The Platforms on Foreign Policy: Between Iraq and a Hard Peace?

The world in which Democrats and Republicans find themselves in 2016 is a far different place than it was in 2008.

By Mark Kellner Published on August 22, 2016

The end of President George W. Bush’s term saw the United States and coalition forces gaining ground against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the worst terrorists captured during these conflicts were held in special detention centers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, kept far from the fields of war, or from Western cities in which they could plot and attempt terror attacks.

Globally, relations were mostly good, with a few exceptions: Putin’s Russia increasingly flexed its muscles in the former Soviet region. Iran remained an implacable foe under U.S.-led global sanctions. Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen were under the uneasy, but firm, control of leaders who amassed military support to back their goals.

Eight years of a radically different foreign policy under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has seen chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rise of ISIS. Libya collapsed into an ISIS stronghold, while in Egypt the military seized power to escape Islamist rule. Syria is in ruins, fought over by Russian ally Assad, ISIS, and other Islamist militias.

Russia, China and North Korea act with impunity within their spheres. Iran, fueled by a $400 million ransom payment from the Obama Administration, is supporting terrorist activity and its own war in Syria, allowing — for the first time in decades — a foreign power to use its air bases to launch attacks against Syrian Islamists. That foreign power is Putin’s Russia.

Democrats: Different World, Same Old Policies?

Against this backdrop, the Democrat Party talks tough, but in its next breath signals ambivalence. “We must defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates, and prevent other groups from emerging in their place. Democrats will continue to lead a broad coalition of allies and partners to destroy ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria,” the Democrat platform declares.

But “defeat” has its parameters, the Democrats add, noting that “our efforts to defeat ISIS” must “not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.” Translation: We want to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda, but not if it gets messy. Although no nation, and no American political party, should actively seek military engagements, the Democrats’ mixed signal is unlikely to frighten our enemies.

On Israel, the Democrat platform affirms:

We will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.


We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.

Turning to the Americas, Democrats vow to support a Cuba policy which many Americans view with dismay:

In Cuba, we will build on President Obama’s historic opening and end the travel ban and embargo. We will also stand by the Cuban people and support their ability to decide their own future and to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms that people everywhere deserve. In Venezuela, we will push the government to respect human rights and respond to the will of its people. And in Haiti, we will support local and international efforts to bolster the country’s democratic institutions and economic development.

Translation: While giving lip service to dissidents and democratic opponents of repressive or corrupt regimes, we’ll continue an “opening” to which critics say will benefit oligarchs and starve the people, while tolerating repression and societal failure in Venezuela, an oil-rich country that cannot feed its own citizens.

Republicans: Fixed Platform, Unmoored Candidate

For Republicans in 2016, a solid platform is complicated by what may be termed the shape-shifting nature of nominee Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy views. Mr. Trump, a successful global entrepreneur, has gone from saying the U.S. should quit NATO if allies there don’t contribute more financially, to declaring on August 15 that he would support “working very closely with NATO” to defeat ISIS.

The Republicans take direct aim at the Democrats’ foreign policy record of the past eight years and at the goals of its nominee:

The leadership of the Democratic Party, both those in office and those who seek it, no longer see America as a force for good in the world. They do not stand by allies or stand strong against our foes. They pander to world opinion and neglect the national interest. They cannot be trusted to advance either the cause of liberty or our national security in the dangerous years in which we live.

By contrast, the Republican Party’s “tradition of world leadership” is one that

stands for enormous power — and the prudence to use it sparingly, precisely, and only in grave necessity. It stands for involvement, not intervention. It requires consultation, not permission to act. It leads from the front — and ensures all others do their parts as well. It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution.

Republicans pledge to revisit “the [Obama] Administration’s deal with Iran, to lift international sanctions and make hundreds of billions of dollars available to the Mullahs, a personal agreement between the President and his negotiating partners and non-binding on the next president.”

Also, “a Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility. We must stand up for our friends, challenge our foes, and destroy ISIS. Hezbollah, controlling over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon, must be isolated and Lebanon’s independence restored.”

The platform is unambiguous about the GOP position on Israel: “It is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel,” they said, adding, “Our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always.”

With a candidate whose campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, just had to resign over alleged close financial ties to pro-Putin forces in the Ukraine, the GOP treads cautiously but speaks clearly on dealings with Russia. Affirming common issues such as the defeat of ISIS and combating nuclear proliferation, the platform notes:

The continuing erosion of personal liberty and fundamental rights under the current officials in the Kremlin. Repressive at home and reckless abroad, their policies imperil the nations which regained their self-determination upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, in Ukraine, Georgia, or elsewhere, and will use all appropriate constitutional measures to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination.

In the Western Hemisphere, Republicans decry the “current Administration’s ‘opening to Cuba’ [as] a shameful accommodation to the demands of its tyrants. It will only strengthen their military dictatorship. We call on the Congress to uphold current U.S. law which sets conditions for the lifting of sanctions on the island: Legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections.”

On human rights, the GOP affirms: “A Republican administration will never say, as Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State in 2009, that raising human rights concerns ‘can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.’”


Mark A. Kellner, a journalist in Salt Lake City, Utah, has written about issues of faith and freedom for The Washington Times, the Deseret News and Religion News Service.

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