Preserving U.S. Credibility in Asia: An Open Letter
These foreign and security policy appointees in previous Republican administrations will be voting for Hillary Clinton.
As foreign and security policy appointees in previous Republican administrations, we will reluctantly (for some) but unavoidably be voting for the Democratic party’s presidential candidate this November. In doing so, we will join former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and other mentors who have already made the same decision.
Most criticism of current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump focuses on his erratic behavior, bizarre conspiracy theories, vulgar and inappropriate words, and appeal to baser instincts and atavistic nationalism. He dismisses whole groups of people, including adherents to a world religion.
Meanwhile, policy-focused dissent covers the field, from the Mexican border wall fantasies to his ill-informed (if not willfully ignorant) views about allies, Russia, torture, the origins of the Islamic State, and nuclear weapons.
We share these and other misgivings, but our common and primary reason for deciding to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton arises from fears that Trump’s combative, ignorant views can (and will, if he’s elected) inflict great damage on our country’s global position and on its economy.
America faces relentless economic and geostrategic competition from China and Russia, and new variants of global jihadi terrorism. It’s absolutely the wrong time to elect an unstable, ill-prepared amateur with no vision or foresight to meet the manifold challenges of the 21st century.
In Europe, we need a president who will strengthen trans-Atlantic relations and stand up to Russia. While Russian President Vladimir Putin only respects strength, we also need shrewd policies to thwart the insidious infiltration of propaganda and corruption.
In the Middle East, also, we need equally smart statecraft — to prevent sectarian conflict from engendering wider hostilities while doubling down to defeat the Islamic State and the wider jihadist threat in whatever forms it assumes.
Looking forward, however, we especially fear a Trump presidency’s impact on America’s future in Asia, where China’s influence in the region, now the global economy’s center of gravity, grows apace with the country’s power. Beijing’s worldview offers less liberty and more state and military control — attitudes which, coupled to an assertive chauvinism, directly challenges an open, rules-based order.
Looking at all his announced intentions, Trump cannot provide leadership to adapt global and regional economic institutions to the new Asian realities. Doing this means weaving the United States more tightly into Asia’s economic tapestry and security arrangements, not the opposite.
These trends explain why, back in 2007, President George W. Bush’s administration began reemphasizing Asia, setting out an American-led path for the region’s future.
The Obama administration persisted with, and expanded, this important policy pivot. Indeed, Clinton played a vital part in this U.S. rebalancing policy in Asia after 2009, a move which elicited sustained, genuine bipartisanship — an approach which prevailed during her tenure as secretary of state, despite occasional disagreement over tactical choices.
By contrast, the current Republican presidential candidate offers only bluster or preposterous panaceas for Asia — ideas which, if they ever find their way into policy, will wreck our country’s credibility, economy, and leadership in very short order.
Should Trump become president and put his nostrums into practice, Asia’s response will be prompt and epochal. In their varying ways, Asia’s big or small countries will be forced to tilt towards America’s challengers, especially China. Some of them may move quickly to seek security under a new proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In short, if the Trump brand — of which this candidate is so proud — becomes America’s brand, we can expect ruinous marginalization in Asia and unwanted compliance with rules which the Chinese and other challengers set.
Trump speaks of a greater America, a more competitive America, and a stronger America, but his election risks the exact opposite, especially in Asia. His scorn for free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) fires up the campaign crowds but risks a catastrophic loss of prestige and leadership. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on a recent visit to the United States, put it succinctly: “For America’s friends and partners, ratifying the TPP is a litmus test of credibility and seriousness of purpose.”
While it’s tempting to join the anti-free traders, we would hope that Clinton reconsiders her current position on the TPP. Failure to approve it would cede to China the role of defining regional trade rules, and would be a body blow to U.S. standing and the U.S. economy.
We accept legitimate anxieties about the TPP but believe that these would be best met by working with Congress and bilaterally with other treaty partners. Trade forms a small but vital part of preparing a 21st century workforce in a world transformed by technological change, from robotics and artificial intelligence to 3D printing and self-driving cars. We cannot command the incoming tide to recede. We’re stuck with the world in which we dwell.
Our relations with nations across the Indo-Pacific region will go a long way toward determining the future prosperity and security of the United States. Like it or not, an internationalist foreign policy is a necessity, not an option. It’s not a divide between globalism and nationalism, as Trump would have us believe, but a strategic question: How does America navigate the current century’s competitive environment?
Trump would take us on a race to the bottom in a fragmenting world order; Clinton is best positioned seek both renewed prosperity and better security. For these reasons, we will work towards her election in November as our next president.
The Honorable Dr. Patrick M. Cronin
Former Assistant Administrator, Policy and Program Coordination, U.S. Agency for International Development
Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs
Former senior counselor, Department of State and member, policy planning staff
Charles W. Dunne
Former U.S. Foreign Service officer and former foreign policy adviser to the director for strategic plans and policy at the Joint Staff
Dr. Michael J. Green
Former special assistant to the president and senior director for Asia, National Security Council
The Honorable Frank L. Lavin
Former under secretary of commerce for international trade and former U.S. ambassador to Singapore
Former special assistant to under-secretary for political affairs, U.S. Department of State
Former chairman, U.S. International Trade Commission; former chairman, president, and CEO, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and former director of Asian affairs, National Security Council
Photo credit: FENG LI/Getty Images
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