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Washington’s World: May 2nd, 2016 – May 8th, 2016

There is a certain sense in Washington that the Administration’s foreign policy is now set on fairly predictable lines. With President Obama’s time in office running down, few new initiatives are expected. A small exception may the deployment of additional Special Forces to Syria to stiffen the opposition there. Some in Washington believe that this may initiate the so-called “Plan B” to deal with the situation that will arise after the current ceasefire crumbles, as many officials believe is already the case. But otherwise the main activity is restatement of current policy, for example toward the Asia-Pacific. This hiatus has been more than filled by a rambunctious debate about the likely foreign policy approaches of the two most likely presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The former’s is much the easier of the two to describe. The Clinton campaign has assembled a large team of foreign policy advisers, which by some counts, numbers in the hundreds. The individual members of this team are less important than the fact that they are overwhelmingly familiar faces either from past Administrations or from academic institutions. This fact strongly suggests that an Administration headed by her will represent continuity with previous US foreign policy, likely more open to US military interventions than Obama but less so than Bush. Trump’s approach is more difficult to pin down. His April 27th speech has attracted much criticism, with many of the harsher comments coming from fellow Republicans. Criticism has, however, not been unanimous, with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee providing fulsome praise. Experts have been quick to point out the inconsistencies in his presentation and there is no doubt that, should he face Clinton in a presidential debate, she will have plenty of material to exploit. For the time being, however, we doubt that this criticism will trouble him. His purpose in this speech was not to outline a fully developed program – everyone close to him emphasizes that he has extremely flexible views which adjust to the nature of the “deal” in front of him – but to lay down some broad themes. Of these the most important are: a) he will be relatively skeptical of US overseas military engagement; b) he will expect allies to be more self-reliant; c) all international commercial relations will be subject to a strict “what’s good for America” rule; and d) he will shake up the foreign policy establishment in Washington. This is far from a final version of his views. We expect much further elaboration.

Key Judgments

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