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Clinton, Trump Are On Opposite Ends Of The Foreign Policy Spectrum


This week, we're taking a close look at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, exploring how they might tackle some of the biggest challenges facing them as president. This morning, foreign policy. I spoke to NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let me just start with a pretty broad question. I mean, if we look at Clinton and Trump, do they see the world all that differently?

HORSLEY: Very differently, David. Hillary Clinton sees a world with, sure, lots of squabbling, lots of challenges but still a world in which the United States is very much a superpower - economically, militarily, diplomatically. She sees the U.S. as a leading force for positive change and a country that's still setting the global agenda. Donald Trump, on the other hand, sees the U.S. like the skinny kid on the beach that's getting sand kicked in his face. Take a listen to what he said during an interview on CNN.


DONALD TRUMP: You look at what the world is doing to us at every level, whether it's militarily or in trade or in so many other levels, the world is taking advantage of the United States. And it's driving us into, literally, being a third world nation.

GREENE: Wow, yeah. I really do see what you mean by the skinny kid. I mean, he suggests being abused and driven to being a third-world nation. That's dramatic.

HORSLEY: It's a very pessimistic worldview. And his reaction is a sort of curious blend of fight and flight. When it comes to ISIS, for example, Donald Trump says he wants to bomb the stuffing...

GREENE: Stuffing or whatever is - yeah (laughter).

HORSLEY: ...Out of that group, but - or is akin to that. But in many respects, what we see from Trump is a prescription for the U.S. to sort of hunker down, pull up the drawbridge and look out for itself. This is a candidate who famously wants to wall the country off from Mexico, its southern neighbor. He's questioned America's role in NATO, suggesting the United States might not come to the defense of Baltic countries if they were attacked.

GREENE: Countries that really rely on the United States and other NATO countries for its defense. I mean...

HORSLEY: Absolutely.

GREENE: ...That was something that was heavily criticized. And...

HORSLEY: And he's argued the U.S. can no longer afford to provide a defense umbrella for Japan and South Korea. Now, to Hillary Clinton, that is a worrisome idea. Here she is giving a foreign policy speech at Stanford.


HILLARY CLINTON: Turning our back on our alliances or turning our alliance into a protection racket would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike.

HORSLEY: So where Trump is nationalistic, Clinton is internationalist, pretty much in line with what we've seen from President Obama, though perhaps a bit more hawkish.

GREENE: More hawkish than Obama, an important point here. And a lot of people have suggested that about Hillary Clinton. What might that look like?

HORSLEY: Well, we know, for example, that Hillary Clinton was an early advocate for arming rebel forces in Syria, something the Obama administration was slow to do. She continues to advocate safe zones for refugees in Syria, which the Obama administration has resisted because it would require ground troops. Trump, while he's hawkish when it comes to ISIS, generally suggests the U.S. military is already overextended and in horrible shape, a claim that President Obama forcefully refuted last week.

GREENE: Scott, could we use Russia, maybe, as a kind of a case study? I mean, Donald Trump has talked about that he would deal with Vladimir Putin completely differently. I mean, he would know how to have a relationship with Putin. And his critics say, you know, that he's best buddies with Vladimir Putin. I mean, what exactly would that relationship look like with these two candidates?

HORSLEY: Well, Donald Trump has spoken admiringly about Vladimir Putin on a number of occasions. He calls him a strong leader. And several times in recent days, he's said, wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. got along better with Russia so we could team up to fight ISIS? Russia, it's true, has been a major player in Syria's civil war. Although, for the most part, the U.S. says Russian troops have been shoring up their longtime ally there, Bashar al-Assad, rather than taking the fight to ISIS as the U.S. would like them to do.

Now, Trump also raised eyebrows recently when he said if he were president, Putin would not make any aggressive moves into Ukraine, seeming to forget that Putin had already annexed Crimea, a move that was condemned by the U.S. and the international community. Now, Hillary Clinton has a much more jaundiced view of Vladimir Putin, although he has occasionally been helpful to the U.S. He did, for example, help in the Iran nuclear talks, which Clinton helped to initiate and which Donald Trump has called one of the worst deals ever struck.

GREENE: Is it safe to say, Scott, that part of Trump's MO when it comes to foreign policy, is being bold, and that's been part of the appeal? And I think about something like, you know, reducing the role of NATO. A lot of foreign policy experts are very critical of that. But, you know, doing something bold and saying, you know, the United States should not be in the business of serving others, I mean, that is part of why people like him.

HORSLEY: He calls that policy America first, and that is certainly appealing to a certain segment of the U.S. electorate. The other thing that Donald Trump has tried to do is be unpredictable. He said in an interview with The Washington Post editorial board, predictable is bad. And as a business negotiator, he's probably found it useful to keep the person on the other side of the table guessing about what he might do next. He certainly kept the pundits guessing all year. Critics argue it's a short step from unpredictable to unreliable and that superpowers cannot afford to be unreliable when the rest of the world is counting on the United States.

GREENE: OK. Looking at the foreign policy approaches of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with NPR's Scott Horsley.

Scott, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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