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A Curious Election - How the Next Potus Will Redefine American Power

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A Curious Election:

How the Next POTUS Will Redefine American Power

        In chapter six of his The Future of Power, Joseph Nye defines a number of precedents to define the power of a state. The criteria include territory, population, percent literacy, deployed nuclear warheads, expenditures, GDP, GDP per capita, Internet users, top-100 universities, films produced, and foreign students. America’s gradual transition away from the use of military power during the Obama years suggests that the current commander in chief shares Nye’s worldview—at least to some extent.  It is safe to predict America will become more reliant on hard power starting in January 2017. Assuming the next president will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, the real question is as follows: How much will the United States turn to hard power?

        The central argument of this essay is that America will either become slightly more reliant on hard power should Hillary Clinton win in November, or almost exclusively reliant on hard power should Donald Trump win the presidency. One would be naïve to believe that any president-elect would honor all campaign trail promises. That fact, coupled with both Trump’s and Clinton’s propensity for flip-flopping, makes assuming the next president’s foreign policy will resemble their current stances near impossible. However, for the purposes of this essay, both candidates’ most recent public remarks will be taken at face value (although finding a coherent takeaway within Donald Trump’s nebulous one-liners often proves difficult in itself).

        President Obama has almost solely relied on soft power throughout his tenure in office. His emphasis on approaching disputes tenderly marks a stark shift away from the neoconservative foreign policy of the Bush administration. At first glance, one might assume Obama’s successor will be significantly less wary when it comes to jumping into conflict. After all, the GOP candidate welcomes global nuclear weapon proliferation with open arms and has repeatedly asserted that he plans to strengthen the military.[1] And, though she has yet to make any definitive statements about her defense budget plans, Hillary Clinton has suggested on several occasions that she would exercise less prudence when it comes to military action.

        One need not look far to find examples of Clinton’s relatively hawkish sentiments; she was a strong advocate for larger military intervention in Syria. Where the Obama Doctrine keeps military force locked away in a glass emergency-only cabinet, Clinton advocates for a rougher brand of American exceptionalism. On April 21st, New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy piece titled How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk, wherein the author suggests that the assumed Democratic nominee’s foreign policy instincts are far more aggressive than those of Obama and most other Democrats. The article cites a laundry list of clashes between Clinton and Obama during her tenure as secretary of state; in each case Clinton asserted that the U.S. take a more aggressive action than the president was willing to carry out.

ISIS, “Radical Islamic Terrorism”, and Power

        Despite their differences in military ideals, one key similarity between Clinton and Obama that could point to similar future policies is the vocabulary each politician uses when speaking about America’s enemies, specifically in the Middle East. The most concrete case, of course, is their refusal to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Both Obama and Clinton have intentionally steered clear of using such terminology. Both have reiterated the fact that, despite increasingly popular opinion, the United States is not at war with a religion.  Ironically, in a response to criticism from Ted Cruz in March, Hillary Clinton invoked the words of George W. Bush to explain her reluctance to use such divisive terminology. “George W. Bush said it to do anything that implies we are at war with an entire religion, with one 1.2 or 4 billion people is not only wrong, it is dangerous,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN.

        The language used on the right is very different. In The Future of Power, Joseph Nye emphasizes “keeping up with the times” from a social standpoint as a necessity for developing both hard and soft power, but especially the latter. Similarly, in Strategies of Containment, John Gaddis cites a speech wherein George Kennan said, “If we wish our relations with Russia to be normal and serene, the best thing we can do is to see that on our side, at least, they are given the outward aspect of normalcy and serenity. Form means a great deal in international life.” Obviously Kennan made this remark during the Cold War, but its lesson remains applicable today, especially when dealing with a terrorist organization that draws motivation from hateful opposition. Should the United States want to quell the growth of anti-American sentiment, leaders ought not use language that stirs the pot.

Immigration and Power

        Since the beginning of primary season, most of the GOP seems to be hell-bent on stoking the sentiments of ISIS—and no one has been more incendiary than Donald Trump. Politico’s Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon denounce Trump’s unapologetically anti-Muslim rhetoric, indicting him with making the United States more vulnerable to terrorism. Ironically, Trump makes his proposals to ban all Muslims from entering the country and suggests that the U.S. “taking out” terrorists’ families in the name of making Americans safer.  Benjamin and Simon mince no words in their criticism of Trump:

        Comments such as these perfectly validate the part of ISIL’s narrative—which it         appropriated from Al Qaeda—that says the West seeks to destroy Islam and its         believers. The same is true for all the menacing rhetoric about creating national         registries for Muslims in the United States and for cutting off Muslims from their         families abroad.

Nye explicitly warns against the dangers of shutting off America’s borders in The Future of Power:

A more serious concern would be if the United States turned inward and seriously curtailed immigration. With its current levels of immigration, America is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of the world population, but this might change if reactions to terrorist events or public xenophobia closed the borders.



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