Originally Published 2016-11-08 09:02:49 Published on Nov 08, 2016
A few foreign policy issues that could have more emphasis during US poll debates

Apart from the major issues that have been discussed by the Presidential candidates, there are a few foreign policy issues which have not been discussed. At least they were not discussed with the intensity with which they should have been done.

In one of the debates, Donald Trump argued that the Iran nuclear deal (announced on 14 July, 2015) was the worst ever deal and should never have happened. Hillary Clinton did not counter that effectively at all. It was after all a major achievement by Obama. The White House has said that the deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In July 2015, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges. After the deal, they can only install a maximum number of 5,060 centrifuges. One other condition is that these centrifuges are least efficient. Iran’s uranium stockpile should also be reduced by 98 per cent to 300 kg for 15 years. It must also keep its enrichment at only 3.67 per cent. By January 2016, Iran had drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo, which are Iran’s key nuclear sites. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will continuously monitor the nuclear facilities in Iran. Hillary Clinton could have well argued that the Iran nuclear deal is a success and is not the failure as was portrayed by Donald Trump. Probably she did not do this because of an eye for the votes of the Jewish community in America. Israel is totally against the nuclear deal. It is important that America continues to back Israel. One does not want Israel to be isolated. But at the same time, America does not have to support Israel blindly either. The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen as a moderate abroad. With the next elections in June 2017, the deal might help him get re-elected because he is seen to be having the support of the majority of the people. Any country should be allowed to transition and develop peacefully. Hence why should Iran not be given an opportunity to evolve peacefully? Unfortunately, this argument was not addressed at all by Hillary. She committed a mistake by not taking on Donald here. People would have appreciated if Hillary had aired her views on this issue frankly. The Cuba-US deal which led to restoration of diplomatic ties between them was also seen as a significant achievement by Americans in large and by the international community. Obama reversed the US’s 50 year isolationist policy towards Cuba after he became the first president since Calvin Coolidge to visit the country. The two countries severed their ties in 1961. In December 2014, both the Cuban and the American heads announced that diplomatic ties would be restored. The agreement came following eighteen months of secret talks between the US and the Cuban officials brokered and encouraged by Pope Francis. But the US trade embargo, which requires congressional approval, still stays and is unlikely to be lifted in the near future. A Pew research poll showed that a majority of Americans favoured supported resuming the diplomatic ties and also were for removing the trade embargo. What would the US gain from it? As Carla Robbins from the Council on Foreign Relations puts it rightly, “We’re taking away an excuse – the ability to blame the United States for all of their failings”. Again, this was totally ignored by both the candidates. One can understand Trump ignoring it. But Hillary ignoring it was puzzling to say the least. Trump referred to the Syrian conflict. But he could have emphasised on that a lot more than what he did. This is a conflict which Russia clearly is getting it right. The US and the western powers along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey by insisting that there can be no resolution to the conflict until Assad steps down, exacerbated a conflict that could have been resolved at least a few years back. There was a proposal by Russia in 2012 (reported by ‘The Guardian’ on September 15 2015) saying that Assad will step down at some point once the talks begin between the opposition and the government. The Russians also proposed that the west should not arm the rebel groups. But the western powers rejected this because they were so confident that Assad would fall down quickly. The US and Europe continued to arm the opposition groups. All the people who were very confident that ‘Assad would go’ have / will quit power. David Cameroon has quit. Barack Obama will be leaving in January of 2017. Francois Hollande, in all probability, will lose power in the next elections in April/May of 2017. But Assad is still hanging on and there are no indications that he is leaving anytime soon. Assad has committed war crimes. But the question ‘who after Assad’ has been completely ignored by the west. Syria might become another Libya if Assad falls. At least Libya had a leader in Gaddafi when he was there. Now it is in total chaos thanks to the west. The Syrian conflict will have to end as soon as possible. The conflict has become a catastrophe of the worst kind. 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It is a waste of human lives. Large scale migration into Europe is happening and the conflict is at least partly responsible for this. The conflict cannot be resolved without the cooperation of Russia. Only one of the two candidates seems to be capable of doing that. Donald Trump is absolutely right on this when he says that fighting the ISIS and not Assad would be his top priority. Whether Trump delivers on this, if he becomes President, remains to be seen. But at least he is saying it. This commentary originally appeared in Modern Diplomacy.
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