The Foreign Policies of Sanders, Trump, and Clinton

America and the World in 2016 and Beyond


The world today is faced with crises on virtually every front, and any assessment of the foreign policy positions of the two major parties’ 2016 presidential candidates must measure how well they respond to these crises. 

Bernie Sanders

The Sanders campaign has been a breath of fresh air on the American political scene. Bernie has taken into the political arena the Occupy movement’s outrage at the domination of the United States by the 1 percent. Whether or not he wins the nomination, his astounding success is a sign of the real potential for a new kind of politics in the country—inspiring, whether or not one shares his Democratic Party strategy. 

Bernie has a strong domestic program—it calls for ending the domination of big money in politics, single-payer Medicare for All, free tuition at public colleges and universities, breaking up the big banks, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, support for workers and their unions, confronting climate change, and questioning the government’s mass surveillance programs. Moreover, despite his stubborn tendency to sound at times (though less and less as the campaign goes on) like he believes that economic inequality takes precedence over social inequality, Sanders does have good positions in favor of abortion rights, reform of the criminal justice system, demilitarization of the police, and the need to oppose institutional racism. If his campaign doesn’t end up as a faction entrapped within the Democratic Party, these positions could be the basis for beginning to build a lasting independent political party that can offer an alternative to the status quo.

Sanders’ foreign policy positions are better than those of his Republican and Democratic opponents—though that’s not a terribly high bar, it must be said. He is the least hawkish of the major party candidates. As he has stated repeatedly, he’s proud that he voted against the war in Iraq—in contrast to Hillary Clinton, who has only grudgingly said that her pro-war vote was a mistake,1 and note that even now she calls it a “mistake,” not a decision that was fundamentally wrong. Like Clinton, Sanders supported recent moves toward normalization of relations with Cuba. He also supported the nuclear deal with Iran; though Clinton too supported the Iran deal, with her trademark “muscular” approach to foreign policy, her tone is quite different from Sanders’: she has emphasized that, if elected, she would back up the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement with the threat of military reprisal if Iran violated any of its terms.2 Indeed, she seems coiled and almost looking for a justification to spring into action. Sanders condemns past U.S. interventions in Guatemala, Central America, and Iran, and has sharply criticized Clinton’s embrace of Henry Kissinger. (Note, by the way, that Clinton doesn’t stand alone in Democratic Party establishment circles in her enthusiasm for Kissinger; in May 2016 President Obama’s Defense Secretary Ash Carter presented him with the Department of Defense’s Distinguished Public Service Award.)

Obama, despite his frequent impassioned anti-nuclear rhetoric, has called for a trillion dollar modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons. Sanders strongly opposes the plan. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been, in the words of Lawrence Wittner, 

more ambiguous about her stance.  . . . Asked by a peace activist about the trillion dollar nuclear plan, she replied that she would “look into that,” adding, “It doesn’t make sense to me.” Even so, like other issues that the former secretary of state has promised to “look into,” this one remains unresolved. Moreover, the “National Security” section of her campaign website promises that she will maintain the “strongest military the world has ever known”—not a propitious sign for critics of nuclear weapons.3

Sanders favors the eventual complete elimination of nuclear weapons and says he would work to get U.S. and Russian weapons down to a thousand each—a goal that Clinton too says she favors. Sanders calls for cuts in the military budget, but he gives no specifics and makes it sound as if the cuts will all come from eliminating waste and cost overruns—a standard politician’s evasion to avoid discussing policy. Such trimming of the fat in a military budget that stands at close to $600 billion will be too small to provide a real revenue source for Sanders’ social and infrastructure programs, and the promise is too vague to generate a useful conversation about a different sort of U.S. foreign policy, one that doesn’t depend on overwhelming military power. (The likely Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, on the other hand, calls for a 50 percent cut in military spending and indicates how the saved funds will be used. Full disclosure: Stein is the candidate I intend to support.)

The Middle East 

Sanders has reflected and amplified a growing feeling in the American public—including among younger American Jews—that the United States shouldn’t automatically fall in line to uncritically support the Israeli government no matter how badly it treats the Palestinians. Sanders hasn’t gone far enough: Crucially, he hasn’t called for an end to the U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support that sustains Israeli policy toward Palestinians. However, his sharp words of criticism of Israeli policies during the Democratic presidential debates, even if those criticisms were limited, have helped further a much-needed public debate about the future of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Moreover, Sanders’ surprise appointment of prominent defenders of Palestinian rights Cornel West and James Zogby to the July Democratic Party convention platform drafting committee will accelerate and deepen the division on Israel within the party.

Unfortunately, Sanders’ foreign policy positions are too often inconsistent with his democratic and anti-elitist domestic politics. Taken as a whole, his foreign policy approach doesn’t come anywhere near constituting an agenda that addresses the needs of the global 99 percent (or, say, 90 percent) who suffer from today’s wars and the cruel global economic order of neoliberalism and austerity that the United States promotes.

As recently as October of last year Sanders has said that he supports keeping U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan.4 He voted for NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which caused one of his staffers, my friend Jeremy Brecher, to resign in protest.5 And Sanders voted for the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which has been used to justify U.S. military action in the Middle East (apart from the 2003 Iraq invasion) ever since.

Notwithstanding his criticisms of Hillary Clinton for her inclination to favor U.S. military intervention around the world, Sanders himself has generally supported America’s wars. Rather than putting forward a progressive, non-imperial alternative to ISIS and al-Qaida that can appeal to ordinary people in the Middle East, as Jeremy Scahill reminds us, in the 1990s Sanders supported the Iraq Liberation Act and the brutal economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and that supported President Clinton’s bombings in Iraq that were packaged as part of the so-called no-fly zones.And this support for America’s wars is not just in the distant past. For example, in October 2015 Sanders said he wouldn’t end Obama’s drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, saying only that strikes must be deployed “selectively and effectively.”6

On MSNBC’s April 25, 2016, town hall meeting moderated by Chris Hayes, Sanders repeated his endorsement of drone strikes and said that he supported a “constitutional, legal” presidential kill list. He agreed with Obama’s action in sending 250 Special Forces operators to Syria, saying to Hayes, “I think what the president is talking about is having American troops training Muslim troops, helping to supply the military equipment they need, and I do support that effort. We need a broad coalition of Muslim troops on the ground. We have had some success in the last year or so putting ISIS on the defensive, we’ve got to continue that effort.”7 

The basic problem with Sanders’ approach is that he believes that the solution to the threat of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their ilk depends on resolute action by reactionary Middle East governments, backed by the United States, Russia, and other powerful countries. But the solution actually lies in the opposite direction. What is needed is an end to intervention by outside powers (including regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia and Iran) and a thoroughgoing transformation of the Middle East, a transformation that can only be begun by the revival of the grassroots democratic movements of Iran’s Green movement and the Arab Spring that challenged and threatened to replace despotic rulers across the region. 

Sanders summed up his anti-ISIS strategy on November 19, 2015, when he said,

While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations—with the strong support of their global partners.  … A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies. … Countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE—countries of enormous wealth and resources—have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah [of Jordan] is absolutely right when he says that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point, have done far too little.8

 The governments of these reactionary “Muslim nations” can’t possibly offer to the millions of people in the Middle East an attractive alternative to ISIS. Jordan uses a broad and vague counterterrorism law to strictly curtail freedom of expression and outlaws criticism of the king, of the government, and of Islam. Kuwait’s government aggressively cracks down on free speech. Qatar engages in the trafficking of ruthlessly exploited forced labor and provides for penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for criticizing the emir or deputy emir. UAE courts have invoked repressive laws to prosecute government critics, and a counterterrorism law poses a further threat to government critics and rights activists. And Saudi Arabia’s hideous police state is a byword for blind and bloody repression—against women, religious minorities, and even the most peaceful of government critics9—little different from ISIS itself.

These regimes are part of the problem, not part of the solution. But that’s equally true of the “U.S. and other Western nations” that Sanders believes can play a crucial role in the fight against ISIS. The international financial institutions that the United States and other Western nations dominate, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have helped to create the conditions that gave rise to ISIS in the first place. They pressed governments across the region to adopt policies of privatization, cutbacks in state investment, and government subsidies for energy and other day-to-day essentials. These governments—from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Syria—acquiesced to Western pressure and implemented neoliberal policies, using their repressive state apparatuses to squelch popular discontent, with painful consequences. The Arab Spring was a rebellion against both despotism and the economic suffering inflicted by the despots. 

Sanders, then, is looking in all the wrong places for a lasting victory against ISIS. Bombings and military intervention by the United States and NATO, with their killing of hundreds of innocent civilians, have only succeeded in creating more terrorists and driving millions of people in the Middle East into passive acquiescence or sometimes actual support for ISIS and other reactionary fundamentalist forces. Likewise, Syria’s murderous Assad regime, with critical assistance from Iran and Russia, has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Assad’s war against his regime’s opponents is not, as Sanders seems to think, the first step toward defeating ISIS. In fact, the effect has been the opposite, and the only way Assad can triumph is by turning Syria into even more of a wasteland than it already is, which will actually serve to encourage groups like ISIS.

Unlike Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders isn’t drawn to dictators. Nor is he a macho warmonger by nature. The problem is that he hasn’t systematically broken with the foreign policy of the 1 percent. What is needed is a new, independent foreign policy of solidarity with grassroots movements for democracy and social justice around the world—an internationalist extension of Sanders’ domestic program. To the extent that Sanders enmeshes himself in the Democratic Party, an institution deeply entwined with corporate and financial interests, he will be unable to champion political or social revolution abroad, or, for that matter, at home. It is to be hoped that the millions of Sanders supporters will come to see that they need to build a new political party not only to reverse America’s militaristic, anti-democratic, and imperial foreign policy, but even to achieve many of the more limited goals for which they are fighting today.

Foreign Trade

Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. So does Clinton, although many pundits consider her position to be totally opportunist, designed for battling Sanders in the primaries, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce has suggested that Clinton will switch to backing the deal if she wins the election.10 Certainly, Clinton has been an enthusiastic supporter of corporate-oriented free trade deals for her entire career, whereas Sanders has consistently opposed them. Trump opposes the TPP too, but his stance is based in part on his belief that no one can negotiate a deal like he can and also on his economic nationalism—which also leads him to threaten China with a 45 percent tariff.11 Given the current U.S. tariff rate of about 3.5 percent,12 Trump’s policy could not fail to create havoc in the U.S. and world economies.

 Sanders emphasizes fair trade over free trade and insists that workers, not corporations, should be the beneficiaries. But he has done a poor job of articulating a progressive foreign trade policy that is not narrowly nationalist. It has to be admitted that the left as a whole has failed to outline such a policy, and that’s a challenge that lies before all of us. One thing certain, though, is that the type of global democratic economic planning that would be required to achieve economic security and well-being for all will never be adopted by the 1 percent.

Donald Trump

As I write this article in May 2016, Donald Trump’s foreign policy views have captured public attention. He said the United States should not tolerate the continuing failure of its NATO, Middle Eastern, and Asian allies to pay their fair share of military costs—a common complaint in establishment circles—but then shocked the pundits by saying that Washington should be prepared to tell these allies that they must fend for themselves if they don’t pony up their contributions to the United States in return for Washington defending them. He has even said that he’s willing to have Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia acquire their own nuclear weapons.13


The core of Trump’s foreign policy is the conventional establishment doctrine—treated as gospel by Hillary Clinton as well—that the United States needs to possess overwhelming military superiority. What’s distinctive is Trump’s crude, macho tone and his single-minded emphasis on the military, almost to the exclusion of other ways of exerting U.S. power: “The Trump doctrine is simple. … It’s strength. It’s strength. Nobody is going to mess with us. Our military will be made stronger.”14 In his April 27, 2016, foreign policy speech, he blasted the way that U.S. military power has, in his view, been dangerously diminished: “Our military is depleted, and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming. We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build, and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned.”15

Concerning nuclear weapons, Trump has said, “It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them.”16—a not very comforting statement given the built-in danger of nuclear war erupting out of the conflicts among nuclear-armed states, and especially given Trump’s mercurial temperament. Trump has complained that Obama has allowed the U.S. nuclear arsenal to “atrophy”;17 his willingness to countenance nuclear weapons for Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia has been noted already. Concerning nuclear non-proliferation treaties, he declared, “I oppose such agreements for the same reason I oppose gun controls—when weapons are banned, only the outlaws have them.” Trump approved Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, saying he would do the same to North Korea (“Am I ready to bomb this reactor? You’re damned right”18). He has also said he would abrogate the nuclear deal with Iran, and he refuses to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS.19

Trump reassures Americans that his insistence on a gargantuan U.S. military doesn’t mean he’s trigger happy. Asked whether he supported the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, Trump replied, “No, no, we wouldn’t get rid of the weapons. Because you have so many people out there. But I would be somebody that would be amazingly calm under pressure.”20 He says, in a not-so-veiled attack on Hillary Clinton’s and perhaps Ted Cruz’s hawkishness, “Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” He adds, “You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are signs of strength. … The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”21 Given Trump’s xenophobia, truculence, and obvious instability, these words are hardly reassuring, however.

Trump says the United States should forget about “nation-building,” and must drop the “dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western Democracy.”22 In other words, what we need is a “stable” Middle East, not democracy in the region: those people “over there” don’t want democracy anyway—they’re not like us. Of course, U.S. policy is not and has never been aimed at making “Western democracies”; the United States has preferred authoritarian states whenever there’s a threat that democracy would lead to defiance of orders from Washington, a very real threat given the nature of U.S. foreign policy. In any case, Trump’s objection to nation-building doesn’t arise out of respect for the national self-determination of smaller countries whose people might prefer to build their own nations rather than living under the thumb of imperial powers; for him, it’s simply a cost-benefit issue.

Strongmen Are the Answer

Though well known for contradicting himself, Trump has been remarkably consistent in his admiration for authoritarian strongmen. He said in a February 2016 press conference, “You know, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy,” but immediately added, “[However] one thing about him: He killed terrorists.”23 In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper last October, Trump declared that the world would be “100 percent” better off if Saddam Hussein and Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi were still in power.24 His liking for Gaddafi is nothing new; recall that in 2009 Trump invited Gaddafi to pitch his large Bedouin tent on Trump’s Bedford, New York, estate while in New York to attend the UN general assembly.25 In another instance of his warm appreciation of dictators, Trump complained that President Obama abandoned Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in his time of need, tweeting, “Egypt is a total mess. We should have backed Mubarak instead of dropping him like a dog.”26

Trump’s embrace of authoritarian leaders goes beyond the Middle East. He famously praised Vladimir Putin with statements like, “I’ve always felt fine about Putin. I think that he’s a strong leader; he’s a powerful leader.”27 And on MSNBC’s Morning Joe he said of the Russian president, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country,” casually shrugging off accusations that Putin has journalists and political adversaries assassinated.28 The Putin-Trump mutual admiration society has its parallel in Europe, where Putin and the far right—from Britain’s UKIP party to Jobbik in Hungary, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Democratic Party of Germany, and Bulgaria’s Ataka party—are warmly supportive of one another. National Front founder and former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, notorious for, among other things, claiming that the Nazi occupation of France was not “particularly inhumane” and suggesting that Ebola might solve Europe’s “immigration problem,”29 has endorsed Trump’s campaign.

Trump did appear to snub a far-right delegation led by Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s current leader,30 but that occurred right after his campaign was embarrassed by the endorsement of David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan—which Trump refused to repudiate at first, finally declaring petulantly, “David Duke, he endorsed me, OK? I disavow. OK?”31 In any case, Trump clearly belongs to this international semi-fascist bloc, for which racism, especially Islamophobia, is fundamental. And he is not even the most moderate member; only one of its leaders, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, has, like Trump, explicitly called for a complete ban on Muslim immigration. 

Attempting to take advantage of popular war-weariness, Trump says the Iraq war was a terrible idea—by now a widely accepted truth, though despite his current claims, there’s no evidence that he opposed the war before it began.32 On Libya, Trump now excoriates Obama and Clinton for their intervention, while at the time he said the opposite: “But we have go in to save these lives; these people are being slaughtered like animals,” Trump said. “It’s horrible what’s going on; it has to be stopped. We should do on a humanitarian basis, immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively, and save the lives.”33

Trump stunned the media when he said in February 2016 that the United States should remain “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians so as to be in a position to broker a deal between the two sides. He later tried to deflect criticism of his stand by criticizing Obama for strengthening Iran, saying, “President Obama has not been a friend to Israel. He has treated Iran with tender love and care and made it a great power in the Middle East—all at the expense of Israel, our other allies in the region, and, critically, the United States.”34 In May 2016, he went even further to prove his loyalty to Israeli government policy, saying in an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail that Israel should just “keep moving forward” in building settlements in the occupied territories.35 Trump has acquired the endorsement of Sheldon Adelson, a leading supporter of Israel’s right-wing government, who said he believes that Trump “will be good for Israel.”36 Two Republicans with access to his views have reported that Adelson is willing to contribute more to Trump’s campaign than he has to any previous campaign, and could exceed $100 million.37 Where Trump ends up on this and most other issues is anybody’s guess, but it appears increasingly likely that his “neutrality” between the Israeli government and the Palestinians will evaporate.

Some might have assumed that Trump could be a kind of ally of the peace movement because he expressed a reluctance to go to war and has challenged some of the basic assumptions of the foreign policy establishment by questioning the uncritical alliance with Israel (though, as suggested above, he seems to be dropping that stance like a hot potato) and by implying that he’s willing to walk away from historic commitments to defend NATO nations and countries like Saudi Arabia. But that would be a seriously mistaken assumption. A bully like Trump is as likely as not to explode and take deadly military action when the going gets rough—for instance if ISIS, the Chinese, the Iranians, or any other adversaries don’t fold in the face of his threats and bluster. He has already said that if elected he will abrogate the Iran deal.

More fundamentally, Trump’s worldview—a misogynistic, crudely violent nationalism with fascistic overtones—is diametrically opposed to what are, or should be, the anti-war movement’s basic values: anti-militarism, democracy, egalitarianism, social justice, and a vision of an ecologically sustainable world of cooperation among peoples and, as long as they exist, nations. This Trumpian worldview gives a different meaning to even those positions that, taken out of context, seem on the surface to be the same as ours. Trump opposes the Iraq War (at least in retrospect), but says he will “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.”38 He avidly endorses waterboarding: “‘What do you think about waterboarding, Mr. Trump?’ I said I love it. I love it, I think it’s great. And I said the only thing is, we should make it much tougher than waterboarding.”39 He supports bombing the families of those presumed to be terrorists. Asked in March 2016 about the head of U.S. Central Command’s statement that more troops on the ground are needed to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Trump said, “We really have no choice, we have to knock out ISIS. … I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000-30,000.”40

And of course Trump’s ugly climate-change denialism, his racist views on immigration, and his plan to block all Muslims, including utterly desperate refugees, from entering the United States are completely contrary to the peace movement’s goals and values. He is no ally of ours.

Hillary Clinton

Despite what she might say during the campaign to attract Sanders supporters, Hillary Clinton stands squarely within the longstanding bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, and indeed, along with many Republican politicians, is on the more aggressive end of that consensus.  

It is highly significant that the Republican Party’s hawkish foreign policy elites, including many of the leading neoconservatives, prefer Clinton to Trump, even if some have said that they could not actually vote for her. One of the foremost neocons, Robert Kagan, told the New York Times that “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. … It’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that.” Kagan himself prefers the term “liberal interventionist.”41 Another neocon, Eliot Cohen, has said he would “strongly prefer a third party candidate” to Trump, but added, “Probably, if absolutely no alternative: Hillary.” And one more luminary in this warmongering clique, Max Boot, has declared that Clinton “would be vastly preferable to Trump.”42

Moreover, Clinton has made no secret of her closeness to arch-war-criminal Henry Kissinger. “I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time,” she has said. And in a 2014 review of Kissinger’s latest book, she was forthright: “America, he reminds us, succeeds by standing up for our values, not shirking them, and leads by engaging peoples and societies, the sources of legitimacy, not governments alone.” She went on to call Kissinger “surprisingly idealistic.”43

In fact, before the campaign for the nomination began, Clinton was more bellicose than Obama. She advocated extending the pullout date for U.S. troops in Iraq44 and urged a longer troop presence in Afghanistan.45 Once the campaign was under way, Clinton pointedly promised that she would invite Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House during her first month in office—a jab at Obama for his frosty relations with the Israeli Prime Minister. In a speech on March 21 to the Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), she declared, “The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever.” “We must take our alliance to the next level,” she said, calling for “even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation” and demanding that the United States arm the Israeli military “with the most sophisticated defense technology.”46 Clinton continues to support the U.S. policy of nominal opposition to the settlements and backed the Iran deal, but when she called, in her AIPAC speech, for taking the U.S.-Israeli alliance “to a new level,” she was actually taking “her belligerence to a new level,” as Ben Norton commented in Salon.47 

Several progressive and left-wing writers have scrutinized Clinton’s foreign policy history and reminded us of her dreadful record. For example, Greg Grandin wrote a Nation article, “A Voter’s Guide to Hillary Clinton’s Policies,”48 recounting her anti-democratic policies in Mexico, Paraguay, El Salvador, Panama and Colombia, and Honduras, where she helped to legitimize the 2009 coup against the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya.

Of El Salvador, Grandin writes, 

In 2012, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, acting through its ambassador, Mari Carmen Aponte, threatened to withhold critical development aid unless El Salvador passed a major privatization law. … It wouldn’t be the only time that Ambassador Aponte, a political ally of the Clintons, menaced Salvador’s leftist FMLN government. Recently, she warned Salvadorans about the need to buy corporate-manufactured GMO seeds, insisting that the FMLN’s seed-cooperative program violates the terms of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).49

Beyond Latin America, Stephen Zunes reminds us of Clinton’s obscene comment on Egypt’s dictator just before his fall: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” (She surely hopes we will forget that gaffe.) Zunes notes that, 

After Saudi Arabian forces joined those of the Bahraini monarchy in brutally repressing nonviolent pro-democracy demonstrators, the following month the Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton had emerged as one of the “leading voices inside the administration urging greater U.S. support for the Bahraini king.” She has long considered a “top priority” the promotion of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, which is not only one of the world’s most repressive regimes but has been using U.S. jets and ordinance in air strikes in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians. In her last visit as secretary of state to Uzbekistan—a brutal dictatorship that has gunned down hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators, boiled opponents to death in oil, and sends hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren annually into forced labor in the cotton fields—she declined to meet with leading human rights activists. Instead, she emphasized “the importance of Uzbekistan to the region and to our national interest.”50

On Libya, Jo Becker and Scott Shane note in the New York Times that Hillary Clinton’s voice was critical in persuading a hesitant President Obama to join in bombing Gaddafi’s forces. They write, “In fact, Mr. Obama’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, would later say that in a ‘51-49’ decision, it was Mrs. Clinton’s support that put the ambivalent president over the line.”51

The foreign policies of both Donald Trump and likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, despite their differences, promise a future of endless militarism, drone attacks, support for dictators, and savage neoliberal economic policies throughout the world. Far from defeating political fundamentalism and terrorism in the Muslim world, their policies—America’s own brand of terrorism—are guaranteed to strengthen these reactionary forces. A U.S. government that carried out a different foreign policy based on principles of democracy and social and economic justice could indeed come about only through a “political revolution”—but, alas, the foreign policy of Bernie Sanders remains far from that goal. At the same time, however, the aspirations of the millions who have rallied to Sanders point toward just such a revolutionary foreign policy. These millions need to go beyond Sanders and declare their complete political independence from the Democratic Party, which has shown itself to be a pillar of the status quo.

—May 25, 2016




1. Adam B. Lerner, “Hillary Clinton says her Iraq war vote was a ‘mistake,’”, May 19, 2015.
2. S.A. Miller and Seth McLaughlin, “Hillary Clinton Breaks with Obama, Threatens War to Enforce Iran Deal,” Washington Times, Sep. 9, 2015.
3. Lawrence Wittner, “The Trillion Dollar Question,” Huffington Post, Mar. 17, 2016.
4. “‘This Week’ Transcript: Ben Carson and Sen. Bernie Sanders,” ABC This Week 2015 interview by George Stephanopoulis, Oct. 18, 2015.
5. Michael Arria, “Bernie Sanders’ Troubling History of Supporting US Military Violence Abroad,” Alternet, May 13, 2015.
6. “Jeremy Scahill: Clinton Is Legendary Hawk, But Sanders Shouldn’t Get Pass on Role in Regime Change,” Democracy Now, May 3, 2016; “Bernie Sanders Rejects Syria No-Fly Zone, Backs Airstrikes,” Telesur, Oct. 3, 2015.
7. “Full Transcript MSNBC Town Hall with Bernie Sanders Moderated by Chris Hayes,” Apr. 25, 2016.
8. “Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States,” Bernie 2016, Nov. 19, 2015. 
9. Human Rights Watch, Jordan; Kuwait; World Report 2015: Qatar; World Report 2015: UAE; and World Report 2015: Saudi Arabia
10. Robert Naiman, “Chamber of Commerce Lobbyist Tom Donohue: Clinton Will Support TPP After Election,” HuffPost Politics, Jan. 28, 2016. 
11. Maggie Haberman, “Donald Trump Says He Favors Big Tariffs on Chinese Exports,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 2016.
12. Index Mundi, United States Tariff Rate.
13. Gene Gerzhoy and Nick Miller, “Donald Trump Thinks More Countries Should Have Nuclear Weapons. Here’s What the Research Says,” Washington Post (WP), Apr. 6, 2016.
14. “Interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper,” Oct. 25, 2015.
15. Donald J. Trump foreign policy speech, Apr. 27, 2016.
16. Chris Heath, “This Donald Trump Interview Is the Best. You’re Gonna Love It,” GQ, Nov. 23, 2015.
17. Trump foreign policy speech, Apr. 27, 2016.
18. Andrew Kaczynski, “The Donald Trump Foreign Policy Doctrine, as Explained in His 2000 Book,” BuzzFeed News, Sep. 28, 2015.
19. Ben Geier, “Donald Trump Won’t Rule Out Using Nukes Against ISIS,” Fortune, Mar. 23, 2016.
20. Heath, “This Donald Trump Interview Is the Best.”
21. Trump foreign policy speech, Apr. 27, 2016.
22. Trump foreign policy speech, Apr. 27, 2016.
23. Donald Trump press conference in South Carolina, transcript, CNN Newsroom, Feb. 15, 2016.
24. Jeremy Diamond, “Jake Tapper Interview with Donald Trump,” Oct. 25, 2015, CNN Politics.
25. Helen Pidd and agencies, “Muammar Gaddafi’s tent finds home on Donald Trump’s estate,” Guardian, Sep. 22, 2009. 
26. Donald J. Trump, tweet, Dec. 12, 2012.
27. Natalie Andrews, “Donald Trump Praises Putin as ‘Strong Leader,’” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 2015.
28. Jose A. DelReal, “Donald Trump on Putin: ‘Nobody Has Proven that He’s Killed Anyone,’” Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2015.
29. Alan Yuhas, “Jean-Marie Le Pen endorses Trump days after ex-KKK leader urges support,” Guardian, Feb. 27, 2016.
30. Nicholas Vinocur and Alberto Mucci, “Donald Trump ignores Europe’s far-right: Euroskeptic politicians flew to Washington to meet the billionaire,” Politico, Apr. 7, 2016.
31. “Trump ‘Disavows’ Former KKK Leader’s Support,” Reuters, Feb. 26, 2016. 
32. Eugene Kiely, “Donald Trump and the Iraq War,”, Feb. 19, 2016, and Alex Kaplan, Nick Fernandez, & Cydney Hargis, “16 Times the Media Let Trump Falsely Claim He Opposed the Iraq War from the Beginning,” May 5, 2016. 
33. Aaron Sharockman, “Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim he never discussed Libya intervention,” Politifact, Feb. 25, 2016. 
34. Donald J. Trump foreign policy speech, Apr. 27, 2016.
35. “Trump to Israel: Keep Building Settlements,” Israel Today, May 3, 2016.
36. Thomas Kaplan and Maggie Haberman, “Sheldon Adelson Says He Will Support Trump,” New York Times, May 6, 2016.
37. Jonathan Martin, “Sheldon Adelson Is Poised to Give Donald Trump a Donation Boost,” New York Times, May 13, 2016.
38. Rebecca Kaplan, “Donald Trump Promises to ‘Bomb the Hell Out of ISIS’ in New Ad,” CBS News, Nov. 18, 2015.
39. Steve Guest, “Trump on Waterboarding: ‘I Love It, I Think It’s Great’” [VIDEO],, Apr. 20, 2016.
40. Matthew Nussbaum, “Trump Calls for Ground Troops in Iraq, Syria,”, Mar. 10, 2016. 
41. Leslie H. Gelb, “Countering the Neocon Comeback,” Democracy (No. 35, Winter 2015).
42. Michael Crowley, “GOP Hawks Declare War on Trump,”, Mar. 3, 2016.
43. David Corn, “Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger: It’s Personal. Very Personal,” Mother Jones, Feb. 12, 2016.
44. Josh Rogin, “Hillary Clinton Pushed Obama to Keep Troops in Iraq,” Daily Beast, June 18, 2014.
45. Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall,” New York Times, Feb. 27, 2016.
46. “Read Hillary Clinton’s Speech to AIPAC,” Time, Mar. 21, 2016. 
47. Ben Norton, “‘She Sounds like Netanyahu’: Hillary Clinton Goes Extra Hawkish in Her Biased, Die-Hard Pro-Israel AIPAC Speech,” Salon, Mar. 22, 2016.
48. Greg Grandin, “A Voter’s Guide to Hillary Clinton’s Policies in Latin America,” Nation, Apr. 15, 2016.
49. Grandin, “Voter’s Guide.”
50. Stephen Zunes, “Hillary Clinton’s Double Standard on Human Rights,” National Catholic Reporter online, Apr. 11, 2016.
51. Becker and Shane, “Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall.”

About Author

Joanne Landy is an editor of New Politics and co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy. She can be reached at The author thanks Stephen Shalom, Thomas Harrison, and Dan La Botz for their invaluable help with this article. She alone is responsible for the views expressed.

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