Trump Or Clinton: Who Should Be Leader Of The Free World?
American elections are always a slightly awkward time for foreign leaders. On the one hand, they do not want to meddle in US affairs, but on the other whoever gets the keys to the White House also becomes the leader of the free world.
At about this time 25-years-ago a whole raft of countries were becoming independent again as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. That collapse had been pushed hard through US foreign policy, right from the belligerence of Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis to the outspending of Reagan in the 1980s arms race.
Today citizens of the world looking for a 'Leader of the Free World' are faced with a rather odd choice in Clinton and Trump. Clinton has been Secretary of State but presided over one of the departments most disastrous periods and Trump is one of the least interventionist candidates in living memory.
It is a battle between the incompetent and the disinterested. International backers of Clinton point out that her husband was a hawk in countries like Kosovo (where the US and UK ended a genocide by putting boots on the ground). But critics point out that Obama's attempt to bring the enemy to the negotiating table has only served to make the US look weak.
Can Clinton really distance herself from this failure? Not least because she is continually subject to questions about her propriety as Secretary of State over how she treated confidential emails and how she appears to have allowed the USA to be humiliated in Bengazi.
For most foreign governments Clinton is not the subject of debate, after all she is predictable: pro-NATO, loves traditional allies and will continue the Obama/Kerry bombing of ISIS.
I doubt it will shock anyone to learn that Trump is anything but boring or predictable for foreign governments. The British, in particular, have no idea what to make of him. He annoyed them by denouncing NATO, but was very clearly a supporter of Brexit, which by definition makes him on the side of the majority in the UK.
Equally, his point about the US abroad is incredibly practical, namely that the US has failed to strike a good deal with her allies. Look at his comments on South Korea, he did not say the USA should cease to stand toe-to-toe with Kim Jung-Un's forces. Instead, he made the point that Seoul is rich enough to compensate the American taxpayer for their military support.
Even NATO has provided a bad deal for the American taxpayer, for most of the bloc's history only the USA has honored the treaty commitment to spend two percent of GDP on defense.
In the last few years, Washington has managed to shame London into honoring this commitment. If it has taken 50 years to persuade the British to do what America demands, the likelihood of France and Germany doing the right thing seems non-existent.
If Trump can sabre-rattle allies into action he would be the better of the two candidates. Imagine a world where every ally ponied up enough money to properly back the American forces they are so reliant on. Western values would be secure forever.
But all that said the real killer issue between Trump and Clinton is their attitudes towards Putin. It's often said (though not widely reported) that the first time Putin met Obama over a 'friendly' lunch the Russian went on the attack.
He demanded to know why the Russian people had been so ignored after the fall of communism given they had destroyed their empire in order to agree with America on free trade. Putin is said to have pointed out that his country was ignored for years until it became an energy superpower.
Putin might also have mentioned that Russians were probably more appalled by 9/11 than Americans because there is no ocean between Moscow and the Jihadis. There can be little doubt that Russia wanted a global response to Islamic nationalism, but when the response came they were cut out.
On the other hand, Putin continues to threaten American allies like Latvia, Lithuania, and even Poland. Putin has invaded both Ukraine and Georgia and now flies regular test nuclear raids on every European country.
Trump believes there is a deal to be done with Putin, Clinton believes he is the anti-Christ. Both would probably modify their positions in the White House, and that would be welcomed across the world because no-one believes he should be either loved or ignored.
The two visions of America in the 21st century are so opposed it is hard to see any common ground. However, in November the USA will elect the leader of the free world. One offers stability, the other change. In international relations, it is not always easy to see which is best.
PS: Readers might have expected talk of China, but this 'over extended', political basket case is not a threat to America!