Trump Vs Clinton: Which US President Will Be Worse For Australia?

Trump Vs Clinton: Which US President Will Be Worse For Australia?
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Everyone knows by now that the current, endlessly drawn-out electoral process in the US is remarkable, even by the standards of an increasingly weird political era. The consensus is that no matter who becomes the next president, it will be bad. If it’s Donald Trump, though, it could be apocalyptic.

Despite growing concerns about declining American power and influence, the US still dominates the region upon which Australia has increasingly come to depend. Therefore, the election outcome will have potentially major and enduring consequences for Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region. Here’s what you need to know.

What do Trump’s foreign policies suggest?

Even though many people have real and understandable doubts about Hillary Clinton’s historical baggage, inconsistency and proclivity for “misspeaking”, most serious analysts hope she wins. The alternative is too awful, unpredictable and frankly alarming to even contemplate.

Consequently, not many people – including Australia’s foreign policy establishment, it seems – have given much thought to what happens if Trump triumphs.

Consistency and measured reflection are not words often seen in the same sentence as Donald Trump, but it is possible to get some idea of what his foreign policy might look like. Most of it is alarming. And none of it is likely to be good for Australia.

Trump’s policies are frequently described as “neo-isolationist”. They resonate with many who are disillusioned with the supposed failings of the Obama doctrine, and sick of American involvement in seemingly intractable conflicts in places they neither know nor care about.

Many Americans are remarkably ill-informed and uninterested in foreign policy. This is not a unique national characteristic, but some of the widely shared beliefs that inform voting intentions in what is still the world’s most-powerful country are striking.

For example, the average American thinks something like one-quarter of its US$4 trillion national budget is spent on foreign aid. In reality it’s less than a miserly 1%.

Trump may share this misapprehension for all we know. Either way, he is threatening to make supposedly freeloading allies pick up more of the bill for America’s implicit defence guarantees.

What might it all mean for Australia?

Given Australians have made disproportionate sacrifices to underpin its alliance relationship with the US over the years, this is a bit rich.

Australia’s major parties seem to have a policy of not having a policy when it comes to dealing with a possible Trump presidency. The reality would – or should – force a rethink of some of the most enduring foundations of Australian foreign policy.

This is why so many of Australia’s foreign policy and strategic elites are pinning their hopes on Clinton. She wouldn’t welcome the label, but Clinton is clearly the establishment candidate and consummate insider who can be relied upon to do the right thing as far as Australia and the world is concerned.

One assumes this may include rediscovering her surprisingly lost enthusiasm for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Her habit of being economical with the truth is one of the reasons she is personally unpopular, such an electoral liability, and no certainty to knock off the most unlikely and unpredictable candidate in recent US political history.

As far as our region is concerned, most analysts will be reassured by the prospect of a Clinton presidency. She is one of the architects of the so-called “pivot”, or shift in American strategic priorities to the Asia-Pacific region and response to China’s seemingly inexorable rise.

Whether she has the will to confront an expansionist China is the big question. Whether smaller countries like Australia would want her to is another question altogether. But this is not an issue that often gets an unambiguous airing here, despite the amount we are currently investing in military modernisation.

The prospects for Australia could be daunting no matter who wins the election. It is conceivable that Trump may follow through on his threat to demand greater self-reliance on the part of traditional allies and simply pull American forces out of the region. This would allow China to assert its dominance, and fundamentally overturn the long-standing basis of Australian foreign policy.

If Clinton wins, though, the options don’t necessarily look any more auspicious, even if they are more predictable. If the US is ever to stand up to China and try to reassert its former dominance of our region, it will have to get on with it.

If we extrapolate from here, it is only a question of time before China overtakes the US on every significant measure of great power status.

Clinton may decide it is her historical destiny to reassert American primacy, not to mention defend the rules-based international order that the US has done so much to develop – if not necessarily abide by – over the last half-century.

Under such circumstances, Australia’s nightmare choice between its principal security guarantor and its most important trade partner may come one step closer. And that’s the good outcome.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


    • Yeah, it’s more like how much damage will they cause, rather than what good and the invertebrate the Republicans are now stuck with has no good points whatsoever.

    • As much as I find Trump ridiculous, it’s very easy to answer your question.

      The blood that can be attributed to the actions of Hillary, her Husband and their history in American politics, far outweighs anything that orange idiot has done.

      That should scare the crap out to of a lot of people.
      That one of the most unelectable politicians in the world needed a side show clown, just to appear like a “better” choice and scare a country in to voting for someone they named “untrustworthy” and “liar”

      The lengths her campaign have gone to steal the nomination is well documented and done in plain sight with little attempt to hide it.
      Election fraud, paid Twitter armies and editorial deception are brought to light every other day and yet people chose to ignore it.

      Anyway, rant over.
      Simple answer is there is no winners, that’s why we come up with ridiculous notions like, lesser of two evils and better the devil you know, because it’s easier to swallow.
      I just know a smiling murderer with experience in gaming the system, scares me more than a reality TV joke who couldn’t do a damn thing in power anyway.
      She knows how to grease the wheels, he is just a squeaky cog.

      • You have good points but I illustrate the way I feel about the situation like this: Who’d you rather give command over a nuclear silo’s launch button? A supervillain or a toddler? Sure, the supervillain may use the leverage to extort you and the world for millions but he’s likely intelligent enough to understand the actual consequences of pressing the button and the ways it would affect him, so he’d only do it as a very last resort. The toddler? He may just smash that button because he’s bored and the button seems shiny.

        • I live in the real world though, I know the president is a face, I know the senate and congress have more control and everything goes through them.
          There is no button, it’s a TV trope and not something I will introduce in to practical analysis.

          • The button was a metaphor. Of course there’s no button and the risk of random nuclear attacks is zero. The Supervillain and toddler are also metaphors. Merely a hyperbolic illustration. And yes, Senate and Congress have lots of control but the president exerts an influence and has visibility and credibility. There are many metaphorical buttons that can be pressed and the Congress may have better luck holding back someone intelligent but crooked (as Clinton allegedly is), than someone who demonstratedly blurts out whatever is in his mind without taking and who makes important decisions in the heat of the moment with deleterious effects.

      • i doubt what Hilary and her husband have done is any more heinous than what politicians do in general. We all know politicians are two faced people users who’d do/say anything to stay in power and get to the top.

        trump on the other hand is the bully that goes around the sand pit kicking everyone’s sand castle over.

        All politician are ruthless and snakes. and if they aren’t, they don’t make it very far.

        • They are up there in the top echelon for sure.

          One just needs to look at years of disastrous foreign policies, not just what they say they achieved, but the cold hard reality, the disgustingly justified body counts, the destruction of legally elected governments, the funding of terrorist groups and organisations, protecting murderers and dictators etc.

          I realise the system is made up of more than one family or politician, but rolling over and accepting it so easily is a dangerous mindset.
          It simply means people don’t want to know the truth because the false moral
          high ground was easier to take.

  • Considering we will still be paying Billions of dollars to house 2500 USA troops and their nuclear bombers on our soil near Darwin, it won’t matter either way.

    Our government will bend over and kiss either candidate’s arse like a good little colonial outpost, no matter who wins.

    • Hopefully we have the balls to say no when they try and use us in the mess they are currently pushing for.

      No winners there either

    • I like how it’s been known for decades, places like pine gap. But only recently has it reappeared in the news and now everyone’s an expert commentator. Don’t fret. There will be some other sensationalist headline soon to draw your attention away.

  • Not Australian but isn’t this like choosing to be shot with a .50 cal machine gun to the head or to put an active hand grenade in your mouth. You die either way.

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