Oval Office.

And indeed, the impact could differ in a number of dimensions—the relative emphasis they would give to foreign versus domestic policies—but it goes beyond that. It goes to issues on which foreign policy issues they would prioritize once in office. It would also obviously depend upon or vary with the approach they take on specific issues.

Having said that, I would note that even in advance of the November 8 election you are already seeing the election or campaigning having an effect onU.S.foreign policy. Mr. Trump’s criticism of allies not paying their fair share and his suggestions that he would be OK with countries likeJapan,South Korea, andSaudi Arabiagetting nuclear weapons is shaking up a lot of foreign capitals.

In my job, I get the chance to speak with a lot of foreign diplomats and I get to travel a fair amount. And I would say among America’s allies there is great concerns about what a Trump presidency would mean, but—(inaudible)—even if Secretary Clinton wins, that what Mr. Trump has tapped into is something in the American public that is leery of allies’ commitment. And I think that concerns a lot of people who worry about whether or not they can count on theUnited Statesdown the road. And if not, then how should they rethink their foreign policy?

Likewise, I think it’s safe to say that the campaign, in its very unusualness, if I could speak euphemistically, has emboldened those who are critical of theUnited States. The Chinese, the Russians, and others have decided this very raucous election is evidence that theUnited Statesis in decay and that democracy is a system that does not work.

Obviously those conclusions are self-serving for the Chinese and the Russians, but it’s worth keeping them in mind because international relations really does turn on power, but it also turns on perception; that is, people in judgment of how other countries are going to act and what they’re going to do if they do act. And I do think that the next president of theUnited States, upon assuming office on January 20th next year, is going to have to confront a world that is skeptical or concerned about the reliability of American power and American action in the world.

Let me just close with one bonus point. I think everyone looking at the election this fall would normally focus on who the next president is going to be. That’s very understandable. But I would also suggest that people should pay attention to which party ends up controlling the House and the Senate.

To make a broad observation, presidents have much more discretion to act in foreign policy than in domestic affairs, but they don’t have unlimited discretion to act. That’s something President Obama has discovered over the last eight years. There are many areas of foreign policy which the president will need Congress’ assent to be able to act. That’s true with trade, it’s true with treaties, and it’s true with any foreign policy action that requires an appropriation.

If we do end up with four more years of divided government, then, what that signals there’s the potential exists for the continued struggle between the White House and Congress for control over the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

And I’ll stop there, Irina.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you very much, Jim. That was a terrific overview.

Let’s open it up to the group for questions.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Munk School of Global Affairs,UniversityofToronto.

Q: Hi, my name is Mark Mostrel (ph). I’m at the Munk School of Global Affairs at theUniversityofToronto.

And my question is, do you think Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico is our first taste of international interaction? What can we expect in regards to foreign policy under a Trump presidency?

LINDSAY: That’s an excellent question, and it’s also a difficult one to answer because Mr. Trump, in his discussion of foreign policy, has provided substantial criticisms of the current practice of American foreign policy without specifying, in many cases, how his foreign policy would actually operate or be different.

Perhaps one of the easiest areas in which to point this out is the case of trade, which Trump has been consistent not only in the campaign but going back all the way to the 1980s with his criticism of trade deals. And his argument is that theUnited Stateshas consistently negotiated terrible deals. He has singled out NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement, in particular.

And he has pledged that he would negotiate top-notch, great deals but he hasn’t actually specified what would constitute a great deal, how exactly it would differ. But that makes it, in many ways, very difficult to assess what Mr. Trump’s foreign policy would be like in the sense that much of what he says is in the form of a complaint rather than a kind of prescription of exactly how he would do things differently.

The big question I think many people have asked—and there are, I think, two schools of thought on this. One would be that Mr. Trump would continue as president in the manner that he has campaigned, that he will push for a less-interventionist foreign policy, one that requires foreign capitals that are allied with theUnited Statesto contribute more to theU.S.alliance efforts.

The second school of thought is that, you know, Mr. Trump as president will actually conduct himself somewhat differently, that Mr. Trump is a negotiator. He understands the virtue of using public speech to persuade people to move closer to your position. And as to which of those two diagnoses or projections is correct, your guess is as good as mine.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes fromSt.EdwardsUniversity.

Q: Thank you. My name is David Murray (sp) from St. Edward’s University in beautifulAustin,Texas.

I was wondering, to what degree do you foresee Donald Trump’s foreign policy as a reflection or future realignment of the Republican electorate’s foreign policy ideals? So do you believe—do you think that it’s more of a reflection in trying to get the sort of Ron and Rand Paul supporters on his side when he was talking about infrastructure and a relatively more isolationist point of view, or do you believe that that, going forward, will be a more active part of the Republican foreign policy?

LINDSAY: Well, that’s also an excellent question, and the answer to it in many ways depends upon how you would answer the question—the first question that we received here in terms of what one thinks Mr. Trump’s foreign policy would actually look like. And again, that’s the thing that many people debate.

And again, if I could sort of step back and take a broader perspective of it, I’ll just make a general observation of all presidents when they come to office—come to office with a perception, a view of what they’re going to do in foreign policy, and then they are confronted by the world.

The question was once asked of a British prime minister named Harold Macmillan to the effect of what would lead him to change his policy positions, and his response was: Events, events, events. And so the question is how a President Trump would interact with events in the world—(inaudible).

I do think that Mr. Trump, in his campaign, has exposed what you hinted at, a tension within the Republican Party about the nature ofAmerica’s role in the world. And within that Republican Party there is clearly what you might call the establishment view, which has championed American leadership around the globe, which has called for an assertive and activist foreign policy.

But within the Republican Party there is also a fairly large contingent of people who are skeptical of U.S. interventions abroad, believe that the United States, when it intervenes abroad, is often taken advantage of. And that’s one of the themes Mr. Trump has hit repeatedly in his campaign, theUnited Statespotentially being taken for a ride by its allies. And again, there is within the Republican Party the sort of less-interventionist faction, thinks that theUnited Statesshould actually spend their time acting on issues at home.

How that is going to play out within the Republican Party going forward is a really tough question to answer. A lot of it would depend upon whether Mr. Trump wins or doesn’t win, and if he does win and becomes the next president, what he actually does in terms of foreign policy.

It’s very clear that within the Republican Party—and I would also note within the Democratic Party as well—there is a division between people who favor a more interventionist, activist foreign policy and those who think that the United States should spend less time looking outward and more looking inward.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes fromSyracuseUniversity.

Q: Brian Sulin (ph) from Syracuse University.

How would Clinton’s foreign policy differ from Obama’s, specifically on Ukraine and Syria?

LINDSAY: Great question.

I would say, at the broadest level, a President Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy would look a lot like President Obama’s foreign policy. Put it this way: I suspect they would be in the same area code but not perhaps in the same zip code.

I do expect that you will see differences in two ways. One, I think that Secretary Clinton, at least based on her career to this point, is perhaps more inclined to be active overseas than President Obama has been. And we see this when you look at her policy towards Syria, where she would like the United States to be a bit more forward leaning than it has been under President Obama.

I think where her policy would be different would obviously be in trade, where Secretary Clinton, on the campaign trail, has been quite critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP. This is the trade deal that involved theUnited Statesand 11 other countries. In the view of the Obama administration, TPP is going to be, you know, a major part of the so-called pivot or rebalance to Asia, and it’s hard to see aClintonpresidency moving ahead with TPP any time soon.

Going back to the issue—you asked specifically aboutUkraine. I would imagine that it’s likely—I will just say it’s likely that a Clinton administration would be more forward leaning in its support for Ukraine, certainly on a rhetorical level and perhaps even to the extent of being more willing to provide aid to the Ukrainians, particularly military aid.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes fromHowardUniversity.

Q: Hello. Chichi O’Gray (ph),HowardUniversity, international business major.

My question is, if Trump is elected, what measures or policies are you all putting in place or plan to put in place to combat or absorb things like negative effects so they’re not so detrimental to us?

LINDSAY: If I could ask a follow up, are you talking about what steps—

Q: So, like you said earlier, that your—

LINDSAY: The administration would take or what steps people outside the administration would take?

Q: Like, administration. Like, what policies would you set up so even if they are having a negative effect they aren’t so, like, detrimental to, like, our other plans as, like, the U.S., because you already said that you’re seeing some negative effects, like, amongst our allies because of, like, his critiques and whatnot. So, like, what—(inaudible)—so those relationships aren’t severed?

LINDSAY: OK. Well, to answer your question we first have to recognize that the consequences—or whether the consequences of a Trump presidency are bad or good to some extent lie in the eye of the beholder.

And let’s take the issue of nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump has stated that he could seeJapan,South Korea, other countries getting nuclear weapons. And his at least public statements on it suggest that that would not concern him very much. I would point out that American policy for the last 60 or so years across Republican and Democratic presidencies has always wanted to limit the spread of nuclear weapons.

OK, so part of what gets involved here is a judgment as to what is good or bad in terms of how policy breaks. There are people who would argue that actually having more countries with nuclear weapons would be stabilizing rather than destabilizing.

So, having noted that, the general plan, if you ask any administration, is they come in and they try things and then—to follow a business phrase, since you’re an international business major—they are faced with market feedback. Other countries react to what they do and then administrations have to decide whether they like those reactions or not. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Let’s go back to the late 1970s.

Jimmy Carter was elected, takes the Oval Office in January of 1977. He has campaigned on a platform on which he was going to improve relations with theSoviet Union. One of his first things to do was to scrap what his predecessor, Gerald Ford, had done in terms of negotiating on nuclear weapons, came forward with a very ambitious proposal for deep cuts in nuclear weapons. And the Russians reacted very badly to that opening proposal, and indeed it really sort of derailed arms control talks for quite a while, and Carter eventually changed his position.

Likewise, President Obama came into office I think hoping to, in some sense, transform American foreign policy. And again, much like the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, he discovered that events have a way of complicating your efforts. The president hoped to make, for example, great progress in reducing nuclear weapons and discovered he was frustrated on two fronts: one, the unwillingness of the Russian government and Mr. Putin to go beyond—or cut deeply beyond the initial arms deal they struck, and accepted the reality that there wasn’t much support or as much support as President Obama needed in the United States Senate to enact the treaties he hoped to enact.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is fromWashingtonandLeeUniversity.

Q: Hi. This is Aiden Jones (ph) at Washington and Lee inLexington,Virginia.

And my question is, where do you thinkNorth Korea’s aggression ranks in importance among the list of foreign policy issues theUnited Statesfaces today?

LINDSAY: If you were to ask me to name the one issue that I believe could emerge as an acute crisis for the next president in his or her first year in office I would say North Korea. We face inNorth Koreaa government that has systematically pursued the development of nuclear weapons and the ability to put nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. It has been doing so for decades, and efforts by American presidents, Republican and Democratic, to persuadePyongyangto halt these programs have not succeeded.

Over time, the state of the North Korean nuclear program has gotten much better. Now I think they’ve conducted six nuclear tests. They’ve made significant progress on constructing intercontinental ballistic missiles. These are missiles that will be capable of going fromNorth Koreaand reaching theUnited States. That would be a game-changer. And I think the next president has to be prepared to have the National Intelligence—director of National Intelligence walk into the Oval Office and say: Mr. President, we’ve just concluded thatNorth Koreacan put a nuclear warhead on top of an ICBM. What do you propose to do?

And the problem that the next president will face is the same problem the last several presidents have faced, but there are not a lot of good options. There are not a lot of good options because a preemptive strike—that is, attacking North Korea to take out its nuclear program—may not succeed completely and may end up provoking the outcome that you are trying to avoid; that is, a nuclear exchange. Even if you succeed in taking out all ofNorth Korea’s nuclear site, there’s a real risk thatNorth Koreawill respond with a conventional attack onSouth Korea.

So the capital of South Korea is located about 25 miles south of the demilitarized zone. That is the border that divides North Korea from South Korea. North Korean artillery can reachSeoul. And so you could have a war break out that would be devastating forSouth Korea, and that would then create problems. And of course you have the whole broader set of issues about how the Chinese would react to any such attack or strike.

Then there’s the flip side, OK, because now you have to look at costs of doing something—(inaudible)—because you also have to look at the cost of doing nothing. And the concern of doing nothing is thatNorth Korea’s nuclear program is going to get bigger and more capable, more threatening, and it will be dangerous in two ways.

Number one,America’s allies in the region would be concerned about whether or not theUnited Statesshould be willing to defend them. And if they worry that theUnited Statesisn’t going to defend them and they develop nuclear weapons on their own—which bothSouth KoreaandJapanare capable of doing—that complicates issues withNorth Koreabut also withChina.

The other problem you run into is a North Korea that has nuclear weapons but will not have enough nuclear weapons to survive a nuclear strike from the United States. And I don’t want to get into all the weeds about the theory of nuclear conflict, but you could end up in one of the most dangerous situations of all. That is the North Koreans know that their nuclear forces are subject to attack, so in a crisis they would be faced with the—what someone has referred to as a “use it or lose it” scenario. And that could be quite dangerous and the results of it could be catastrophic. So I would not in any way downplay the significance of what is happening inPyongyang.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is fromMontanaStateUniversity.

Q: Thank you.

What are your views on Trump, domestically speaking, and do you see fascist tendencies with his views and comments on law and order and criminal justice, racism, and punishment of women? And how can it affect international relations?

LINDSAY: OK, there’s an awful lot in that question, and I’m not an expert on domestic politics. I’ll mention the following observations, which would be that American power consists of what we would call hard power, our ability to project military force. We also have substantial economic power and we consider the use of sanctions. That’s a negative use of the power, but you can also think of foreign aid and what have you as part of American power.

But American power is also soft power, the fact that people like us, are drawn to us and our society, our ideals, but also how those ideals are lived day to day. And I think the reality is anAmericathat became less tolerant, more divided, more factious would be anAmericathat would need considerable soft power.

Now, the countries like China and Russia would point to that as evidence that the American system does not work, is not sustainable, hence making a pitch to other countries: You should not follow America’s lead. And I think that would be extremely dangerous.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes fromBabsonCollege.

Q: Hi, my name is Mitchell (sp). I’m a sophomore.

And my question essentially is, you mentioned the sort of unorthodox foreign policy position that a lot of supporters of this election have. And I was curious: Do you think that maybe those stem from the fact that the American public has kind of been spoiled in the last quarter-century by sort of a lack of direct state-actor-based threats to the American homeland, so that, you know, institutions such as lack of nuclear proliferation and NATO are kind of coming under question now?

LINDSAY: I’m sorry; I missed the latter half of your question. Can you repeat it, please?

Q: Yeah, so I was just curious: Do you think that the—sort of the position that Donald Trump has and some of his supporters on leaving NATO and being OK with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, do you think that stems from an American public that, in the last quarter-century, has been sort of spoiled in regards to the amount of state-based direct threats to the American homeland in the, you know, post-Cold War era?

LINDSAY: I don’t know if I would share that diagnosis, for a couple of reasons.

One, I think, for most Americans, what they’ve witnessed over the last 15, 16 years is that dangers abroad can come home toAmerica, obviously with September 11th driving that home but various terrorist attacks since then. Again, if you look at public opinion polling, Americans are very worried about terrorism, about its potential growth. And people have got issues related to what someone has called the homegrown terrorism.

So I don’t think it’s that the problem is really Americans not being aware of their vulnerability. I think Americans are very aware of their vulnerability. I think it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that American foreign policy over the last 15, maybe 20 years has not produced the kinds of successes that the Americans wanted or hoped for.

The obvious case here would be the outcome of the Iraq War. The fact is most Americans bought, early on, certainly let’s say in April 2003, when you had those video—the video of the statues of Saddam Hussein being torn down inIraq, thatAmericahad won that war. The expectation was American troops would be able to come home quickly. I don’t think Americans anticipated that essentially civil war would break out inIraqand American troops would be caught there. Likewise, American troops would be inAfghanistannow for 15 years. I don’t think people expected that back in the fall of 2001.

And when you combine that with unhappiness about the state of the American economy—that we had a tremendous economic and financial recession, that the recovery from that recession has been relatively slow compared to past recessions—when you add in issues of stagnating wages, growing income inequality, I think that that has fueled the sense that there are problems here at home we need to fix and why are we—at least amongst some segments of the population—there are problems here at home we should be fixing; why are we getting embroiled in events overseas? And I think that has a lot more to do with where we are today.

Let me also just say, while I do think that in some ways—you might call it non-intervention—certainly to be less charitable, isolationist—impulses of the American public may have intensified in recent years, and I think Mr. Trump has tapped into those fears.

There has always been a segment of the American public that’s skeptical of America’s involvement overseas, and that triggered non-interventionist, let’s stick to our own—(inaudible)—added to it’s sort of ebbed and flowed—it’s often ebbed and flowed in response to what is actually happening overseas. Someone of my age can remember the Vietnam War, which soured many Americans onAmerica’s activist foreign policy overseas. So I think events and successive policies have much more to do with where the American public is today.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from theNavalPostgraduateSchool.

Q: Hi. John Arquilla, a professor here.

It seems that whoever the next president is has a strategic dilemma. We expend most of our energy dealing with smaller powers and terrorist networks. You mentionedIran,North Korea, et cetera. At the time we’re distracted with all of this, at great cost to ourselves, it seems that bothRussiaandChinahave become much more venturesome in their foreign policies.

Is the next president going to have to make choices between continuing to focus on anIraqandAfghanistanand other smaller and more regional problems, or is some hard choice going to be made to try to counter, more directly,Russiaand/orChina? Thank you.

LINDSAY: That’s an excellent question.

I think you, by laying out that question, have pointed to the dilemma that presidents have, and it’s a dilemma that all presidents have. There are things that you want to do and then there are things that you are forced by events to do, and it can be very hard to balance it.

All presidents, at the end of the day, have to make choices along the issues they’re going to pursue, if only because there are only so many hours in a day but also because of the reality that trying to address certain problems requires you to sacrifice other policies you hoped to pursue.

And you are quite right that the sort of strategic issue, macro issue is that we have certainly aRussiathat has been much more adventurous, aggressive than in the past, one that has played a spoiler role certainly inSyriathat has greatly complicated American policy in theMiddle East.

But your challenge is to—how do you deal with that challenge, whether it’sSyriaorUkraine, dealing with the Russians, when on other issues you need Russian cooperation? And that is something that—whoever the next president is going to be is going to have to grapple with that issue. And likewise with China, most notably Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, the Chinese have been actively building artificial islands, which will give them the capacity to build military installations and project force throughout a part of the world where something on the order of—(inaudible)—of GDP passes through on a given year.

So that’s only the challenge with the president. And if you step back and think of President Obama, he had a strategic objective of trying to reduce America’s footprint involvement in the Middle East, so the United States could devote more energy toward Asia based on the calculation, understandable, that Asia is home to a very large chunk of the world’s population, it’s the most economically vibrant part of the world, and America is and long has been a Pacific power. So America should make itself felt there.

But the president has been hamstrung trying to execute that strategy by the fact that the Middle East continues to be a problem towards American intention and American energy, and also by the fact that the things the president wishes to do in Asia, most notable the Trans-Pacific Partnership—again, this trade deal involving the United States and 11 other countries has become very unpopular with certain constituencies in both the Democratic and Republican Parties. And I think that the whoever is the next president of the United States is going to deal with constraints like that, at least to the extent they’re interested in actually shaping events beyond America’s borders.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Connecticut.

Q: How do the stances of Trump and Clinton differ when it comes to the selling of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led collation’s bombing campaign in Yemen?

LINDSAY: I’m sorry, I didn’t—I only heard Trump and I heard Yemen.

Q: How do the stances of Trump and Clinton differ when it comes to selling of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led collation’s bombing campaign in Yemen?

LINDSAY: I’m not aware that Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton has spoken on that issue specifically. It is possible they have. I just haven’t heard them. So I can’t offer an answer to that question.

FASKIANOS: And, Jim, let me just intervene at this point to let everybody know that we are running on our website a special section called Campaign 2016 that is comparing the foreign policy statements that each candidate had said. And you can filter on that by, you know, region or functional issue, and see whether or not they’ve said anything. So I encourage you all to go there. It’s on the homepage of our website, And it’s called Campaign 2016. And you can look up different statements there.

So, with that, let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Daniel Morgan Academy.

Q: Hello. My name is Britain Jacobson.

And my question—you touched on it a little bit a couple questions ago, and this is: Do you see the overall foreign policy change or desire for change as fundamentally a question of pragmatic effect or ideological shift in why we’re involved overseas?

LINDSAY: Wow, that’s a tough question. I think much of it—I personally would attribute much of it to practical considerations rather than a fundamental ideological shift, though I’m not sure that the two can be really separated. That is, the changes in the world around you lead to practical decisions to change your strategy, but that can also empower certain ideology or undercut certain ideology. So I don’t know if I would make a unique distinction that it’s entirely one or entirely the another.

What I do think is that the next president, and I think presidents after that, are grappling—going to grapple with a world that is different in important ways from the world we lived in from the end of World War II through the end of the 20th century. And it’s different in a couple of ways. One obvious one is the distribution of power. Power is more distributed around the world. That happened in large part because of globalization. And here, I would note that it happened in big part because American foreign policy succeeded.

The United States throughout the Cold War era into the post-Cold War era argued that markets would improve everyone’s prosperity and that more trade would raise all boats. More and more countries took up that notion of market economics, moved away from closed socialist economic systems. And we ended up with a very vibrant more globalized economy. But it also has created dislocation that has created problems.

I think something else that has happened that is significant over—you know, as a result of globalization is that we’re more interconnected. We rub up against each other in more and more ways. And that can be positive in the sense that unleashing creativity and different ways of looking at problems come together. It can create conflict, where people begin to struggle over resources or different visions of how the world should be conducted. And I think ultimately in this world as we go ahead, because we’re interconnected, the problems that—you know, problems require cooperation.

And that cooperation can be very difficult to achieve, even if countries agree, which they often don’t, on the nature of the problem. And cooperation is hard to achieve, you know, for all of the reasons, for those of you who study corrective action problems—why corrective action problems exist. People have an incentive to let somebody else take the lead. People disagree over what a just or fair solution is, so on and so forth. And I think it’s very difficult for the United States as we operate in a world that is more interconnected, power is more dispersed.

And one other thing I would note is that in many countries around the world we’re seeing institutions unable to deal with domestic challenges. And as a result those institutions are falling apart. And so you see a decentralization of power, and the inability in many cases of states to actually command and produce policies that others—(inaudible). (Inaudible)—most notable, we look—you know, they often produce ungoverned spaces where governments have collapsed entirely. But to a lesser degree, we can see it in countries in Europe, where there’s growing populist backlash. Governments aren’t able to deliver what the public expects of them. And you have governments becoming in some ways paralyzed, unable to break out of the situation they find themselves.

That’s very troubling. As I said, whoever’s the president come January 2016 (sic; 2017), they’re going to have a very full inbox and not a lot of solutions. And they’re going to have a hard time finding other countries that not only are willing, but more importantly have the capacity to help—(inaudible).

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Q: Hi. This is Todd Barry from USM. Thank you for talking with us today.

In years past, there seemed to be more talk by politicians and candidates about stability, such as Yugoslavia. Why is there less focus today on stability? And second, what do you think the possibilities are for a so-called October surprise, such as a terrorist attack or greater Russian involvement in Syria?

LINDSAY: OK. Well, I will take those questions—very good questions—in the order your asked them. With respect to stability, I would say that topic is still one being discussed. We’re not talking about the flip side, that is people are talking about the lack of stability, particularly the lack of stability in places like the Middle East. And I think the challenge that policymakers have and the candidate have is it’s not clear what the policy choices are that would return stability to, for example, Syria.

And this goes back to some of the questions that were raised earlier. You know, you’re looking at American foreign policy, why Americans would be disillusioned, or why Americans would be disillusioned is because when they look at it they don’t see a foreign policy that has been successful, even though different methods have been tried. One of the common sayings here in Washington about the Middle East is that the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. It did not turn out well. The United States had an intervention in Libya, that did not occupy Libya. That did not turn out well. In Syria, the United States neither invaded nor occupied Syria, and it did not turn out well.

And this gets us to the question of is it within the capacity of the United States to produce the outcomes of the stability piece or, even before that, the absence of a humanitarian disaster? Does the United States have the capacity to do it? What are the steps that could be done to make that happen? We should widen the debate here in Washington over that. I don’t know that anyone has a clear and easy solution.

But in terms of an October surprise—yes, you can always get an October surprise. The hard thing about a surprise is determining how much it will matter in terms of the outcome of the race. One of the things we’re pointing out is that here in the United States we have shifted more and more to so-called early voting. And a fair number of—I think it’s 34 states plus the District of Columbia allow early voting. And I think about a dozen or so states have already begun early voting.

So votes have already been cast. And obviously if you cast your vote and events change, you don’t get to go back and recast your vote. So I’m not at all sure how much impact an October surprise would have on the eventual outcome. And the closer to get to November 8th, obviously, the less of an impact that will have. But this has been a very unusual campaign. And I suppose an October surprise that would—is particularly significant could change how people vote, though it’s hard to say without seeing it what kind of surprise of having what kind of impact.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: The next question comes to the University of Pennsylvania.

Q: Good afternoon. My name is Yuen Haliu (ph). I am a policy major student from the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you for your—I’m sorry—thank you for your speech.

My question is, what do you think of the third-party candidates, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson’s, relatively mild policies on China, and other traditional challenges? And what do you think is the story behind those less-offensive policy proposals? Thank you.

LINDSAY: I’m sorry. Could you repeat the last sentence? I didn’t hear the last sentence.

Q: Yeah. How do you think of the third party candidates, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson’s, mild policies on China and other traditional challenges? And what do you think is the story behind the less-offensive policy proposals? Thank you.

LINDSAY: Well, when we look Governor Johnson and Dr. Stein, the first thing to note is that they are not polling significantly with the American public. And I think everyone knows they didn’t reach—either of them—reach the 15 percent mark they needed to reach in the national polls to be invited to the presidential debate. So on that score, they’re not proving to be a significant factor in the 2016 presidential debate.

In terms of Governor Johnson, his philosophy, his approach would probably put him in the category of someone who favors less American involvement in the world and taking a less activist approach, much more willing to rely on markets to solve problems, as you’d expect with a candidate of the Libertarian Party. And he has in his public statements indicated that world affairs is not where he wants to focus on his time and energy. So it’s not surprising to me on that score that Governor Johnson has not, as you suggested, singled out China.

Likewise, Dr. Stein and the Green Party have not made national security one of their touchstone issues. They for the most part focused on other issues and I think that reflects where they are with the party and the issues that they’re concerned about.

FASKIANOS: I think we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: OK. The next question is from Roosevelt University.

FASKIANOS: Or maybe not. Your phone may be on mute?

Q: Hi. This is Delilah Ravalli (ph) from Roosevelt University.

We were wondering, would any candidate be willing to create better relations in the Middle East, thus improving oil trade, or is neither candidate really concerned with issues that the Middle East faces?

LINDSAY: Well, I think it’s safe to say that both of the candidates are greatly interested in the Middle East. Both candidates would like to have improved relations in the Middle East. I think both candidates would like to see stability return to the Middle East. And both candidates would like to see an end to the fighting in Syria, and I think also in Yemen. The problem that both candidates face is that the Middle East is deeply divided. And the people—groups there—armed groups there are playing for very high stakes. And there’s no really options for the United States. You add in the presence of the Russians, it greatly complicates any ability to—for the United States to act.

I will note, in terms of the oil trade, one of the more interesting things to keep in mind is that the United States over the last decade or so has undergone an energy revolution of its own. The United States is now producing vast quantities of oil, making it less reliant on imports of oil from abroad. The United States also has as well this fracking revolution, and tremendous successes in extracting natural gas here in the United States. That has had some harmful consequences for coal-producing areas because natural gas competes with coal in the marketplace. As you get more gas, prices go down, and the coal industry has not been able to compete, or compete as well. But at the same time, natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal is. So that’s helpful in terms of reducing the emissions—(inaudible)—responsible for climate change.

So I think much of what is traditionally thought of in terms of how oil works has really changed because of this—what we would call the revolution—energy revolution in North America brought about by hydraulic fracking. And that’s reduced American reliance. That doesn’t mean America is isolated or insulated by what happens in the oil markets elsewhere, because oil is traded on the international market. So if sources of oil production elsewhere go offline, prices are going to rise globally. But again, one of the very significant trends in the last decade has been the United States discovering vast new quantities of energy which, again, hurt some industries, but also opened up tremendous potential elsewhere, because it allows the United States to have cheaper energy sources than other countries, having a big impact on manufacture.

FASKIANOS: Well, Dr. Lindsay, thank you very much for today’s discussion. I’m sorry that we were unable to get to all of your questions, but we pride ourselves on trying to end on time. But you should know that Dr. Lindsay runs a weekly podcast called “The World Next Week,” with Bob McMahon, our managing editor of CFR editorial, and talks about pressing issues that are coming up. You can also follow him on Twitter at @JamesMLindsay and on his CFR blog, “The Water’s Edge.” So in encourage you to check out those resources as well as our Campaign 2016 resource comparing the candidates’ foreign policy positions.

So, Jim, thank you again.

LINDSAY: Irina, thank you for having me. And if I could do a public service announcement: Everybody listening to this call, if you’re registered or eligible to be registered, please register and please vote on November 8th, regardless of who you vote for. I think it’s an important thing to do.

FASKIANOS: Great. Our next call will be on Thursday, October 27th at 2:00 p.m. with Scott Snyder and Adam Mount, who were on our CFR Independent Task Force on North Korea report that we just released. So I hope that you will join us for that. And please also follow up on Twitter at @CFR_Academic, because we will be sharing announcements of upcoming events, as well as new resources. So than you all again for today’s discussion.


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