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Examining The Foreign Policy Outlook Of Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump


All this week, we've been hearing about America's place in the world, what we're calling A Nation Engaged. We called up Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to ask him what the foreign policies of a President Clinton or a President Trump might look like. He reacted with this caveat.

RICHARD HAASS: Shockingly enough, what people say during campaigns is meant to increase the odds they get elected.

MONTAGNE: Still, he believes we can learn something about what the candidates might do in office from what they say on the campaign trail.

HAASS: Hillary Clinton is pretty much what we would call a foreign-policy realist, someone who thinks the purpose of American foreign policy should be to adjust the foreign policies of other countries, work closely with traditional allies in Europe and Asia towards that end. Donald Trump, by contrast, is much more suspicious of international institutions; much more skeptical of the contributions that America's traditional allies have made; more willing, in some cases, to entertain the possibility of getting along with countries who some would call an adversary, such as Mr. Putin's Russia. But also, he espouses elements of realism in his criticism of things like the 2003 Iraq War and in his criticism of the Libya intervention, both of which Hillary Clinton supported; a little bit more skeptical about ambitious American projects overseas.

MONTAGNE: You mentioned Russia. Let's talk about Russia. And, I think fair to say, Trump is best known for presenting himself as either a friend or a potential friend of President Vladimir Putin, somebody he feels he understands and can work with. With Hillary Clinton, she has taken a tougher stance towards Putin and his country. How do they stack up?

HAASS: I think Hillary Clinton is more suspicious, clearly tougher on Russian policy in Ukraine, Georgia, Syria; more willing to support sanctions; not against negotiating with Putin, but I would say tougher and more skeptical. And Donald Trump has talked about revisiting policy towards Ukraine, revisiting policy about sanctions towards Russia, not as quick to criticize Putin for what he might be up to in Syria and propping up the regime there - so just seems to be more open to the possibilities of working out some kind of a - I guess you'd call a modus vivendi with Putin.

MONTAGNE: And there's Iran and a big story over this past year, the nuclear deal with Iran - Trump has said he would renegotiate that deal. Clinton, of course, has a hand in its creation as secretary of state.

HAASS: Right. For the Obama administration for Secretary Clinton, when she was there, lining up the sanctions, lining up the negotiations on Iran was what they would describe as a big achievement. Donald Trump did not say, unlike several other Republicans, he would tear up the agreement on Day One. What he did say is that it was a terrible agreement and that he would renegotiate it. And then there's still the nuclear side. This agreement did not solve the Iranian nuclear problem. It simply postponed it for 10 or 15 years. So one of the real challenges for Barack Obama's successors is what to do in the long term.

MONTAGNE: And which of these two candidates, Clinton or Trump, in your opinion, is most likely to take the United States into another conflict or involve them in any sort of a war?

HAASS: I'm not smart enough to say exactly how either one of these people would respond if they had the responsibility of the presidency. I think what Mr. Trump has made clear is that he would not undertake optional wars, what I have called wars of choice, a la, say Iraq in 2003 or Libya, for the purposes of transforming another country. It's not clear whether Hillary Clinton, if she were to have the opportunity, would do such a thing again or whether she would have taken a - the lesson from both Iraq and Libya that we ought not to be undertaking those kinds of wars of choice.

What I can say, though, is that whoever's going to win is going to face an extremely disorderly world. At a time, there's very little consensus within the United States as to how to respond to it. And that's a really toxic combination - I expect, every once, have afternoons where they're going to wonder why they wanted this job so much.

MONTAGNE: Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thank you very much for joining us.

HAASS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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