Clinton and Trump's Foreign Policies Share Common Principles

By Tania F. Cohen

From the embers of an election season rife with negativity rises an unlikely phoenix: reminders of the potential for bipartisanship in U.S. politics. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's proposals for fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and their beliefs that ISIL presents a greater threat to American security than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are strikingly similar. Consequently, they each prioritize defeating the terrorist organization over a political transition in Syria. Clinton and Trump also believe that nuclear weapons are the world's greatest threat, although their proposed strategies for fighting that threat differ significantly. The similarity in their stances--and in the case of fighting ISIL, in their strategies for accomplishing those objectives--reminds us that bipartisanship in policy-making, for which establishing common ground and compromise are key, is possible.

From their central point of agreement on the threat that ISIL poses, both Clinton and Trump favor establishing no-fly zones in Syria, increasing air strikes, and fighting ISIL through a coalition of Western and Arab countries. Additionally, they have expressed interest in working with Kurds in the region and noted the importance of fighting digital radicalization and extremism. There is no doubt that a President Trump approach to fighting ISIL would look very different from a President Clinton approach, even if these approaches incorporated the same basic policies. But the resemblance between policy proposals is not insignificant and demonstrates the potential for further compromise between parties.

Unlike their proposals for fighting ISIL, Clinton and Trump's policy proposals for combatting nuclear threats differ significantly. Clinton supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known colloquially as the Iran nuclear deal. She has proposed using the Iran nuclear deal as a model to restrict North Korea's nuclear program. In contrast, Trump's proposed nuclear strategy is unclear. He has vacillated in his answers about whether he would change the United States' policy on "first use" of nuclear weapons, an issue on which Clinton did not take a stance when it was mentioned during the first presidential debate. On North Korea, Trump has implied that he would try to have China exert its influence over Kim Jong Un to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions, but has not provided details. Similarly, he strongly criticizes the Iran nuclear deal, but has not shared his alternative proposal other than saying he would be willing to walk away from the negotiating table. Despite their differences in specific policies on this issue, the candidates' shared belief about the significance of the global nuclear threat reminds us that there is often more similarity in candidates' beliefs than expected, even if their strategies for accomplishing those goals differ.

Although the differences in policy between the candidates on these issues are significant, they do not dilute the similarities in proposed strategy or belief that exist. Their simple existence demonstrates the potential for bipartisanship in politics, even during an election cycle as toxic as the 2016 presidential election. Bipartisanship is a willingness to engage substantively with people who hold different political beliefs and compromise for the greater good. Politicians may implement and rationalize their conclusions differently, even if the conclusions themselves are similar, but acknowledging that they have a common goal of defending American interests--and may even agree on how to accomplish that goal--is crucial to repairing our gridlocked political system. The similarities between Trump and Clinton when discussing how to fight ISIL and the threat posed by nuclear weapons are important reminders that repairing our system is possible--that it should encourage politicians at all levels to seek compromise, especially when it seems impossible.

If Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can propose similar solutions to some of the most controversial foreign policy issues, other politicians can find spheres of agreement, too, and with effort, cultivate those spheres to reduce the gridlock that has pervaded our government in recent memory.

Tania F. Cohen is employed by the American Society of International Law and is a Campaigns Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Her interests include domestic civic engagement, refugee and migration policy, and the influence of history on contemporary policy development and foreign relations. Any views expressed are those of the author and not those of the American Society of International Law.