The field in the Democratic Party presidential sweepstakes is finally beginning to narrow. Three candidates have seen the writing on the wall and have dropped out. One new candidate, California billionaire Tom Steyer who has spent many millions promoting impeachment of President Trump, has jumped in.
All the polls indicate that at least four or five Democrats are beating Mr. Trump in head-on-head matchups now. But as we know, polls change and events have a way of changing the discussion.
So far, most of the issues voters are concerned with relate to domestic issues: healthcare, jobs, taxes and immigration. Of these concerns, only immigration is both a domestic and international issue but Americans are largely interested in the domestic effects of immigration policy – not the international ones.
And yet, numerous international issues are looming just off stage and have the capacity to command our attention and affect political events here at home.
Perhaps the most pressing international issue we’re facing relates to trade. The current trade war with China shows little sign of abating as both the US and China exchange hostile rhetoric and impose ever stiffer tariffs. Both sides have domestic imperatives to resolve the issue and trade uncertainty is creating havoc for business on both sides of the Pacific.
Fundamentally, President Trump is correct that China has systematically violated agreements they’ve made on access of US businesses to that nation. The Chinese have stolen intellectual property of US companies and show little sign of changing behavior. Mr. Trump is also correct that prior administrations of both parties have failed to address Chinese behavior. His tariff policies are disruptive and often implemented chaotically, but for now, most Americans agree that the US must address this issue.
Chinese economic and military expansion around the world also present a challenge to the US and its allies. President Obama recognized this with his famous “pivot to Asia” and establishment of a military base in Australia. Mr. Trump has expanded defense expenditure and called for construction of new naval ships to help counter China’s threat.
China has its own domestic issues, especially the crisis in Hong Kong, where citizens have dramatically protested China’s plans to pull that territory closer, violating its pledge to uphold a “One Nation, Two Systems” policy. Mr. Trump was slow to give recognition to the plight of Hong Kong, but now seems to recognize the importance of that movement and its potential to exert pressure on China’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is divided over the Afghanistan negotiations with the Taliban. Alarmingly, the President seems determined to exit that nation quickly despite continued provocations, including the killing of a US soldier last week in a Kabul bombing. Mr. Trump, like President Obama before him on Iraq, wants out of Afghanistan preferably prior to the 2020 election. Many were appalled at the notion of inviting the Taliban to Camp David for a peace agreement which they’re unlikely to ever comply with. Fortunately, Mr. Trump pulled back on that gambit.
As we observe the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans need to remind ourselves that terrorist organizations and hostile nations count on our becoming bored or restless with the brutal realities of the world. It is a mistake to create arbitrary calendar deadlines, especially those based on domestic political considerations, as the enemy will surely take such deadlines as a sign of weakness.
By all means, leave Afghanistan but only do so on terms which leave a stable situation on the ground and one which honors the sacrifice of those who have served there.
The list of potential foreign hotspots is long: Venezuelan chaos; an Argentine financial meltdown; South Korea/Japan diplomatic and security conflict, impacting issues relating to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions; the continued provocations of the Iranian regime in the Mid-East; the immigration crisis affecting sub-Saharan Africa and its impact on the politics of Europe. All these are just a sampling of issues which Americans rarely consider but which might impact our elections next year.
The potential for foreign events becoming issues of concern in next year’s elections is real. As we consider candidates for president next year, the media and citizens should pay special attention to the views and perspectives of the candidates on foreign policy as this could become a singular preoccupation of the next Administration.
Former Representative John Faso of Kinderhook represented New York's 19th House district in the 115th Congress.
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