The time has come for the country with the largest economy and military in the world will soon go to the polls to choose a new leader for itself. Americans will elect a new president on November 8, 2016. However, the two main candidates running for the office of president in the general election have never been more different from each other. Hillary Clinton has lived in the White House as First Lady for 8 years, served as a senator, ran for president in 2008, and served as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term, during which she oversaw the NATO intervention in Libya and the Benghazi crisis – in other words, a career politician. On the other hand, Donald Trump has never served in public office, instead dedicating his life to many different business ventures, some of which became runaway successes and others short-lived failures.
Both candidates boast considerable strengths and face off against damaging scandals. Clinton has been touted as the ‘most qualified candidate for the job’ and has decades of experience in and around the center of power in Washington. However, she is currently under investigation by the FBI for potentially mishandling classified information after using a private email server to send and receive emails while Secretary of State, faced allegations of corruption relating to donations from foreign entities to the Clinton Foundation in return for political favors, responded to leaked email suggested that the Democratic National Convention colluded with major media companies against Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders, and dealt with ongoing accusations of husband Bill Clinton’s sexual relations and infidelities. On the other hand, Trump has pointed to his wealth to promote himself as a self-made billionaire capable of hard negotiations and used his status as a political outsider status to make his promise to change to the establishment believable. He has also been the target of sexual harassment allegations, responded to claims that some of his failed businesses may have been scams, battled accusations of involvement with white supremacy groups, and is the only candidate for president from a major party not to release tax information since Gerald Ford.
Comparing the individual factors and history of both candidates gives us considerable information for analysis, but what effect will the policies of the candidates bring to the world once they enter office? In the following sections, we pit Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a head-to-head comparison, analyzing the likely outcomes of their policies on global conflicts, the world economy, American social and business conditions, the future of Europe, and US relations with Russia and China.
The former Secretary of State has been labeled by some analysts as a representative of the ‘hawks’ in Washington, or the group of influencers who are pro-war and closely connected with the American military industrial complex. Hillary Clinton voted for the American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Senator and spearheaded the American push for the NATO-imposed ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya as well as the US support for ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.
A vote for Hillary is a vote for continuing the foreign policies of the Obama administration, including the expansion of NATO activities in Eastern Europe, intensifying American actions against the government of Bashar al-Assad, ramping up US naval might in the South China Sea, and arming and supporting Saudi Arabia in its military operation against Yemen.
One policy favored by Hillary Clinton adequately sums up the potential effects of a Clinton administration on global security: Hillary Clinton has publicly advocated for the implementation of a ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘safe zones’ within Syria. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State, succinctly outlined the consequences of such a policy last month when he explained to the US Senate that carrying out this policy would require the United States to “go to war against Syria and Russia”, something unequivocally negative for both regional and global security and something which will certainly exacerbate tensions in Syria rather than relieve them.
Trump expresses the greatest fear that such a policy may bring when he says that such proposals may start World War III.
Much can be written on the other conflicts mentioned, but the general trend is relatively apparent – a Clinton presidency would continue aggressive American policies which only increase tensions and create the possibility for a spark to light the powder keg of conflict.
If a Clinton administration would be predictably aggressive, a Trump administration would be an unpredictable wild card for global security. Many point to Trump’s open call for good relations between the US and Russia, even for cooperation between the two countries in tackling the Islamic State, as a sign of a period of peace and stabilization of the global security climate under a Trump administration. However, others react with alarm when they hear Trump criticize the usefulness of NATO or seemingly advocate for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, although these apparent Trump policies are often taken out of context.
Trump has consistently called for an increased ‘sharing of the burden’ from NATO partners and other American partners, notably Japan and South Korea. His campaign claims that the remarks that Trump made about the usefulness NATO and the proliferation of nuclear weapons was an extreme example meant to show the necessity of convincing American partners to pay more for the US military umbrella and that Trump has no intention of disbanding NATO or allowing states like Saudi Arabia or Japan to get nuclear weapons.
However, if Trump’s drive to push more of the financial burden of US military protection onto allies were to fail, he may be forced to carry out his promises, at least to some degree, if only to save face. Trump’s public intentions to mend ties with Russia and pursue cooperation in Syria combined with the potential for a weaker US presence in Europe may in fact encourage Russia to act more aggressively in pursuing their own interests in Europe and the Middle East.
One country has been disproportionately targeted by Trump – China. Trump has campaigned on the idea that China has been playing the United States for a sucker and that the US-Chinese relationship has been beneficial mostly for one side. His promises to renegotiate trade deals with China (which could be potentially quite harmful for China) could well have to be enforced by naval power projection, and Trump may end up following many of the same naval policies in the South China Sea as the Obama administration. This would, of course, raise tensions between the United States and China.
Trump’s proposals and policies have not been thoroughly tested and their success at stabilizing the world situation are far from assured. Although Trump tends to appear more interested in fostering peace and cooling down global conflict, the tensions created by his policies, especially with respect to China, may in fact increase the possibility of conflict, showing just how unpredictable a Trump administration may be.
Trump has positioned himself as a pro-business candidate that will stimulate the US economy, and many of his proposed policies could potentially have positive effects. However, Trump’s heavy criticism of global trade agreements, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TPP), as well as Trump’s intention to force American companies to bring their business operations back from other countries in an attempt to reverse the process of ‘offshorization’ may well benefit the American economy, but may in fact deal some heavy damage to the global economy.
Policies that benefit the United States directly, such as encouraging auto manufacturers to return production to American soil by raising tariffs on autos made by American companies in other countries, will have a negative effect on other countries. Agreements such as the TTIP would certainly raise global economic activity, despite the fact that they benefit one side over the other, and would raise the level of global economic activity. It follows that delaying or disrupting negotiations on these agreements may lead to more negative consequences for the world economy as a whole.
Trump’s public call for better relations with Russia may have the effect of reducing or even removing sanctions thereby restoring former business between Russia and Europe as well as creating new business relationships which compensate for negative effects of other policies on the world economy. Further, if Trump’s promises for peace and stabilization of global conflicts is carried out, economic activity and innovation would continue without any obstacle.
A Clinton administration would continue to develop the economic strategy initiated by the Obama administration, including liberal policies toward corporate offshoring and advancement of global trade deals such as TTIP and TPP. In essence, these policies would produce slow but stable growth for the world economy. Maintaing the sanctions on Russia would restrict global growth but if negotiations on either TTIP or TPP would result in an agreement, the resulting economic activity would more than make up for that lost business.
The Clinton administration may appear to offer better opportunities for the global economy, but one major factor still needs consideration. Clinton’s preference for resolution of conflicts by military means, seen most acutely in her proposals for resolving the Syrian situation, have a high potential to lead to a wider conflict with Russia and Iran, and ultimately may lead to a third global war, a war in which the main adversaries have a vast amount of deliverable nuclear weapons as well as a protocol for using them, should the need arise.
Needless to say, any conflict in which nuclear weapons are used is unequivocally negative for the global economy in the short term, if a global economy even remains after the dust has settled. If a global war remains conventional or if nuclear weapons are used in limited capacity, the prospect for global economic growth in the medium term is quite positive given the need to rebuild the affected countries, but the loss of life, destruction of productive infrastructure and buildings, and long term psychological and social effects far outweigh the economic growth related to rebuilding what was lost.
US Social and Business Conditions
As the status quo candidate, Hillary Clinton represents a future similar to the present conditions with small but noticeable changes. Although controversial, Obama’s healthcare plan, commonly referred to as ‘Obamacare’, did bring healthcare insurance to more Americans. Clinton will most certainly continue developing Obamacare, which may improve the lives of many people. Hillary has also proposed a plan to finance higher education for students whose household earns a combined income of less than $125,000 per year, something seen as positive for standard of living and development of future business conditions.
Clinton’s willingness to accept more refugees from the war torn Middle East may increase already palpable social tensions by increasing competition for low-wage jobs and undermining social cohesion. The liberal policies of allowing companies to seek lower cost labor in other countries will continue to send jobs out of the United States, leaving university graduates, already suffering from low employment rates, with even fewer work opportunities.
Despite meeting with mothers of black teens killed by police, Hillary has no practical solution for addressing the growing issue of perceived racial prejudice by police officers. Neither does Donald Trump for that matter.
Trump’s strongest potential option for improving the social and business conditions in the US is his promise to force American companies to bring production back to the United States. Fulfilling this promise would create many jobs in the US and alleviate the millennial unemployment problem, all the while raising wages and the overall standard of living. Although xenophobic and perhaps even racially charged in nature, Trump’s intention to limit immigration may also create more low-wage opportunities for American citizens.
Trump has called for an increase in paid maternity leave, something which may quality of life for average people. One of his main campaign promises is to revise and simplify the tax system. If done properly, this policy will make filing taxes easier for normal citizens and businesses as well, improving business conditions and potentially creating more jobs and economic activity.
On the other hand, Trump is widely seen as a candidate who represents white male superiority and the mere fact of a Trump administration may cause an increase in already palpable social tensions, potentially even leading to open protest from Muslim or Hispanic groups among others at his presidency. The Clinton campaign has worked to paint Trump as a white supremacist and misogynist, and often successfully so. Despite the potential economic benefits of a Trump presidency, the potential explosion of social tensions may cause an overall negative social and business situation in the United States. Of course, a Trump administration will recognize this danger and will make every attempt to prevent it.
The Future of Europe
A Trump presidency would entail a major reversal of policies for many Eastern European countries, including the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine, when it comes to European relations with Russia. Trump has not only publicly questioned the utility of NATO, but has also called for better relations with Russia, both concepts which are anathema to many Eastern European nations. If Trump were to decrease the American footprint in Europe and to attempt to build better relations with Russia, many European nations would be forced to rethink some of their main strategic objectives at the very least. The current government of Ukraine would be one of the biggest losers in Europe should Trump become president and may even be pushed out of power, either peacefully or forcefully, should Trump choose to sacrifice American support for Ukraine in exchange for better relations with Russia, including recognition of Crimea as Russian territory.
A decrease in US forces on mainland Europe as well as American engineered political obstacles to cooperation between Europe and Russia would naturally lead to a blossoming of relations between Europe and Russia. Under a Trump presidency, one may expect a significant rollback of European sanctions on Russia and significant growth in Russia-Europe trade and relations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) would regain influence in regulating Europe-Russia relations. European-Chinese relations would also grow dynamically as ‘Silk Road’ projects through Russia would take on new relevance.
Many so-called ‘Euroskeptic’ movements and otherwise ‘right of center’ political groups would gain influence and perhaps even become part of the mainstream political configuration. Parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National, Alternative fuer Deutschland, Austria’s Freedom Party, and Golden Dawn in Greece could make a grand entrance into mainstream politics while ruling parties in Hungary and Italy could become even more entrenched. Pushed forward by Brexit, this trend would bring considerable momentum behind the a drive for the dissolution of the European Union, at least for the monetary union, but this remains unlikely.
A Trump presidency may even allow for the start of negotiations between Europe and Russia on a comprehensive trade and political agreement to regulate relations. Numerous politicians, including Francois Mitterand and Vladimir Putin, have spoken about a free trade zone stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostock, but if China has any say in the matter, the zone will extend to Singapore and cover the entire supercontinent of Eurasia. If this concept were to ever become reality, European nations would gain influence over developing nations and receive access to valuable and profitable investment opportunities.
Further, any major agreement between the United States and Russia on Middle Eastern policy would entail a significant slowdown of the current migration crisis as well as a noticeable reduction in terrorist related activity. Europe may even join a coalition of the US and Russia to fight terrorism. Lastly, US missile defense systems in Poland and Romania are likely to be dismantled.
A Hillary Clinton presidency would entail business as usual with Europe and a continuation of the current trends and policies initiated by the Obama administration. The major features of a Clinton presidency would include continued military build-up in Baltic states, continuation of European sanctions against Russia, increased support for the Ukrainian government, increased media hype about the Russian military threat, and a further break-down in the systems that govern Europe-Russia relations, such as the OSCE and PACE.
A Clinton presidency would entail an increase in the number of American troops in mainland Europe as well as an increase in joint US-European defense projects, including expansions of the missile defense project. More US-led NATO troops, groupings, and exercises would take place in the Baltic countries and a Clinton administration would push for Sweden and Finland closer to NATO, with the ultimate purpose to convince the Scandinavian countries to join the military block. Expect increased media reports about air force interceptions and Russian submarine scandals.
Any European Union political party that has a neutral or favorable position to Russia will come under increased scrutiny and will face attacks on multiple fronts, mostly through the media. The EU will work to make examples of governments such as Hungary, Greece, and Italy that actively resist sanctions against Russia and attempt to circumvent sanctions by making their own economic arrangements with Russia.
Europe will be pressured to sign TTIP and will most likely become more and more dependent on the United States for economic and political policy. More LNG terminals will be built on the European mainland so that European countries can import natural gas from America and Qatar so that dependence on Russia is decreased. China will place less of an effort on the Silk Road overland trade route and will have to make a different trade arrangement with Europe.
Middle East migration numbers will continue in full force as US policy in the Middle East will continue to favor interventionist hawks, forcing reluctant European nations to accept more and more refugees from Middle Eastern nations. The threat of terrorism will remain high and terrorist attacks are likely to occur again on European soil.
US Relations with Russia and China
A Clinton administration will continue to play a double game with China, continuing the liberal policies of offshoring production to Chinese companies and maintaining a strong trade relationship on the one hand, but encircling China militarily with naval hardware and trade partnerships with local Chinese rivals. China will have a difficult time trying to push its goods to Europe through the Eurasian continent as the US will actively block attempts to create a Silk Road structure leading either through Russia or through Iran. However, on the surface, the US will continue to maintain a careful policy of wary respect toward China, never making overt insults or provocations and maintaining an air of pretentious respect.
Relations with Russia will be characterized by increased support to Russia’s enemies in Ukraine and Syria, as well as attempts to undermine the governments in Belarus and Central Asian countries. President Clinton will push European allies to increase economic pressure on Russia and media coverage of Russia from all ideological sides of American media will turn increasingly negative. All of this will take place while the United States will continue to do business with Russia as usual, buying rocket engines, space transport services, grain, and even certain types of weapons as if there was no issue in bilateral relations.
The strategic economic goals of a Trump presidency would almost immediately begin to cause problems for Chinese-American relations. If Trump acts on his promises to raise tariffs for American companies producing goods in foreign countries and then shipping them to the US, many businesses with manufacturing operations in China will be forced to shut down their Chinese subsidiaries, causing significant losses for China. China would potentially experience a major economic downturn as many of its factories and industrial centers would be forced out of business. China would not leave such an unkind gesture unanswered and would most likely sell a significant portion of its US Treasury bills and bonds on the market, or simply demand early payment, leading to a period of financial troubles for the US.
American-Russian relations would potentially enter into a new and unprecedented period of mutual understanding and cooperation. President Trump would work to open Russia’s massive market even further to American companies and would deepen partnerships between the US and Russia in areas like space exploration and development, energy distribution and marketing, and perhaps even reopen programs focusing on purchase and delivery of Russian military hardware to groups supported by the Pentagon, including the program to arm and train the Afghan military with Russian helicopters.
In all, both candidates offer substantially different visions of the future, and it is up to individual voters to decide which vision appears more rational and beneficial for both the United States and the world at large.
The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world