Donald Trump and VP Pence: Odd couple on foreign policy

With the announcement of his Vice Presidential pick Mike Pence on the Republican ticket, the GOP’s presumptive nominee Donald Trump has chosen someone who is contrarian to him on almost every single foreign policy issue.

While Trump has embraced a populist and semi-isolationist message that appeases Russia, distances itself from NATO, rejects trade deals, proposes a wall and a Muslim ban, wants to keep the Iran deal and condemns the Iraq war, his Vice Presidential pick is against all of the above. Pence has criticized Russia, defended NATO, was a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, advocated trade deals, criticized the Muslim ban and rejects the Iran deal.

Coming on the heels of a failed coup in Turkey and a terrorist attack in France, the Trump-Pence split only adds to the uncertainty in US trajectory abroad and exposes the deepening rift on foreign policy in the Republican party.

If the idea behind the Pence pick is to unify the party internally, the split on international politics raises key questions on how would the Republicans govern if they were to take back the White House in November.

Coming on the heels of a failed coup in Turkey and a terrorist attack in France, the Trump-Pence split only adds to the uncertainty in US trajectory abroad and exposes the deepening rift on foreign policy in the Republican party

Joyce Karam

Opposites on Iraq and Russia

It is not an unlikely phenomenon that a Presidential candidate splits with his or her Vice Presidential pick on some foreign policy issues. US President Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq while his Vice President Joe Biden voted for it, former President George W. Bush as a candidate denounced nation building projects, while his Vice President Dick Cheney championed interventions and flexing muscles abroad. Former Senator John McCain condemned Islamophobia whereas his VP Sarah Palin engaged in a fear mongering tone against Muslims.

In the case of Trump and Pence, the two disagree on almost every single foreign issue except adding the word “Islamic” before terrorism. While Trump has made his alleged opposition to the war in Iraq a signature of his campaign, Pence was a supporter of the war, voted for it, then compared the postwar Iraq on a visit to Baghdad to “a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.”

On Russia, Pence is not buying the Trump-Putin “bromance”. While the presumptive Republican nominee has said that Putin and him would get along “very well” praising his leadership and style of governance, Pence spoke yesterday about standing up to a “resurgent Russia”. The Indiana Governor is from the traditional foreign policy school in the Republican party, a supporter of NATO that Trump had called “obsolete”.

Pence supports missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter Russia and sees in NATO as an arch of global stability. He said on a trip to Berlin in 2014, “With continued instability in the Middle East, and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, I believe we must take immediate steps to strengthen our mutual security by deploying a robust missile defense in all of Europe – including Poland and the Czech Republic – to protect the interests of our NATO allies and the United States in the region.”

Trade, Iran, and the Muslim ban

The Trump-Pence split also covers a major issue in the 2016 race over: trade policies. Trump has championed and the anti-trade tough talk especially against China, while Pence voting record for 12 years in Congress has been pro-trade. In 2014, Pence tweeted “Trade means also means security. The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership.”

On Iran, Trump has danced very carefully around the nuclear deal, criticizing it without promising backing away from it if he were to be elected. His campaign made clear last week that Trump is “not going to get rid” of the Iran deal, while Pence has joined 14 Governors in opposing it and pledged to keep sanctions on Iran.

The wedge between populist Trump and traditionalist Pence was also exposed when the real estate mogul announced his controversial ban on Muslims. Pence called the ban “offensive and unconstitutional”, before backtracking yesterday and supporting Trump’s latest version of banning immigration from “terrorist” nations.

These discrepancies between Trump and his Vice Presidential pick Pence on foreign policy are a symptom of disarray in the Republican party between the hawks and the isolationists after the George W. Bush era. A Trump-Pence Presidency on its own will likely throw the US policy in limbo trying to find a balance between two sharply opposing views on global turbulence and exercising leadership.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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