By Bonnie Kristian
To hear Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tell it, they’re polar opposites on foreign policy: Clinton casts herself as the knowledgeable, responsible expert to Trump’s reckless, trigger-happy hothead; and Trump insists he alone cares about America while Clinton is motivated by personal gain, aggression, and a dangerous refusal to own up to past mistakes.
The thing is, they’re both half-right. Trump is reckless and Clinton is dangerous. But where each is wrong is in their respective self-appraisals, for no matter who wins the White House in November, U.S. foreign policy can only take a turn for the worse.
I say that not because the last 16 years have been a shining example of foreign policy prowess. On the contrary, both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations have embroiled the United States in imprudent, no-win wars of choice. They have entrenched tactics of war which cause more problems than they solve and committed America to years—if not decades—of expensive nation-building in cultures we ill-understand. And they have done so without proper constitutional authorization or anything resembling an exit strategy.
Clinton and Trump alike promise to escalate the errors of these predecessors, and they do so in far more similar ways than their stump speeches suggest. With both, we are assured long-term imbroglio in the greater Mideast, as each embraces the basic pattern of limited but growing troop deployments, endless airstrikes, and drone warfare.
Trump criticizes Clinton because she “invaded Libya, destabilized Iraq, unleashed ISIS, and threw Syria into chaos, and created the mass migration, which is wreaking havoc all over the world”—and fair enough. She has done all that, and her enthusiastic defense of a blunder as bad as Libya is alone ample indictment of her approach to matters of war and peace.
But Trump himself supported the Libyan intervention, opposed the Iraq war far later than he claims, endorsed a significant U.S. involvement in Syria, and generally plans to maintain or accelerate exactly the sort of destabilizing policies that foster mass migration. Where even Clinton is wary of a major anti-ISIS ground war, Trump has repeatedly advocated putting thousands more Americans on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
Tellingly, Clinton has mostly focused her critiques of Trump on his temperament rather than his ideas. That may partially be because his ideas change so rapidly it would be difficult to keep the stump speech up-to-date, but Clinton’s own temperament is hardly exemplary either. She has been recalcitrant in the private email server scandal, sending out Tim Kaine to make the explicit apologies she cannot seem to speak. Her long record of support for one misadventure abroad after another is nothing if not consistent, and she shows no signs of having learned from past mistakes.
On the home front, too, a vote for Clinton or Trump is a vote for more invasive mass surveillance, which does little to prevent terrorism and much to abuse our constitutional rights. While in the Senate, Clinton voted in 2001 for the PATRIOT Act, which has yet to produce any significant counter-terrorism results, and defended that vote as recently as this past fall.
Trump is likewise a supporter of the PATRIOT Act. He supports mass NSA surveillance and has promised to “err on the side of security” over liberty. Trump also has suggested requiring national registration and monitoring of Muslims based on religion alone, a blatant violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, and he sided with Clinton in her support for a gun ban based on the notoriously error-prone terrorist watch list, an attack on the Second Amendment and the Fifth.
True, Trump lacks Clinton’s foreign policy knowledge; the candidates certainly differ in style; and a Clinton presidency would be more predictable than a Trump White House. And yes, there are no doubt areas of foreign policy—Russia comes to mind—in which a President Trump and a President Clinton might act with significant variance.
But in broad strokes, the same pattern emerges from each candidate’s plans: More intervention. More wars of choice. More damage to U.S. credibility. More blood spilt and treasure spent. More years of reckless, dangerous foreign policy with nothing to show for it. In a Clinton vs. Trump race, foreign policy sanity is guaranteed to lose.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, Relevant Magazine and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on August 20, 2016. Read more HERE.