Two of the topics to be discussed at tonight’s final presidential debate are foreign policy and immigration — fraught, difficult issues with huge ramifications for America’s future.
On the first, Hillary Clinton is infinitely more coherent than Donald Trump. The first major group of Republicans to pronounce themselves unable to support Trump as the GOP nominee were dozens of members of the party’s foreign policy and national security establishment. Their critique goes far beyond their disbelief at Trump’s troubling admiration for thuggish Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. They realize the danger posed by a thin-skinned, inconsistent president, someone who alternately sounds isolationist like Pat “Fortress America” Buchanan and belligerent like Dick Cheney.
America and its traditional allies in Europe and Asia need each other more than ever to combat international terrorism and to contain an increasingly expansionist China. But Trump routinely insults these allies and likens them to deadbeats. He shows no understanding of the crucial role our alliances have played in keeping the peace and creating prosperity since the end of World War II.
The world grew less safe while Clinton was President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state. But she inherited many problems, starting with wars-turned-quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is President Obama, not Clinton, who decided to pull back the United States from its normal forceful role in trying to shape world events by instead “leading from behind,” as an Obama aide described it in a 2011 New Yorker article. Clinton wanted a much more active U.S. push to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and in a 2015 speech indicated she wanted to do significantly more than Obama to “defeat and destroy” Islamic State.
Her foreign policy is likely to resemble her husband’s — stressing cooperation with allies, willing but not eager to use military force, having as a central goal the expansion of interconnected free-market democracies around the world. This goal has been badly undercut by her flip-flop on support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, an act of pandering at odds with her history. But in general, Clinton is far more likely to be a responsible steward of foreign affairs — not a wrecking ball like Trump.
There is a different dynamic with immigration. When Trump says the United States should temporarily ban immigration from nations associated with Islamic terrorism until we are certain these immigrants aren’t inclined to terrorism, much of the media recoil and see this as biased and hateful. But to millions of Americans witnessing the chaos in parts of Europe, this seems like obvious common sense. That dichotomy holds for Trump’s view that illegal immigrants should be deported en masse and for his blustery demand that there should be a wall on our southern border paid for by Mexico.
Yet there is common sense based on a simple, vague view of the world and common sense based on the complex big picture. The United States does not have policies allowing the mass influx of refugees akin to those seen in Europe. There is relatively little evidence we do a bad job of vetting those we allow to immigrate here; exceptions don’t make rules. And illegal immigration from Mexico is far less prevalent than it used to be. Broadly speaking, immigration has been an immensely important part of America and its history. That all six Americans who won Nobel prizes this month are immigrants should be a source of national pride.
Clinton supports comprehensive immigration reform providing a path to citizenship for many of those without legal status, as the U.S. Senate did in 2013 on a bipartisan vote. She has joined in bipartisan votes to expand the Border Patrol. She is not the open-borders caricature that Trump pretends.
On immigration, we hope Clinton realizes the next president needs to address the fears of millions of Americans, not dismiss them. But on balance, she has a much more constructive and realistic handle on the issue than her opponent — and we expect that to be reflected in tonight’s debate.