President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Research shows that foreign policy typically doesn’t play a deciding role in who wins a presidential election. It’s the economy that concerns most voters. However, who is elected president is critical to how U.S. foreign policy is conducted. That’s one reason why many in the GOP say they are deeply concerned about Donald Trump. His worldview harkens back to a pre-World War II era. It also puts him in sharp contrast to democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. Diane and her guests discuss the presidential candidates and their foreign policy positions.
- Damian Paletta national security and intelligence reporter, The Wall Street Journal
- Kim Ghattas international affairs correspondent, BBC; author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
- James Kitfield contributing editor, National Journal; senior fellow, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
- Elizabeth Saunders assistant professor of political science and international affairs, the George Washington University; Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, The Council on Foreign Relations
MS. DIANE REHMWelcome back, and now turning to the presidential candidates and foreign policy, all but one of those presidential candidates is speaking before AIPAC today, the Jewish lobby, and it is former first lady, former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who is at this moment speaking to the pro-Israel conference. And here in the studio, Damian Paletta of the Wall Street Journal, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, she's the author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power," James Kitfield is contributing editor at the National Journal, and Elizabeth Saunders is assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University.
MS. DIANE REHMKim Ghattas, what is Hillary Clinton telling us so far?
MS. KIM GHATTASWell, she has turned what is usually just a speech that is meant to showcase a candidate's support of Israel into also a stump speech because not only is the declaring that she wants to make sure that relations between the U.S. and Israel are taken to the next level, which is what she has just been saying in front of the audience in Washington, that the United States must remain committed to Israel's security, she's also pushing back against the other candidates, who will be speaking later today in front of the audience at the AIPAC conference.
REHMPushing back how?
GHATTASPushing back against someone like Donald Trump, saying, you know, the United States needs a steady hand as a president, not an unpredictable leader. That is a very direct criticism of Mr. Trump, even though she hasn't named him. But specifically she picked up on one point that Mr. Trump has made when he was asked how he would handle an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, he said he would remain neutral. And Mrs. Clinton has just said you cannot remain neutral when it comes to defending Israel or standing up to bigotry.
GHATTASBut she also took a small jab at the president, without naming him. She said, it's a serious mistake to abandon our responsibilities in the region or cede our mantle of global leadership. And there's a sense in the region, in the Middle East, that that's precisely what President Obama has, in fact, done.
REHMAnd James Kitfield, we know that Donald Trump is sort of breaking ranks with all of his fellow candidates on lots of issues regarding foreign policy. How would you describe what he is saying and his attitude toward foreign policy? Up to now, he said he's his own foreign policy advisor.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDRight, you know, he's something we haven't seen before, and one thing that always surprises me about him in going back in preparation for this show and looking at his stances, he seems to sort of say something that he thinks will play very well to his base, and then he -- you know, if it gets too much pushback, he kind of backtracks. So he's going to -- he embraced torture and said he would force our military to torture prisoners, kill the family of terrorists, you know, two war crimes, and then kind of backtracked and said, no, I'd try to get the laws changed so they would be able to do a lot more enhanced interrogation techniques.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDSo he's kind of very hard to pin down, but the one thing that I think he represents that we've never seen in our lifetime is this sort of streak of authoritarianism, where he has talked about Putin in a way that is very laudatory, and when a reporter says, but, you know, the journalists covering Putin tend to end up dead or in jail, he goes, yes, but there's strong leadership there. And he said the same thing very much about the Chinese during the Tiananmen Square, you know, talked about, oh, that massacre was horrible, but at least it was strong leadership being shown there. He's tweeted out Mussolini quotes.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDSo we haven't quite seen that before, and I think it's one of the reasons you saw 50 of the most preeminent Republican foreign policy advisors come out and say we could never, we could never, you know, be on the side of a Trump presidency, he's just too extreme.
REHMAre you seeing this, as well, Elizabeth Saunders, this notion of a man whose foreign policy is too extreme for many in leadership positions?
MS. ELIZABETH SAUNDERSWell, I think it's certainly the case that his failure to date to announce a team of advisors is probably reflective of some apprehension on the part of many in the Republican foreign policy establishment, but I do think there is a streak of opportunism in some of Trump's speeches and policy stances, but there has been at least some analysis trying to make sense of his world view, and one analysis I saw from the Brooking Institution's Tom Wright looked back at some of Trump's previous foreign policy statements and found that they did have at least some coherence. He has been talking this way for a while, going back to the '80s and '90s and making statements about how America's allies are free-riding and wanting other countries to bear more of the burden and so forth.
MS. ELIZABETH SAUNDERSAnd that dovetails with what we know about presidential candidates. They do tend to form their worldviews fairly early on. Leaders' background experiences really do last, and they're very difficult to change. Most of us don't change our views that much over time. So that makes a lot of sense. So it wouldn't surprise me if Trump's worldview does have its origins in his previous statements and experiences.
REHMDamian Paletta, how do you see it?
MR. DAMIAN PALETTAYou know, it's really interesting. He's broken a lot of taboos, I think, by embracing Vladimir Putin. You know, Republicans really stay away from Russia. They really are more adversarial with Russia. They want to arm NATO countries and put missile defense systems in Poland and areas like that. They don't say we can work with the Russians and let Russians, you know, carry out these bombing missions in Syria. But he's done these things, and his poll numbers go up. There hasn't been this backlash among voters for doing these things. And I think it's caused a lot of kind of soul-searching with the Republican Party about how he's been able to propose things that they for decades have said, you know, we should never go for, and he's been able to do it and kind of get away with it politically.
MR. DAMIAN PALETTASo I think he's causing all this soul-searching in the Republican Party, but also I think one of the points that Hillary Clinton is making today is we need a leader who is not reactionary, who we can trust with their finger on the button and that sort of thing. And I think, you know, with Donald Trump and these fiery rallies we've all been watching, there's going to be a lot of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans that he's too impulsive, that he might get us into some situation that he can't easily get us out of.
REHMThe question becomes how important is foreign policy to voters rather than to the party leaders, Elizabeth.
SAUNDERSWell, it's usually the case that foreign policy doesn't play a very central role in campaigns, and I think 2016 is not proving to be an exception. People often talk about Trump's foreign policy positions, his trade positions, but there's a big difference between a voter choosing a candidate on the basis of a foreign policy stance and reacting to talk of foreign policy that fits more broadly within a worldview that voters might have. These issues are not independent.
SAUNDERSSo if you are a voter who has particular views on crime, on immigration, gun control and so forth, perhaps you might also favor a strong, more aggressive foreign policy stance, but it's not the case that voters are necessarily going issue by issue and saying I like this candidate, I support this candidate on the basis of his stance.
KITFIELDYou know, it's interesting. Foreign policy traditionally does not play very heavily in presidential candidates.
KITFIELDI think the only exception I can remember was the Iraq War in 2006, or 2008, I should say, where Obama's position to that was very strong. If you're engaged in a Vietnam or an Iraq war that's very unpopular, then it plays a big deal. Otherwise not so much. But that was kind of the thing. I mean, the establishment and the elites of a party have gotten a really bad name in this election cycle as being, you know, out of touch with the group.
REHMTotally out of touch, yeah.
KITFIELDBut that's the group that used to sort of track these foreign policy positions. So you can see, you know, where eventually do they fall on this sort of -- this spectrum of a world view. Are you a sort of a realist who, you know, feels one way about -- I mean, I think there's two realists in this race, Kasich and Hillary Clinton, and I think that Bernie Sanders is very, you know, stands in very well for sort of the left wing of the Democratic Party, pacifist, anti-war. Cruz stands in very much for the right-wing Tea Party, you know, neo-con view of the Republican Party. The one outlier is Donald Trump, who has, as we said, sort of an authoritarian, strong-man view of foreign policy but very anti-trade, which is, you know, one places where you never imagined the Republican Party would go with a candidate who is so protectionist and anti-trade. That is a fundamental core of the Republican foreign policy.
GHATTASI think that Donald Trump's slogan, make America great again, and his rhetoric about how he wants to do that, winning again and again, striking all these deals that are good for America, do speak to this desire that many Americans have to feel that they have a more important role on the world stage. So that's where domestic policy and foreign policy come together. How do you make America great again? Not just by improving the economy but about, you know, showing China who's boss and, you know, making alliances that, you know, pay off for America, getting rid of all those free-riders, you know, even South Korea.
GHATTASYou know, why are we giving them military aid? Why do we have troops there? What's missing from that is an explanation to the American voters about the nuances of diplomacy and how these alliances work. Not everything is a business deal, as Mr. Trump would like to think. And one candidate who is the most well-prepared and the most experienced on foreign policy, who is Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, has yet to make that case to American voters, that, you know, the reason why they should care about foreign policy is because it has a direct impact on their lives and their jobs.
REHMOf course. Damian?
PALETTAOne of the remarkable things we saw from Donald Trump was a few months ago, he was giving an interview to conservative talk radio, and he confused the Quds Force in Iran with the Kurdish people in Iraq, which are very different. But, you know, and conservative talk radio made a big deal of this, and, you know, the Republican made a big deal of this, but his voters didn't care. They don't care if he doesn't know the difference, right? They want someone who's just focused on getting the American people back to where he's promising to get them.
PALETTAAnd they're probably sick of, you know, this kind of memorize the leaders of all these foreign countries checklist that a lot of candidates have had to pass through in past elections. They want someone who's going to look out for them and not be beholden to foreign countries.
REHMAnd I said at the outset, all but one candidate is addressing AIPAC today, and that one is Bernie Sanders. How come, James?
KITFIELDYou know, I don't think that Bernie Sanders thinks that he's going to play well against the other candidates out there in his sort of getting close to Israel, if you will. He's not that in tune. It requires, for instance, a lot of defense spending and a lot of security assistance to Israel. He's kind of anti-defense spending. He thinks that's a drain against our domestic spending. And also there are some people there like Ted Cruz who, because of his Evangelical support, is going to say Israel over everyone, we'll do whatever you want, Israel, we are not going to pressure you to reach a two-state peace solution because, you know, he's very much in the camp, as Evangelical, neo-conservative candidates have always been, in sort of the right wing of the Israeli party, Likud and Netanyahu. So I don't think -- I don't think there's traction there for him.
REHMBut if he were to be elected president, would he wish to cut back on spending for Israel?
KITFIELDI doubt it. I think it's mostly at this stage of the campaign optics, and a lot of positions people stake out will be moderated by the demands of actually having to govern. But right now I don't think that he sees the optics as playing very well for his campaign.
GHATTASBernie Sanders has a very interesting worldview, and I think that aside from his scheduling conflict, which he said was why he couldn't appear at the AIPAC conference, you know, he is a leftist, he has an anti-imperialist streak to his worldview, defending the oppressed. That includes the Palestinians. He has spoken out against the occupation in the past. He has -- in 1998 he said it was wrong for the United States to provide arms to Israel. So he has this, you know, anti-imperial, anti-occupation streak to him, which still taints his worldview to this day.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. What about Governor Kasich? How would you describe his foreign policy, Damian?
PALETTAReally interesting. He -- when he was in Congress, he did spend time on the Armed Services Committee. And so he professes a fluency in foreign policy that many people would not expect from someone who got their chops in, you know, balanced budgets and in his time in Ohio. But for example on Cuba, Ted Cruz has been very critical of what President Obama is doing with Cuba. Donald Trump has actually been pretty supportive of what President Obama is doing with Cuba. John Kasich has not said much about Cuba. His approach to Russia has been more of support of Russia's neighbors in NATO, in the Baltic States. But he hasn't proposed a direct confrontation with Russia from U.S.
PALETTASo he's been much more reserved from what we were hearing from Marco Rubio, what we hearing from Jeb Bush. Now that he's kind of one of the last establishment guys standing, he definitely has not taken on that neoconservative position that a lot of his fellow Republicans have.
KITFIELDYeah, there was a reason why I said that I think that him and Hillary Clinton are the closest thing to sort of centrist realists in this party, and basically it's the tradition of the Republican party up into -- up until George H.W. Bush in '91, which was, you know, the Brent Scowcroft, sort of James Baker wing of the Republican Party, which, you know, he has some Reagan advisors, Dick Allen and John Lehman, former Reagan secretary of the Navy. He's proposed going from 10 to 15 aircraft carriers, which is very much Lehman's 600-ship Navy kind of worldview, that the Navy in this type of world plays to your strengths.
KITFIELDSo I think he's very much that sort of centrist, pro-defense, but not an ideologically driven candidate. He seems to be very much a realist to me.
GHATTASI find that what most or probably at this point all the Republican candidates have in common is an oversimplification of the problems that the United States faces in the Middle East or that the Middle East is facing. It all boils down to counterterrorism, to fighting radical Islamists and whether, you know, you're John Kasich or whether you're Ted Cruz, it's just shades of - shades of that approach to reducing the Middle East to one issue, which is counterterrorism. And it's taken to the extreme by someone like Ted Cruz, who then says, you know, we'll carpet-bomb them and see if the sand glows in the dark.
GHATTASI think the problem with that is that none of these candidates, even on the Democratic side, have really come up with a new paradigm to approach the Middle East at a time when the traditional pillars that the U.S. has relied on to exercise power or to maintain its alliances in the region are failing, whether it's, you know, Egypt as a pillar of American security, whether it's the relationship with Israel in a region that is -- where Israel is now surrounded by countries in chaos, whether it's the alliance with Saudi Arabia, none of these candidates have expressed how they're going to tackle this region in the future.
SAUNDERSWell, I think that really illustrates a common feature of campaigning and foreign policy, which is that candidates have an incentive to be vague. You often see disagreements within parties, and if you make a vague statement like I'm going to be tough on ISIS, right, we've hear a lot of toughness -- long on toughness, short on specifics, you can appeal to all these different wings of the party without boxing yourself into a corner or at least avoid alienating an important faction. And I think you're seeing that, and you've seen it in the past, and you're going to see it in the future.
REHMElizabeth Saunders, she's at the George Washington University. And we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, your questions, comments, your emails, phone calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about Presidential politics and the individual foreign policies that so far we know about each candidate. Here's an email from Margaret. She says, the only reason I, as an older white female do not want to vote for Hillary Clinton is that she will continue the interventionist foreign policies of the last several decades. Do you agree with that, James?
KITFIELDI would agree that Hillary Clinton is more hawkish than Barack Obama and we've seen that in a couple of substantive cases where, for instance, when, in 2012, when the civil war was just beginning in Syria, and it was a consensus among Obama's advisors, including the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State that they should arm the rebel factions we saw as most moderate against his basically war crimes, barrel bombing civilian populations. And Obama decided against doing that. And she was also very supportive of the intervention in Libya.
KITFIELDNow, I think she's justified that now, saying, well, Libya could be even worse if we didn't intervene. It could be like Syria. Others will say we kind of dropped the ball in the aftermath of that intervention. So, I take the point. I still think that she's, you know, centrist and, you know, not sort of really hard line in a way that we think she'd want to poke her nose into every conflict. But the world's a very, very unstable place now and the next President, whoever it is, is going to face a lot of agonizing decisions about how bad you let things get or do you try to lead something that's a solution that may involve US military force.
SAUNDERSWell, I agree with that, but I think it also has important consequences of when we think about the general election. Because it is -- it makes it more difficult for whoever is nominated on the Republican side to hit the Democratic nominee for being insufficiently tough. Because Hillary Clinton is more hawkish than the -- than we're used to seeing from a Democratic nominee. And so it's going to be very hard to draw a contrast if the Republicans wanted to make toughness a major sort of wedge issue.
REHMAll right. To Pat in Westminster, Vermont. We've opened the phones and you're on the air.
PATI'm a little nervous. I've never gotten through to you before. I'm shocked.
REHMGlad to have you.
PATI'm calling because -- it's about Trump. I'm calling because me and my family, we all agree, we agree with him that these countries are getting a free ride off us and I know he doesn't, I'm sure he doesn't tell everything about foreign policy but I believe that he has to be tough with these countries if he gets the nomination. And, you know, I don't understand either why do we have to send money over to these countries all the time. Why do we have troops in all these countries? I'm -- I really kind of believe that they have to fight for themselves over there.
REHMAll right. Damian, there's been lots of talk about this election somehow focusing on Trump as pre-World War II.
PALETTAThat's exactly right. And she raises a point I think that millions of Americans share. She, you know, he has said, why shouldn't South Korea, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, why shouldn't they not be paying the US more money for our military protection? And, you know, we have very complicated relationships with these countries, obviously. But I think that this is a point that a lot of Americans sort of agree with. You know, we spend billions and billions of dollars equipping our military. We station them in these countries. You know, why shouldn't these countries, you know, give us some of that money back?
PALETTAAnd also, this idea, I mean, the biggest boogeyman for him on the campaign trail, I think, are China and Mexico. Right? He wants to build this giant wall with Mexico and he wants to...
REHMNo, he wants Mexico to build the giant wall.
PALETTAThat's right. That's right. Exactly.
KITFIELDPay for it.
REHMAnd pay for it.
PALETTAAnd also, he says China has been manipulating their currency and it's, you know, really taking advantage of US consumers. I mean, they have been manipulating their currency, right? And so, he's not making some of this stuff up. But the -- it's just so, our relationship with China is so complicated that if we got into a trade war with China or if we got into a trade war with Mexico, who knows what the response would be? And I think that's one of the things, you know, either he's thought these things through and he's kind of two steps ahead of all of us or he would be kind of poking a tiger in the tail and we don't know what the response would be.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, I would just echo the fact -- I mean, and your listener is correct that China does manipulate its currency and it does have some unfair trade policies. However, I mean, if you, over the course, the arc of history of the last half century, I've been amazed that between Republican and Democratic administrations, China policy is the one that actually has -- is the most steady. Because you realize when you -- trading partner and the number two and soon to be number one economy in the world, to start a trade war with that, especially if they hold, you know, trillions of dollars of your debt, is a disastrous policy.
KITFIELDBut it doesn't get away from the fact that Donald Trump is tapping into something that's very real, which is there -- China does have some policies that we have great objections too. And, you know, what typically happens is you get in there and you realize how much leverage they have over us as well as how much leverage we have with them. And you start to get into these very complex negotiations where you try to move the ball one or two yards at a time instead of a Hail Mary pass like a trade war.
REHMBut isn't that the point of world relations, whether they're economic or military or any other political? There is compromise that has to prevail that allows each country to do what it needs to do, Kim.
GHATTASAbsolutely. And I think that that's where Mr. Trump has not done his homework. When he wants to get rid of these alliances or bring troops home, back from South Korea or from Germany, he hasn't looked at what the US, how the US has benefited from this liberal world order that the US has, you know, supported and lead for all these years. And that is something that perhaps American voters have also forgotten. This is a world order that Mr. Trump would like to liquidate. This is a world order that Hillary Clinton would like to reinforce, for example.
GHATTASAnd of course, I mean, I don’t -- haven't looked at the ledger of how much it costs the US and what the US gets in return. A lot of it is intangible in terms of benefits, but also, there is money to be made, of course. Because yes, you, you know, send troops to South Korea, but you are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. You're not giving it to them and they're paying big bucks for it.
SAUNDERSWell, I think, you know, this all ties back to this issue of what are voters hearing when they hear Trump talk about these things? And it is true that these, that these, the web of relations between the US and China and other countries is quite complex, but I think voters are hearing toughness and taking on an enemy. And that's what they're reacting to more than the specifics of any particular policy.
REHMYou know, I'm interested. Kim, that you wrote a piece recently on your observations about this year's elections. Talk about that.
GHATTASSo, I was born in Beirut. I grew up in a civil war. I covered the Middle East for half of my career and then I came to the US covering foreign policy for the first -- for the second half of my career, and now I'm covering the 2016 election. I'll make two observations. One, as a non-American, when I hear all this talk from Republican candidates about gloom and doom in the US, it makes me feel like, you know, America's on the brink of collapse. I think which country are they describing exactly?
GHATTASYou know, this is not the vision that others have of the United States. I understand that, of course, life is very difficult for people who are struggling with mortgages, with, you know, police violence, with food stamps, et cetera. But this country is not about to, you know, fall off the brink. The other observation I make in my piece is about how I see whiffs of, you know, the worst of Middle Eastern politics from demagoguery -- Mr. Trump. To anti-left -- to anti-imperialist, leftist politics that are stuck in the 80's, Mr. Bernie Sanders. To invocations of God, which are very common in the Middle East at every turn.
GHATTASYou have Ted Cruz take the stage in Iowa after he won and said, to God be the glory. You know, it actually sounds like Allahu Akbar in English. And Allahu Akbar is associated, in the West, with a rallying cry by jihadists before committing a massacre, but actually, it's used every day by people who praise the Lord when there is a joyful event. So, there are all these -- and then, most worryingly, for someone like me, and for many Americans, I'm sure, are the creeping references to violence that create a permissive climate for violence to actually take place, God forbid.
REHMAll right, let's go to Paul in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He has something of the same feeling. Go ahead, Paul.
PAULYes, I just think it's very interesting or very sad, I'm 61-years-old, and I feel like I live in a third world country, not because I don't agree with the speaker. I totally agree with her. We have an isolationist mentality in terms of not realizing how good we have it compared to the rest of the world. But I feel like a third world country because we have two very dangerous right wing people in Ted Cruz, who's extremely intelligent. He's the sleeper, he's very smart, while Trump may be a buffoon to some and myself included, Cruz, if you look closely at his policies, he is very dangerous. He's a fundamentalist Christian, which is what the speaker just said there.
PAULAnd we have a very real possibility of one of these two right wing extremists running against, maybe Bernie, a socialist. Doesn't that sound third world? You've got two right wing, ultra right wingers against a socialist. And the right wingers could win. There's a lot of anti-Hillary sentiment. I'm a lifelong Democrat, but if she had dumped Bill, I would have respected her a heck of a lot more. The guy was a, you know, I have a daughter the age of Monica Lewinsky, you know, and it's just very scary what could happen.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. What do you think, Damian?
PALETTAYou know, it's interesting, when we see some of these primary nights and when you see how well Donald Trump has done in some states, or Ted Cruz, I think a lot of Americans don't appreciate how many people share their world view. Or share their, you know, philosophy, or share their, you know, religious beliefs. And so, you know, this is not a homogenous country. We're a melting pot, we've been that way for decades. It's what makes this country great. And this process is supposed to kind of get the country to talk about these issues and debate them.
PALETTAThis is a different year, I think, in part, quite honestly, because of President Obama's strong poll numbers. His approval rating is very high for a, you know, seven or eight year President. And so, they're not really running on his record as much as running on a bunch of other things. And that's created this kind of chaotic atmosphere that some candidates have taken advantage of and some haven't, quite frankly, known what to do with.
REHMHillary Clinton, as we said earlier, spoke this morning at APAC and a couple of the things she said. She mentioned that Iran's ballistic missile program is quote, a serious danger and demands a more serious response. She also said what Americans are hearing on the campaign trail is something else entirely. Now, we've had dark chapters in our history before, she says, we remember the nearly 1,000 Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry. America should be better than this. If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see a bully, stand up to him. So, who's she talking about James?
KITFIELDShe's talking about Donald Trump. And this is not, you know, this is not even a veiled reference. The Jewish community has been very alarmed by the comments like, we're going to bar all Muslims from coming to the United States. Or that Mexicans are primarily rapists and criminals because they went -- a lot of them are Holocaust survivors. They went -- they remember Nazi Germany in the 1930s. They remember how this kind of movement starts. And it starts with comments like that. It starts with rallies that turn violent and the other is always the person that you claim is the cause of all your problems. That, to the Jewish community, is very unsettling.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And now, a caller in Barpersville, Virginia. You're on the air.
Hi Diane. I just wanted to ask your panelists, if they'd care to comment about a contrast and comparison of President Obama widening trade, opening trade with Cuba and the resistance President Clinton had when he tried to do that with China during his administration. I know Nixon opened the doors up, but it was Clinton that really pushed it forward. I was wondering what your panel thought about that.
KITFIELDWell, I think it's very much, again, if you're a centrist, and I think Hillary Clinton definitely is. I think Obama really is on trade. He's a free trader. So is Governor Kasich. And that's been the, I mean, we talk about the one, probably the most important thing about this election to me so far is that we're backing away from free trade, both on the left with Bernie Sanders pulling Hillary Clinton to the left on trade, where she's opposing the TPP. And from the right with Donald Trump's pulling the Republican Party against free trade.
KITFIELDI mean, free trade is the engine of this liberal order that was referred to earlier. That's what we sell to the world. Democracy, free trade. You can prosper if you play by these rules of the game. That has led to the American century. That is why we're the richest country in the world, the number one economy in the world. If you start dismantling one of the foundations of that sort of deal, a lot of people aren't going to find what America offers very attractive.
REHMBut considering the fact that Bernie Sanders is, as you suggest, pulling Hillary Clinton to the left, how do you see, if she became President, how do you see her, perhaps changing or challenging those free trade policies?
KITFIELDI think she'll be a free trader and I think she'll support -- I think she'll support TPP. But I think that she'll try to find a way to negotiate some more protections for workers who are displaced by this globalized economy. And that's to the good. And that's fine and that could be something that Sanders, if he doesn't get the nomination, could have, you know, led to. I think that some of these deals should be more protective of the people who are displaced, but it's a small minority compared to if you look at the -- how many people benefit from free trade deals.
KITFIELDWhether it's NAFTA, whether it's the various free trade deals, the benefits are manifest. But they're more diffused.
REHMBut the public doesn't believe that.
KITFIELDWell, there's this very vocal but very, you know, they have a big grievance. If you're a manufacturer in working in a car plant in Detroit, you've seen your industry decimated. The whole rust belt feels this way, so there is a big problem. It's a minority, but it's a big problem. And it effects their lifestyles.
REHMThere was a piece in the New York Times on Sunday talking about Carrier Air Conditioning and how those jobs went to Mexico because they're paying these people 15 dollars a day where here in this country, they're paying them 15 dollars an hour. Elizabeth.
SAUNDERSWell, I think trade is maybe the one issue that's gotten more traction in this cycle than we've seen...
SAUNDERS...in recent elections. But I think it's still important to remember that trade concerns and trade anxieties are playing into broader economic anxieties. So, it's not necessarily the case that voters are going out and looking for a candidate who has a particular policy on trade. It's more that the talk about -- the talk against trade is playing into these broader anxieties. And so...
REHMBecause of job loss.
SAUNDERS...yes, but I think, you know, I think James is right that if elected, Hillary Clinton would probably be -- still be a free trader and it's not, you know, there's a big difference between saying trade is a little more salient this cycle and it dovetails with broader economic anxieties than saying it's a central issue driving voters' decision making.
REHMAll right. We'll have to leave it there. Very interesting discussion. Elizabeth Saunders of George Washington University, James Kitfield of the National Journal. Kim Ghattas of the BBC. Damian Paletta of the Wall Street Journal. It will be fascinating to see and hear the rest of these speeches today and going forward. Thank you all.
PALETTAThanks so much.
GHATTASGreat to be here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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