Donald Trump is the all-but-declared Republican presidential nominee and Hillary Clinton on the cusp of winning the Democratic nomination. It is time for voters to begin weighing the national security consequences of each candidate’s potential administration.
You can read our full profiles of the candidates’ positions related to Islamist extremism by clicking here for Donald Trump and here for Hillary Clinton. Below is a summary of six policy areas where they differ:
Defining the Threat
Trump defines the enemy as “radical Islam.” Clinton defines it variably as “jihadism,” “radical Jihadism” “Islamists who are jihadists.”
Defeating the Ideology
Trump said in his foreign policy speech that “containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States.” His policy proposals include a vague commitment to use the U.S. military more aggressively, deterring terrorists by killing their families, closing down the most radical mosques and banning Muslim immigration into the U.S. until the homeland is secure and an effective vetting process is established.
Trump is adamantly opposed to democracy-promotion and overthrowing regimes; instead, he favors alliances with authoritarian rulers who cooperate on counter-terrorism. He says, “our goal must be to defeat terrorists and promote stability, not radical change.”
He criticizes Clinton for supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Bashar Assad in Syria. However, a reputable senior foreign policy adviser to Trump, Dr. Walid Phares, is an expert on combating the Islamist ideology and believes in promoting human rights and civil society.
Clinton’s national security platform calls for “defeating ISIS and global terrorism and the ideologies that drive it.” Her strategy emphasizes civil society and a foreign policy that promotes freedom, women’s rights, free markets, democracy and human rights, all if which she believes are necessary in order to “empower moderates and marginalize extremists.”
Clinton says the U.S. needs an “overarching strategy” to defeat the ideology like the U.S. used to win the Cold War. Clinton wants the State Department to better “tell our story” overseas by confronting anti-American propaganda via public engagement.
Clinton’s speech on foreign policy and ISIS also includes confronting state sponsors of extremism like Qatar and Saudi Arabia and identifying “the specific neighborhoods and villages, the prisons and schools, where recruitment happens in clusters, like the neighborhood in Brussels where the Paris attacks were planned.”
ISIS, Iraq and Syria
Trump says he will appoint effective generals who will quickly crush the Islamic State. He believes the U.S. has “no choice” but to send 20-30,000 troops to fight the Islamic State. He would also attack the families of Islamic State members, bomb oil sites held by the Islamic State and then seize them for U.S. companies to rebuild and own.
He would not support Syrian rebels against the Iran-backed Assad regime; Trump supported Russia’s military intervention in Syria to save the dictatorship. Trump believes he can be a partner with Russian President Putin. He says he would establish safe-zones in Syria to stop the flow of refugees, but neighboring Arab countries like Saudi Arabia would have to pay for it.
Clinton’s speech on ISIS emphasized her opposition to a large ground campaign by U.S. forces, but she does support President Obama’s deployment of about 5,000 troops to Iraq with a limited role. She disagreed with President Obama when she urged U.S. support for Syrian rebels at the beginning of the civil war in order to prevent Islamist extremists from gaining ground.
Clinton also supported using the U.S. Air Force to implement a no-fly zone in Syria and to create safe zones for refugees. Clinton remains committed to ending the civil war in Syria by forcing Assad to resign from power as part of a political transition.
In Iraq, she favors direct U.S. military assistance to Sunni tribes and Kurdish forces fighting ISIS and expanding the U.S. forces’ role to include embedding personnel in local Iraqi units and assisting with airstrikes.
Trump would terminate the nuclear deal with Iran immediately and pledged to “dismantle” Iran’s global terrorism network in his speech about Israel and the Middle East. He supports placing severe sanctions on Iran to pressure them into a deal that dismantles their nuclear program and ends their support for terrorism.
Clinton supports the nuclear deal with reservations. She has released a 5-point plan to respond to the deal’s negative consequences, Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and human rights abuses of the Iranian regime. She supports expanding sanctions on Iran for these actions.
Neither candidate has explicitly endorsed overthrowing the Iranian regime, but Clinton took a step in that direction in 2010 when she said she hopes there will be “some effort inside Iran, by responsible civil and religious leaders, to take hold of the apparatus of the state.” She regrets that she and the Obama Administration did not more forcefully support the 2009 Green Revolution and promises “that won’t happen again.”
Neither candidate has endorsed the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act and concerns have been raised about both candidates’ advisers.
One of Clinton’s closest aides, Huma Abedin, was the assistant-editor of an Islamist journal with her family members, some of whom have Muslim Brotherhood links. She has not directly said anything extremist and is married to a pro-Israel Jew. Critics point out that although she has a security clearance, her familial ties may influence her advice to Clinton.
In her book, Clinton seems to understand that the Brotherhood is hostile to the U.S., deceptive and closely linked to Hamas. However, she seems to accept Islamist political parties like the Brotherhood as potential democratic partners. Her State Dept. operation in Egypt gave election training to Brotherhood members and a Clinton Foundation member belonged to the Brotherhood.
One of Trump’s top campaign aides, Paul Manafort, was a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and a lobbyist for a Pakistani ISI intelligence front in the U.S. that was also closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Trump has never said anything kind about the Muslim Brotherhood and wanted the U.S. to help keep Egyptian President Mubarak in power.