Three National Security Questions for the U.S. Presidential Candidates

Three National Security Questions for the U.S. Presidential Candidates
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally, Raleigh, June 22, 2016 (AP photo by Chuck Burton).

To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, the United States may not be at the beginning of the end of its presidential campaign, but it is at the end of the beginning. After a long, tumultuous series of primaries and caucuses, the two major parties have settled on their presumptive nominees, to be confirmed at each party’s convention this summer. Now American voters must look “under the hood” of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, exploring both candidates’ policies and inclinations in detail, before making their choice in November.

Thus far, foreign and security policy have received more attention than is normal for the candidate-selection phase of a U.S. election, in part because the domestic economy is in relatively sound shape and much of the world is in turmoil. This makes world events more immediate to the American electorate. Clinton in particular has stressed foreign and national security policy, reflecting her time as first lady, a U.S. senator and, most recently, secretary of state. While Trump has no background in foreign or national security policy, he did use it to distinguish himself during the Republican primaries, staking out an approach very different from the conventional ones of his opponents.

But even given this attention to foreign and national security policy, the two candidates have only provided an outline of their positions. Clinton’s leanings are better known from her time in the Senate and State Department. She has added a few campaign speeches on world affairs, and her campaign website follows the tradition for U.S. elections by indicating her priorities and general perspective. Trump, with no political leadership experience, a campaign website that only includes a sketchy description of a few policy positions, and at best a disconnected mélange of ideas in campaign speeches, is harder to gauge.

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