The third and final presidential debate, hosted by Chris Wallace, may have been the most substantive of the cycle, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are approaching the last fortnight of the election cycle without having had to engage in an array of important foreign policy discussions, including what their support or opposition to the Iraq war and the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya actually meant for how they approached foreign policy today, what the U.S. ought to do in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has operated in since 2001, what the U.S. position should be about Yemen, embroiled in a year and a half long civil war in which U.S. ally and arms recipient Saudi Arabia is involved, or what their view on the expansion of the war on terror in Africa actually is.
A lot of this is the legacy of President Obama—who helped create a bipartisan consensus on the general contours of George Bush’s war on terror. The Obama administration dropped the moniker but not the idea that the U.S. ought to be engaged in military operations around the world to go after radical groups that could one day pose a threat to the homeland. This bipartisan consensus doesn’t appear in rhetoric—generally Republicans claim Obama is a weak president while Democrats credit Obama for perceived successes in the war on terror and blame the failures on Bush. Clinton and Trump say they disagree on what the U.S. should do about ISIS, but neither questions the idea that the U.S. ought to be engaged in military operations from West Africa to the Kush to fight it. They disagree to some extent on approach but, mostly, they disagree the rhetoric surrounding the approach.
While the third debate had a section about “foreign hot spots,” foreign policy once again got mostly a surface engagement that revolved around the candidates’ previous actions and words but not philosophies and rhetoric about Russia. Countries from Afghanistan to Yemen were left unmentioned, not much of a departure from the last two debates.
Here are the 16 countries the candidates did mention, and the context:
China (7 mentions)
No surprise China made it in to the debate given the central role it played in anti-trade rhetoric this election cycle. But the first mention came from Clinton in a response about abortion (the first time the issue has come up in the 2016 debates). “I’ve been to countries where governments… forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China,” Clinton explained. “The government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith, with medical advice, and I will stand up for that right.”
Trump brought up China as a possible alternate culprit to Russia in the Wikileaks email hacks, for their 7 percent GDP growth, and to bemoan that “product is pouring in” from China while “relatively speaking” the U.S. didn’t make anything anymore. This kind of economically illiterate and counterproductive anti-trade rhetoric has become popular with both major parties this year. Clinton’s response was not, of course, a defense of free trade, but accusations of China dumping steel and, the horror, of Trump purchasing such steel to build his towers. “So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is,” Clinton insisted, channeling her inner xenophobe, “but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.”
China also came up as an example for Trump of the U.S. entering into bad deals because they put “political hacks” who give campaign contributions in charge of negotiations with China.
Germany (3 mentions)
Donald Trump listed Germany as one example of a country with which the U.S. would have to renegotiate its military agreements, arguing that Germany should pay the U.S. for its military presence there.
Haiti (9 mentions)
Clinton was asked by Chris Wallace about evidence of pay-for-play related to the Clinton Foundation and federal grants for Haiti relief in the context of her pledge prior to taking office as Secretary of State that she would avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Clinton insisted she had kept the pledge, avoiding the specific allegations and launching into a defense of the charity work she said the foundation did. Trump said he visited Little Haiti in Florid and insisted that Haitians “hate the Clintons, because what’s happened in Haiti with the Clinton Foundation is a disgrace. And you know it, and they know it, and everybody knows it.”
The New York Times reported back in March how the Clintons had “become prime targets of blame for the country’s woes” for Haitians because of their history with the country, going back to 1994 when President Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he’d been removed by a military coup and up to contemporary allegations of mis-spent money and broken promises.
Iran (13 mentions)
Trump brought up the Iran nuclear deal again, calling it “the stupidest deal of all time” and suggesting Iran write a “thank you” letter for it, also mentioning the $150 billion the U.S. gave back to Iran, including a cash payment of $1.7 billion this summer, and another letter for being able to “take over in Iraq” because of U.S. intervention there. Clinton accused Iranians, along with Russians, of “aiding and abetting” Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war, while Trump painted involvement in Syria by Iran and Russia as largely anti-ISIS.
Iraq (16 mentions)
Trump again brought up his early opposition to the Iraq war while also disagreeing with the decision to leave, which he’s also done before. The two did not disagree on the principle of continued U.S. involvement in Iraq. Clinton said she hoped the assault on Mosul would lead to a push into ISIS-held territory in Syria, while Trump complained that because the Mosul operation had been announced for months, the actual leaders of ISIS had plenty of time to escape. Clinton compared killing Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS, to killing Osama bin Laden. That operation came almost a decade after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and the war has lasted for half a decade since. Bin Laden was caught in Pakistan, living in a neighborhood of high-ranking military officials in a country that’s nominally an American ally. As has been the case for the entire election cylce, neither major party nominee is willing to draw any lessons from recent U.S. foreign policy history, even when they bring up the history in an effort to gain a partisan advantage.
India (1 mention)
Trump said he met with “high representatives” from India who told him the country was growing at 8 percent GDP. “And that for them is a catastrophically low number,” Trump said of India, and China’s, growth, while bemoaning U.S. growth of 1 percent before launching into an anti-trade tirade.
Japan (5 mentions)
Trump listed Japan as another example of a country with which the U.S. would have to renegotiate its military agreements, arguing that Germany should pay the U.S. for its military presence there. Germany and Japan were part of the Axix powers allied forces fought in World War 2, a war that set up the foundations for a significant chunk of foreign policy today—rethinking those foundations is long overdue.
Libya (1 mention)
Clinton made it through all three debates without having to explain why she supported U.S. intervention in Libya, what she hoped to accomplish, why she doesn’t view the subsequent instability in Libya and the region as a failure, and what lessons, precisely, did she learn when she called Iraq a mistake, if just a few years later she helped push the U.S. into another military intervention in the Muslim world. Trump pointed to Libya as an example of Clinton’s failures. When he did so at a previous debate, she insisted he supported the intervention too when he was a reality television personality. This time she didn’t even bother, and no one forced her to.
Mexico (6 mentions)
Mexico was used once again by both candidates as a boogeyman in their anti-trade rhetoric, with Clinton attacking Trump for—the horror—creating jobs in Mexico (among 12 foreign countries, Clinton noted). For the first time in the debates, Trump’s wall came up. Clinton mocked Trump for not bringing up Mexico paying for the wall when he visited the Mexican president and then getting “into a Twitter war because the Mexican president said we’re not paying for that wall.”
Trump, meanwhile, accused Clinton of supporting the wall when she was in the Senate. “Hillary Clinton wanted the wall. Hillary Clinton fought for the wall in 2006 or thereabouts,” Trump said of Clinton’s votes for ‘border security’. “Now, she never gets anything done, so naturally the wall wasn’t built. But Hillary Clinton wanted the wall.”
Qatar (1 mention)
At the first debate Trump was impressed by the airports in Qatar. This time he brought it up as one of the unsavory regimes that has ties to the Clinton Foundation. “You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people that push gays off buildings,” Trump told Clinton. “These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.” Trump asked Clinton to return money from such regimes.
Romania (1 mention)
Clinton mentioned Romania as a country that used to force women to bear children, saying she did not support government involvement in making such decisions.
Russia (12 mentions)
At this debate, Trump finally said specifically he condemned attempts by Russia “or anybody else” to influence the election, while Clinton continued to stir up fears that Russia had selected Trump, who is trailing by nearly double digits, as their candidate. Trump insisted the U.S. didn’t know Russia was behind the hacks, while Clinton insisted the U.S. intelligence community could not be wrong if it agreed with itself.
Trump accused Clinton of having “no respect” for Putin, and she retorted that that was “because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” Trump shot back that Clinton was the puppet. “No, you’re the puppet.” Clinton also accused Russia of keeping Syria a hotbed of terrorism by supporting Assad, although she did not care to explain the logic behind that claim. U.S. experience in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere suggests otherwise, that accelerating the collapse of dictatorial regimes creates hotbeds of terrorisms.
Saudi Arabia (5 mentions)
Saudi Arabia was one of the countries Trump pointed to that should be paying more for defense commitments the U.S. has made, and one of the anti-women and anti-gay regimes to which he said Clinton should return money donated to the Clinton Foundation. He did not connect the two, and did not question the assumed benefit of an entangling relationship with Saudi Arabia, even as elsewhere he bemoaned that the U.S. ought to be working with Iran (a primary regional foe of Saudi Arabia’s) and Russia against ISIS.
South Korea (3 mentions)
Another “rich, powerful country” that should be paying the U.S. to defend it. Trump did not suggest any of these countries simply defend themselves and keep the U.S. out of it.
Syria (18 mentions)
Clinton continued to push for a no-fly zone in Syria even as she acknowledged the disastrous consequences that could lead to, while Trump insisted that the Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. were “definitely in many cases, ISIS-aligned.” Only 2,000 Syrian refugees had been resettled in the U.S. between the start of the Syrian civil war and 2015, and the U.S. was on pace to accept about 10,000 this year, under a vetting process more stringent than the one under which many of the more than 750,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since 9/11 went through.
Clinton, meanwhile, insisted the U.S.-Iraqi assault on ISIS-held Mosul would be followed by an assault on Raqqa. Between her ground plans and her plans for a no-fly zone, Clinton might as well be proposing pulling the U.S. wholesale into the war in Syria. Thanks to Trump’s poor grasp on articulating policy and generally failing campaign and the media’s overwhelmingly pro-interventionist status quo, escalated U.S. involvement in a volatile regional conflict with global repercussions won’t be a major election issue.
Vietnam (1 mention)
Another country stealing American jobs, according to Trump. It makes for a far better example of how much more effective free trade can be than military intervention in promoting freedom around the world.
See the countries mentioned at the first two debates here.