My Buddy, Obama

With a few weeks to go before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and with the two presumptive nominees already, presumably, chosen, we need to think about a few issues that have gone largely unnoticed, but which, in my mind pose difficult policy questions for Hillary Clinton. President Obama’s time in the oval office is almost up, his popularity is surging, and while Trump and Clinton pivot to the general election, Obama himself is pivoting to become Hillary’s most influential surrogate. Her election would largely secure his policies and those of Democrats, generally. From embracing a multilateral approach to combatting ISIS, to keeping in place the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Affordable Care Act, Hillary would effectively secure a figurative Obama third-term and use her mighty veto to strike down any Republican attempts to repeal whatever they please.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, continues to tank his campaign, but let’s think back to some of the serious policy issues he somehow stumbled upon, issues which Hillary Clinton will have to face, either from Trump himself in a debate, or from his supporters. Members of the #bernieorbust movement will similarly require assuaging of their disdain, if possible.

A War On Two Fronts

For all of Trumps nonsensical complaints and incoherent criticisms, there were a few moments where he and Sanders spouted largely the same concerns, though with wildly different levels of intelligibility. Trade, for example, found its way into each of the candidate’s speeches around the Michigan primaries and both decried its effects. Jobs disappeared, manufacturing jobs went to low-wage countries, leaving Americans unemployed. Both Trump and Sanders turned on Clinton’s support of NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Economics tells us that competitive advantages and opportunity costs make trade favorable in all instances, since it leads to lower prices and an efficient use of resources. A liberal world order—liberal in this sense reflects its international relations definition, not its political one—seeks to increase trade as much as possible, since the theory goes that the economic benefits born from trade will discourage war between nations by increasing their interdependence.

China has all of our jobs, Trump yells at an easily-coaxed crowd, all of our jobs. Thanks to NAFTA, Mexico also has all of our jobs, and American companies are building new factories in Mexico, rather than here. That, Trump diagnoses, cannot continue. Sanders meanwhile takes pride in his rejection of all trade agreements, not because he’s against trade, but because they ultimately stiff the American working people. Fair trade, Sanders argues, has not been achieved with any of the proposed or passed free trade agreements, and this lack of concern for the American worker is what has led to the loss of American jobs, to say nothing of their disenfranchisement. Both of these candidates reject the economics rationale for why free trade should continue, unimpeded. Economics theory tells us that, yes, we will lose low-skill jobs as the market finds cheaper labor in a nation willing to supply it; but we will gain high-skill jobs that depend on innovation and technical ability, which overall increase our wages and standard of living.

“Rather than fall complacent with Trump’s inadequacy, Clinton should embrace her qualifications and perform intellectual flourishes—masterful displays of policy understanding—as a direct contrast to Trump.”

For Trump and Sanders, free trade is an issue of fairness. Let’s keep jobs here, Trump commands. It doesn’t matter how, since they will be costly, not only to bring back, but to maintain; adopting Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan would probably affect its 663 factories spread over 42 countries—China alone houses 25 percent of Nike’s factories. Sanders’ argument against free trade is that, in the pursuit of cheaper and cheaper labor, companies exploit poor workers by offering low wages, inhumane working conditions, and providing zero benefits. Fair trade, he suggests, is a better method of trade because it justly compensates all parties involved, even if it leads to slightly more expensive goods.

Clinton needs to make trade sound great again. Her candidacy won’t depend on making speeches about trade, since Trump’s self-destruction guarantees her election. But Clinton’s presidency, and that of future leaders of the free world would be complicated by a populace that doesn’t understand the merits of trade, or feels that it does more harm than good. She isn’t helped by her own support for, and eventual reconsideration of, significant trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP, so explaining the rationale behind their pursuit needs to be a focus of both her campaign and presidency. Rather than fall complacent with Trump’s inadequacy, Clinton should embrace her qualifications and perform intellectual flourishes—masterful displays of policy understanding—as a direct contrast to Trump.

One last point of contention for Trump, which Sanders also made to some extent, involves America’s international presence. We’re stretched too thin, Trump declares. NATO nations need to pay more, as do Japan and South Korea. Our protection isn’t justly compensated—the tribute, in effect, is not high enough. Japan, however, recently passed its highest defense budget to check China’s territorial ambitions in the East China Sea, and South Korea regularly conducts military exercises with the US as a check against North Korean aggression. Clinton, in this case, avoids a policy imbroglio thanks to Trump’s simultaneous warning of America’s depleting funds and calls to increase America’s military power. Sanders takes a different approach, bringing attention to the Arab nations and their role in combatting ISIS: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, these are exceedingly rich nations that need to contribute their fair share in the fight against terrorism.

Will cooperation be a necessary precursor for continued action against ISIS by the United States? My inkling is that Republicans have become so invested in destroying ISIS, in finding out whether “sand can glow in the dark,” as Ted Cruz so wonderfully elucidated, that they won’t be too concerned with Clinton’s actions, provided she is as hawkish—read: militaristic—as they want her to be. Ironically, a Democrat-controlled congress would probably act as a check against such militarism, forcing Clinton to take the slow-and-steady approach unpopular with the American people who believe ISIS is ready to carry out attacks on US soil. Clinton would be forced to carry the Obama mantle of military strategy, allowing for the attacks against President Obama’s actions against ISIS, or lack thereof, to automatically stick to her. Whether she wants this accusation will be determined by her ideological proximity to Obama.

 If It Ain’t Barack, Don’t Fix It

Another pillar of the liberal world order values diplomacy over isolation; nations that keep channels of communication open allow for dialogue and discourse, not sanctions and showdowns. Trump has expressed a willingness to speak to Palestinians, to Putin, even to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Why not, Trump asked in regards to Kim Jong-un, using the same argument President Obama iterated for opening up diplomatic relations with Havana: embargoes haven’t worked so why don’t we try something different?

“Opening the door for dialogue is not an attack on sovereignty, but an invitation of it.”

This is the next point of difficulty for Clinton. She can’t dismiss such overtures as unrealistic, or Trump as poorly advised. Obama has done it twice, both times to the annoyance of the GOP, first with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and again with the Castro brothers. Since Clinton has locked arms with Obama for the entirety of her campaign, she will this time have to explain the merits of diplomacy and international cooperation. More importantly, she will need to believe in those merits and think carefully about Trump’s possible meetings with world leaders because opening the door for dialogue is not an attack on sovereignty, but an invitation of it. Normalizing relations with groups or leaders long considered propagators of violence or antagonists to a liberal world order would only strengthen that arrangement; otherwise, she would join GOP members who denounced Obama’s actions toward Iran and Cuba because they didn’t think that either of those countries conceded enough, if anything. Jerusalem, Moscow, and Pyongyang offer the next president a chance to broker significant agreements, to catalyze progress and secure peace, and to achieve significant American breakthroughs. However difficult, Clinton will need to channel her inner Obama while thinking about Trump’s diplomacy proposals because they offer real questions that American presidents have yet to answer.

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