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Leslie Loftis’s America Watch: Clinton or Trump – we turn our backs on the world


Last week, I discussed the domestic effects of the probable Trump loss. This week I will cover the foreign policy implications. First, yes, a loss is still likely. The reopening of the FBI investigation will not move the polls enough but more on that at the end.

The global effects were set when Trump became the presumptive nominee. Foreign policy might have gotten attention if Senators Rubio or Cruz had won the nomination. On the Democrats side, presidential hopeful and early dropout Jim Webb was the last gasp of the Kennedy Democrats. But a Trump v. Clinton race was always going to be an America First contest.

America is in an isolationist mood. We’ve got two oceans protecting us and our sense of duty to the world was all but destroyed back in the George W. Bush years when the media amplified America bashing. For almost a decade we heard little more than we destroyed all we touched and the world wanted us to get out and go home. We obliged.

To outsiders it might seem that the lack of foreign policy discussions in this election is an accidental omission. It is no accident. As a practical matter, policy in general is missing from the presidential election. News is about ratings, therefore, dirty laundry and sex bring the clicks and the dollars.

But there is also an idealistic objection. We have returned to a narrow view of national interest. A few pundits and heart wrenching pictures of war violence aside, the public is not interested in humanitarian wars, either. Those conflicts require remaining indefinitely to keep the peace or attempted nation building, and we have lost the desire for nation building. Elect one Nobel Laureate poseur and it is all undone.

Sometimes all the options are bad” is representative of the attitude among those who actually think about foreign policy. Some are working to restore our sense of responsibility, duty, or honour — take your pick of rationale — but that will be a long build and one not likely to get much air unless or until the US suffers another attack on home soil. (And no, apparently embassy soil doesn’t count.)

Our mood drove Bernie Sanders popularity on the left, and makes up much of the Trump appeal on the right.

The man’s slogan is Make America Great Again. It’s not an outward thinking campaign. Ann Coulter illustrated this well in the final debate, when the moderator was asking about Syria. “Can we get back to America?” Coulter tweeted. (It could have been one of hundreds of RT’s of a February primary debate tweet. Regardless, the sentiment is long running and stable.) A Trump foreign policy wants to pull up the drawbridges and bomb anything that might approach the walls.

A President Hillary Clinton will continue the habit of Democrats in the White House: stealthy and shallow expansion. Like JFK’s dispatch of military advisers to Vietnam that grew into that war after a disastrous meeting with the Soviet leader, Obama has us entangled in 5 quiet conflicts. These are actions of advisers and no fly zones, “doing just enough to lose slowly.”

Clinton would continue the Obama status quo she helped craft. And like her husband before her, she might bomb something to divert from domestic scandals, but political concerns will dominate her direction of the military.

The unspoken message to our allies: you are on your own. (And a whisper to our special relationship partner: that 2010 defence review was a terrible idea. The Foxes and Coughlins had it right. )

The October surprise 

Contrary to all the horserace headlines after the latest Clinton email news, October surprises don’t actually move polls much. Late October surprises come after millions have already voted. (Early voting is a scourge.) Clinton is now less likely to get her landslide, but Trump is still the underdog.

A Brexit-type surprise would still require a systemic polling failure. While that’s possible, the public seems to assume that a polling error would benefit the underdog. Maybe it is a psychological tic to avoid considering a mistake in favour of the leader. The easiest error in this race: have the polls accurately accounted for Trump’s collapse among women and Hispanics? I don’t think they have.

To add another twist, I don’t think the media has the right October surprise. Clinton’s email scandal is already part of voters’ analysis. Anyone who cares already knows she has lied about deleting emails. That isn’t news. If the emails contained proof of some malfeasance other than deletions, that would be an October surprise.

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Leslie Loftis
Leslie Loftis
Leslie is a once and future American expat, most recently in London. She is also a lawyer and former local political campaign operative turned freelance writer. She currently lives in her hometown of Houston with her husband and their four children. Find her on twitter @AHLondonTX.

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