U.S. Presidential Election: An Analysis of the Candidates’ Foreign Policies

Mark Stachowski
Staff Writer

As Americans go about their summer, the looming shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger as the United States sees an increase in the number of cases. With less than 100 days now until the U.S. Presidential election, it is vital for Americans to be informed on the candidates and where they stand on different policies.  Foreign policy, which is often overlooked, must be carefully regarded by Americans to know what each candidate has in plan for the next four years of global affairs. Here is a look into the foreign policies of the two candidates at the forefront of the upcoming election: incumbent President Donald Trump and former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden.

President Trump is most known for his policy of “America First”, which the Council on Foreign Relations defines as “reducing U.S. trade deficits and rebalancing burden-sharing within alliances”. Trump first mentioned this policy in his 2017 inaugural address, where he promised to help American workers restricted by international corporations and cater more to American interests. Trump’s message first appealed to the many of those tired of the United States’ military intervention abroad and involvement in other countries’ affairs. With the “America first” mentality being the driving force behind Trump’s foreign policy, his administration has changed and pulled out of numerous international treaties and negotiations since assuming office. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Affairs, described Trump’s foreign policy as “the Withdrawal Doctrine”, as he wrote in an opinion article for The Washington Post. To date, President Trump has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris climate accord, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Open Skies Treaty, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization, and renegotiated NAFTA, paving the way for a new trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Trump’s “America first” mentality has affected relations with other countries, as he has time and time again vowed to not let other countries play with America and its interests. President Trump’s rhetoric has greatly affected his relations with China and its President, Xi Jinping. He has mentioned many times how China has “taken advantage” of the U.S. for years, reports The Independent. Trump has imposed multiple rounds of tariffs on China in recent years intended to make imported goods more expensive and encourage American consumers to buy American products. According to BBC News, Trump levied $450 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods from July 2018 to May 2019. In response, China has retaliated with its own tariffs on $170 billion worth of U.S. goods. For decades, United States-China relations have seesawed back and forth between good and bad, but they have recently worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump consistently faults China for failing to control the spread of the coronavirus and has halted U.S. funding to the World Health Organization after claiming the organization is biased towards China, states the Council on Foreign Relations.

Another prominent facet of President Trump’s foreign policy is his robust stance on immigration. In early 2017, Trump issued a travel ban for nationals coming from  Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, citing terrorist threats and deficiencies in identity-management and information sharing, reports BBC News. Trump also signed two other executive orders concerning immigration soon after taking office, one allowing for federal funds to be allotted to the construction of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and the other barring “sanctuary cities” from receiving federal grants. Building a border wall across the United States-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration was one of Trump’s major campaigning points and continues to be a large point of discussion for critics and supporters alike. ABC News  reports that as of June 2020, the Trump administration has replaced 45.2 miles of outdated and ineffective barriers. Construction on the wall continues as Trump nears the election season.

Trump has also impacted relations with Iran and North Korea, two countries that have historically had rocky relations with the United States. Donald Trump became the first U.S. President to visit North Korea when he crossed the Demilitarized Zone for a meeting with Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea. Trump and Kim’s relationship began with back-and-forth exchanges of threats over North Korean nuclear tests, with Trump even threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States is “forced to defend itself or its allies”, as reported by the Council on Foreign Relations. Discussions with North Korea about denuclearization have been many, but actual results are difficult to see. North Korea has continued missile tests even after both leaders attended a 2018 denuclearization summit in Singapore. Despite the talks, tensions between the two countries are still high. With Iran, relations have been rough in a different way. President Trump’s first interaction with Iran was withdrawing the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, brokered by former President Obama. Trump’s withdrawal came with new sanctions on Iran ranging from aircraft imports to oil and more. In June 2019, Iran downed a U.S. drone, causing Trump to plan military action in retaliation before calling it off at the last minute. In early 2020, Trump ordered a drone strike on Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. The Council on Foreign Relations stated that the Pentagon linked Soleimani to violent demonstrations at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, along with the deaths of hundreds of American troops in the Middle East.

A second-term Trump presidency would see many of Trump’s previous foreign policies continue. Namely, his idea of “America First” would be at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda. He would focus on America and American interests before foreign interests. He would support trade deals and negotiations which benefit the United States the most. As we have seen throughout his Presidency thus far, Trump puts American ideals and interests over all others and will withdraw from and refuse deals that he doesn’t like. As for countries like China, Iran, North Korea, and others, one could expect a Trump second term to continue in his ways of playing hardball and remaining steadfast in negotiations. The world could expect to see the same independent, “America first” mentality that Trump has consistently shown were he to win a second term.

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee challenging President Trump, has his own list of foreign policy priorities. Biden conducted a very distinct form of diplomacy as Vice President for Barack Obama. The New York Times covered Biden’s “informal diplomacy” tactics, showing that Biden likes to establish a personal connection with world leaders to better connect with them. Former senior State Department official Brett McGurk describes Biden’s practice as “strategic empathy”, while a former Biden aide talks about how important it is to Biden not only to understand a world leader’s nation but also what they want and need. However, it is hard to determine whether Biden’s methods will translate into success as President. Biden has not created any milestone foreign policy legislation or doctrines as a Senator. As Vice President, he was largely an advisor who made the personal connections with world leaders while figures like then-Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry made real foreign policy change.

Joe Biden would agree with President Trump that China is a threat in terms of breaking international rules and discriminating against U.S. firms, as per the Council on Foreign Relations. However, he calls Trump’s tariff strategy “erratic” and “self-defeating”, wishing instead to employ an allied front with other countries and to utilize current trade laws to confront China. He frequently mentions China’s robust hold on technology and the potential dangers of its increasing power in this area, calling for the “free world” to unite to face China’s “high-tech authoritarianism” in the fight to better monitor new technological advancements such as artificial intelligence. His relationship with Xi Jinping may prove helpful with negotiations and in dealing with an issue Biden wants to address: China’s abuse of human rights. In an interview with The New York Times, Biden vowed to put human rights at the core of U.S. foreign policy should he become president. He mentions how he supports those in Hong Kong as they fight for civil liberties and autonomy while calling the detention of the Uighurs in China “unconscionable”.

When it comes to immigration, Biden continues to back the basics of Barack Obama’s 2013 immigration plan. He wants a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants along with stronger borders. However, Biden calls for more border security at legal points of entry and has many times chastised Trump’s border wall, calling the President’s immigration policies “morally bankrupt” and “racist”. As a Senator, however, Biden voted for a 1996 law that hardened penalties for illegal immigration and allowed for the government to execute more deportations. He also voted for the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which allowed for seven hundred miles of fencing to be put up along the United States-Mexico border. In 2008, he proposed jailing employers who hire illegal immigrants, restricting sanctuary cities, and more fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop drug dealers from Mexico.

In an investigation by The Atlantic of Biden’s past foreign policy decisions, they find that after serving more than thirty years on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, Biden contributed little to American foreign and defense policy. Biden has also consistently found himself on the wrong side of many important international affairs and dealings. During the Bush administration, he voted against deals negotiated with Singapore, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Oman. He also voted in favor of the 2003 Iraq War, voted against increasing troops which brought stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, and even went on record to say “the Taliban per se is not our enemy”. He argued for dividing Iraq based on religious sects even as the Iraqi people voted for integration. Biden also opposed the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Overall, Biden has been more passive with foreign policy decisions, evident through his history of opposing escalating situations and violence in general.

Should Joe Biden win the 2020 Presidential election, we could expect to see much more of his “informal diplomacy” tactics. He would visit world leaders more, and try to discuss peace, negotiate deals, etc. through words and forming connections with others. We could expect him to employ his “strategic empathy” methods to get on the good side of world leaders across the globe to facilitate global communication. As opposed to Trump, one could foresee a Biden Presidency approaching relations with the likes of China, Iran, and other adversaries differently. Cordial conversations and meetings seem to be Biden’s forte in international affairs, so a Biden presidency would more than likely incorporate these types of “informal diplomacy” tactics as Biden has used in the past. As Biden’s foreign policy campaign focuses heavily on human rights, he would crack down on human rights violations across the world, something Trump has yet to do.

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