Most people, on both sides of the political aisle, will say that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are ideological opposites whose world-views and visions of America are diametrically opposed. But despite their differences, Hillary’s positions have allowed a demagogue like Trump to rise up in opposition.
Hillary, despite her long history in the Democratic Party, takes her foreign policy from the Neoconservative playbook. This would make sense, as the Neoconservatives were originally disaffected democrats who dreamed of a more active American role overseas. Her strong interventionist positions put us at risk for war with Russia and further entanglement in Syria and the Middle East. Furthermore, the admiration she has expressed for Henry Kissinger and his policy of realpolitik disappoints many on the left. These are the same reckless policies that lead us to pursue war in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. American Interventionism rarely results in the robust new democracies that its high-minded idealism inspires. More often than not, deposing a foreign dictator results in unstable war zones, such as those now in Iraq and Syria.
This instability leads to floods of refugees looking westward. Terrorist attacks, whether committed by refugees or not, are seen by the public and the political right as an extension of that instability. Charismatic and unpolished figures like Trump fan the flames of fear, linking the public’s insecurities to the refugees displaced by our own well-intentioned, yet destructive, foreign policy.
However, Trump represents a unique danger. Despite being called an isolationist, Trump is anything but. If Hillary’s neoconservative foreign policy is a high-minded ideal that causes more harm than good, a Trumpist foreign policy isn’t aiming for good at all. Drone strikes and low intensity conflict has bred a desire for a scorched Earth policy. Neoconservative foreign policy, though ultimately reckless, was reined in by the rule of law and general respect for international rules of engagement. Trump does not see why we shouldn’t scrap these and go off to commit war crimes with abandon.
So when Hillary asks how she isn’t 50 points ahead with someone like Trump, she should look to her own policies. When the retinue of Neoconservative #NeverTrumpers ask how Trump came to be their nominee, they should look to their own foreign policy. In this election, those calling for a modest and measured foreign policy will lose.