Let's Not Vote For A Chaotic World

Only one presidential candidate qualifies as commander-in-chief

Presidential elections are about many things, but perhaps most consequentially, they are about America's role in the world.

So let's not choose the chaos candidate for president. Instead, let's choose someone who instinctively knows how to calm the chaos. Rarely do elections create such existential differences among the candidates. This is one of those times.

The American commander-in-chief is a unique figure. This individual has enormous independence of action and unparalleled tools of power at his or her disposal.

This is why this fall's presidential election is so important. Americans will be choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- two candidates who are near polar opposites in temperament, experience and vision on questions of national security. On one side, we have a candidate known for business bankruptcies who revels in offending people. On the other side, we have the nation's former top diplomat who actually has done the hard work of governing for many years.

We cannot afford to get this choice wrong.

At this moment in our nation's history, we only have to turn on the nightly news to see what's at stake. Terrorist attacks take place on a near-daily basis. Longstanding alliances are under strain. Refugees flee to safe harbors by the tens of thousands.

We cannot afford the vision of Donald Trump, a man whose behavior would exacerbate rather than resolve these problems.

When it comes to foreign affairs, it often looks like everything is messy. Critics can therefore easily identify a specific issue happening overseas -- for example, the Brexit vote in Britain -- and immediately lay the blame at the feet of the president for not having prevented it. This makes for an easy talking point, a snarky political attack ad or a clever tweet.

But this is not how the world works. Those ultimately responsible for Britain choosing to leave the European Union are the British themselves, not President Barack Obama for having called on them to stay. You can bet that if Mr. Obama had stayed silent, he would have been attacked for not having done enough.

But because overseas events are invariably messy and unpredictable, the key asset that an American president must have is a clear vision for what needs to get done and how we can do it.

What the American president should not do is throw gas on the fire. So, when Mr. Trump cheered the Brexit, because, in his mind, it would be good for his business, he demonstrated an instinct for making difficult challenges worse for the American people, not better. He expressed zero vision for how to create calm in the markets and to reduce American anxieties. He seemed to revel in the chaos. In stark contrast, Ms. Clinton demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues at stake and communicated steadiness when we needed it most.

We don't need a chaos president.

Brexit is but one of a multitude of foreign policy issues the next president will have to deal with. How to defeat the Islamic State. How to ensure that Iran lives up to the nuclear deal. How to resolve the Syria crisis, deepen our engagement in Latin America and take advantage of economic opportunities in Asia. We will have to determine how to spend enough for defense while not breaking the bank. And we'll have to figure out how to stop climate change.

We will need the world to work with us to handle these issues - long gone are the days when America could even contemplate going it alone, and it's clear that, in this election, only one of the candidates can pass the test of real leadership.

When assessing the leadership skills are best suited to handle these challenges, there are three simple questions we should ask ourselves about our next commander-in-chief. Does this person have a willingness to listen? An ability to adapt? A level head?

On this scorecard, Mr. Trump scores zero. Ms. Clinton goes three for three.

America cannot afford having a hothead with his finger on the nuclear button, one who expresses racism without pause, and one whose tone is openly hostile and alienating to our potential allies and partners.

Offending the world is not a strategy for success in foreign affairs. It's a sure fire way to turn the world against us -- at our peril.

Joel Rubin, an adjunct faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, is a former deputy assistant secretary of state. This piece originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.