A Tale of Two Governments: How American Politics Affects Iranian Politics

How elections at home impact countries abroad
By Adam Goldstein
On November 8th, 2016, millions of Americans will flock to their local polling places. Voters will be faced with choices for the senate, house, local elections, and of course, the presidency. While the conversations dominating the American political sphere focus largely on the economy, healthcare, immigration, and ISIS, the party who gains the presidency will also be well placed to craft a foreign policy that will have an immense effect on the political, economic, and cultural path of another country, Iran.
The main cleavage separating Democrats and Republicans regarding Iran is whether America, and the world, should welcome Iran into the larger global community or continue to impose sanctions. The lack of political consensus concerning Iran is reflected by the American population, which also holds a mixed view on the debate. The Iran nuclear deal further intensified the argument about the two possible paths, and will likely serve as a hot-button issue in the general election. A Democratic win in November means continued support for the agreement. Continued support for the agreement will empower both moderating voices and loud reformers in Iran, while a return to forced isolation due to a Republican win will continue to empower the hardline conservatives and radicals. Iran’s politics, economy and culture, oddly enough, is dependent on American politics.
The Iranian Political Context
Following former Iranian Supreme Leader Khomeini’s consolidation of power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, three main political factions emerged. Reformers, conservatives (who can also be distinguished between neo-conservative and pragmatists), and the hardliners constitute the political identities in the officially party-less state. The current balance of power between the three main factions can best be explained by policies implemented immediately following the 1979 revolution targeted at families. Iranian hardliners, as well as many conservatives have a demographics problem, called the youth bulge.
The youth bulge was brought on by calls for young and large families during the brutal Iraq-Iran war. Large families could contribute more soldiers and material benefits to the war effort. The residual effect of this policy, however, was an ever-growing youth population, and a shrinking middle aged and elderly population. The youth were required to make sacrifices during and after the war, often being compelled to join Basij groups or to join the Iranian paramilitary force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. In turn, young Iranians were promised jobs, security, healthcare, and education. This “Iranian dream” can be seen as analogous to the American dream, if a person works hard, they should expect to see success.
The internal reaction to the Islamic Revolution, however, is largely due to the Iranian government’s inability to provide this reality to young Iranians. Sanctions levied by America as well as other countries with America’s backing placed severe burdens on the Iranian economy, environment, and general ability to function as a member of the world community. Because of these strains, Iranians looked inwards, either blaming their own government for their struggles, or outwards, blaming America and other countries viewed to be antagonistic.
The Rafsanjani and Khatami presidencies highlight one response to outwards pressure. Both presidencies are marked by moves to liberalize society (resolving a major grievance of many Iranian youth), encourage economic ventures both internally and within the world community, and to engage in discussion with both foreign countries as well as to resolve issues internally. Rafsanjani, more the pragmatic conservative than the fervent reformer, re-engaged in diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, shifted toward economic privatization, and encouraged development through a Five Year Plan. Furthermore, Rafsanjani lifted some cultural restrictions, such as allowing fraternization between unrelated men and women. Khatami, who was Rafsanjani’s cultural minister, continued many of Rafsanjani’s policies, as well as emphasizing civil law, the importance of civil society, and to call for an open dialogue between Iran and America.
This pragmatic conservative and reformist response to outwards political pressure, however, was swiftly undone with the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005. After allowing for some foreign and cultural détente and economic liberalization, the hardliners quickly realized that their place in Iranian society would be endangered with a continuation of pragmatist policies. Hardliners in Iran faced the decay of their core cultural and political tenants, and thus moved to return to the pre-reform Iran. After ostensibly moving to help the youth and disenfranchised, why would this pro-reform momentum stop?
To put it bluntly, the reforms failed to reach their full effect. The main cause for this can be directed to two problems: the conditions produced by outward sanctions; and an internal backlash at a changing Iran by the clerical and hardline establishment. Although the Iranian economy is actually quite diversified, sanctions prevented full integration into the world economy, limiting exports and thus the capability for Iran to reach its full economic potential. The Iranian economy may have been internally diverse, but the inability to export goods and services to some of the larger world markets meant that Iran could never quite exceed a certain level of economic success. This structural flaw meant that jobs and resources would be scarce, dampening the enthusiasm for reformist politics.
Secondly, an internal backlash facilitated by Iranian hardliners and conservatives meant that even with popular support, the tenability of reformist politics might not have actually been as robust as some would believe. After Khatami’s success in 2000, pro-reform publications were closed, intellectuals and journalists were jailed, security forces and members of the Basij assaulted students at the University of Tehran, and political and judicial oversight organizations were banned by the constitutional watchdog the Guardian Council. Khatami never put up much of an effort to stop the backlash, demonstrating his inability or lack of volition to direct Iran towards major change.
After the enthusiasm for reform was significantly dampened, President Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Ahmadinejad was the immensely popular former mayor of Tehran. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad came from a populist background that made him more appealing to the culturally conservative poor, as well as to certain military institutions. Ahmadinejad was a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s major paramilitary force. Framing the reformist politicians as morally bankrupt and economically self-interested, Ahmadinejad easily reached the presidency. In the aftermath of the election, however, Ahmadinejad began to appoint former Revolutionary Guard officials to important political posts, highlighting his view that politics should be one in the same with the standard bearers of the Islamic Revolution.
In 2009, Ahmadinejad retained power in a widely disputed election, in which he was accused of voter fraud by several figures in the reform movement. Despite the large protests plaguing urban centers throughout Iran, Ahmadinejad retained power. Following reelection, Ahmadinejad would dampen relations with Arab states by endorsing the Arab Spring uprisings, as well as relations with the West through inflammatory comments about Israel and the Holocaust. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad mismanaged the Iranian economy and political system, often arguing with his advisors and superiors as well as undertaking pet projects and needless reforms that distracted from improving the failing Iranian economy.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic requires that presidents a term limit of no more than two consecutive terms. After Ahmadinejad served his second term, a new zeitgeist swept the country, demanding a return to competent and moderate rule. Hassan Rouhani, an establishment yet pragmatic member of the conservative faction, won the election with a promise to return Iran back to its pre-Ahmadinejad path. Perhaps the most significant of all of Rouhani’s accomplishments is the hotly debated Iran Nuclear Deal. As in America, Iranians too have a mixed reaction to the agreement, with some seeing it as a capitulation to the West and others as a fair trade off in order to secure Iran’s economic security. Nonetheless, the deal persists, signaling Iran’s intent to join the world community and to secure its future.
We can see, then, that there are two main discourses on what Iran’s purpose should be. Some in Iran believe that Iran should be the standard bearer of the Islamic world, while others hold a less parochial view, recognizing the importance of existing as a member within the international community. When one faction gains too much power, a reactionary current takes hold of the Iranian zeitgeist. Too much liberalization and integration results in a rapid snapback to the revolutionary fervor of politicians like Ahmadinejad and groups like the Basij and Revolutionary Guard. On the other hand, the Iranian youth are highly educated and underemployed, which is a recipe for political change if they are not satiated. A pattern has emerged, and the budding détente between Iran and the West might tip the balance of which political current maintains its power. Depending on the results of the 2016 election, America’s politicians will be well placed to either nudge Iran towards joining the world community, or reinforcing the involuntary isolation.
Democrats, Republicans, and Iran’s Future
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump believes that the Iran Nuclear Deal is so bad, it is almost like it was constituted that way on purpose. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton claimed that it was unrealistic to get a better deal, arguing that it was the best possible compromise for both parties. Within those two instances, the different American approaches toward Iran are demonstrated; one a gradual opening of relations, and another an immediate return to the last several decades, which, ironically, parallels the decisions Iranian politicians are faced with as well.
The Republican plan is to “undo” the agreement, returning to the previous sanction regime and to continue America’s forced isolation on Iran. Who would this help? And who would this hurt? Forcing Iran to return to its previous isolation will likely empower groups such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the hardline clerics. A common theme in authoritarian regimes is to paint an outside actor as an enemy of the state. Iran has long been a pawn in a greater geo-political tool by outside powers, which is reflected by an important theory accepted by the Iranian polity called Gharbzadegi, which translates to a “Westoxification,” essentially meaning that Iran (and, indeed, the Muslim world) has been corrupted by the West through its imperial pursuits. Continued forced isolation pushes Iranian politics down this path, increasing internal and external tensions, and empowering the extreme elements within the country.
The Democratic plan, on the other hand, will have the opposite effect. Through easing the path toward economic integration, the highly educated yet underemployed youth will see new economic opportunities, facilitated by an influx of foreign investment. The Iranian reformist movement, along with the pragmatic conservatives, could see a new wave of enthusiasm as the quality of life in Iran slowly improves. Furthermore, economic integration between countries tends to have a moderating effect. Foreign investment would be hard to come by if a corporation owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would likely embezzle it, for example. Efforts to improve the infrastructure and accountability of Iran’s economy would increase, as new opportunities to seek outward investment present themselves.
For two countries ostensibly at odds, it is a fantastic irony that the politics of one can have such a large effect on the politics of another. When Americans go to the polls this November, they should remember that they are likely not only choosing who they want to lead their country, but also, the path that Iran will follow. A vote for a continuation of the long held policy of sanctions and forced isolation could mean a strengthening of the hardliners and a suppression of the moderators and reformers. A vote for a change in policy and the beginnings of a real détente could mean the reformers and moderating voices could finally get the break they have long needed. The future of Iran stands at a crossroads, much like that of America, a vote for one party over the other will have a wide range of effects, and could push Iran towards true reform or towards a consolidation of extremist politics.
 All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

And Who’s Gonna Pay for it? The Costs of Trump’s Anti-Mexican Platform

Donald Trump wants Mexico to pay, but how likely is that?
 By Erin Campbell
Among large swaths of Republican voters, it is a universally acknowledged truth that the next President of the United States must enhance border security between the U.S. and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country and to protect American jobs. Perhaps the most pervasive of these policy proposals is Donald Trump’s monolithic response to immigration control: “We’re gonna build a wall, and Mexico’s gonna pay for it.” Trump’s isolationist platform eschews international cooperation in favor of an American exceptionalism that completely disregards the globalized nature of current affairs. While crowds of supporters enthusiastically echo Trump’s wall demands at his rallies, the spread of their anti-Mexican rhetoric threatens U.S. foreign relations with its neighbor, and consequently, threatens the future of the U.S. economy and national security.
Though the specifics of his plan remain unclear, Trump asserts that his $10 million wall, measuring around 35 feet tall (and “it just got ten feet higher”) would impede the flow of alleged criminal activity from Mexico to the United States. With the Patriot Act serving as his legal framework, Trump claims he has the “moral high ground” to impose stricter border regulation at Mexico’s expense; not only does Mexico’s “unfair subsidy behavior” threaten U.S. jobs, Mexico has an obligation to offset the “extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations.”
Citing the U.S.’s powerful economy and political dominance as coercive tools, Trump assures that Mexico will pay for the cost of a border wall “in one form or another,” through economic sanctions, trade tariffs, and/or greater trade regulation. According to the platform on Trump’s campaign website, “Mexico needs access to our markets much more than the reverse, so we have all the leverage and will win the negotiation.” As Trump pushes his characterization of Mexico as a country of “cunning” criminals who take advantage of the U.S.’s economy, he builds an isolationist discourse that ignores the value of our international relations and paints the U.S. as a self-sufficient hegemon that can bully its neighbors into any position.
In response, however, past and present Mexican leaders have reassured their constituents that Mexico will not bend so easily to Trump’s will. In an interview with Excelsior, current Mexican President Peña Nieto likened Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric to the fascist mechanisms of Mussolini and Hitler, warning that his unrealistic political strategy presents “simple solutions to problems that, of course, are not so easily solved.” Acknowledging that trade relations with the U.S. are vital to the Mexican economy, Peña Nieto expressed hope to continue cooperation with the future president, whoever he or she may be. Nonetheless, the Mexican government firmly maintains that Trump’s border wall will not be constructed with any support, financial or otherwise, from Mexico.
Regardless of the feasibility of Trump’s prospective wall, his anti-Mexico platform gravely threatens the U.S.’s relationship with an important regional ally. The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has been instrumental in promoting economic growth and development throughout Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. Since its beginnings in 1994, NAFTA has strengthened interactions between the U.S. and its neighbors; through the arrangement’s framework, the three nations have instituted mechanisms to facilitate intergovernmental relations and forums for dispute resolution. Admittedly, the tripartisan trade agreement is entrenched with asymmetrical power divisions between the three partners—studies demonstrate the U.S. influencing policy decisions in Canada and Mexico without the reverse occurring. That being said, the United States economy has enjoyed significant benefits from NAFTA, and a fair amount of its success is pinned to the agreement’s success.
Currently, Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest goods trading partner, the second largest export market, and third largest supplier of goods imports—in 2015, total goods traded between the two nations amounted to $531 billion. Moreover, the Department of Commerce estimates U.S. goods and services to Mexico supported 1.1 million American jobs in 2014. Since creating stronger economic ties with the United States, Mexico’s economy has transformed into a new level of competitiveness. While the Mexican economy felt some pressure from lowered oil prices and reduced production, its expansion of exports to the United States encouraged economic growth in 2015. Projections of Mexico’s financial future also appear positive; if Mexico continues to develop close economic relations with the U.S., the World Bank forecasts a gradual acceleration of growth in coming years.
Furthermore, the towns and communities located along the U.S.-Mexico border comprise the fourth largest economy in the world, and in order to encourage greater development in this region both governments must coordinate their local and national economic policies. To build upon the region’s strengths, U.S. perceptions of the border area must transform to recognize its potential as an asset rather than a problem. Successful interaction on either side demands a more developed cross-border infrastructure—not to divide and separate, but to create more windows for international exchange. By continuing to support Mexico’s growth and development, the U.S. encourages competition in North America on a global scale, benefitting all three national economies. Despite Trump’s populist rhetoric, investments from the U.S. to Mexico are more than one-sided aid packages—the U.S. benefits from stronger relations with its southern neighbor.
Additionally, the existing economic ties between the two countries have helped reinforce their diplomatic relationship, especially in addressing similar security concerns like drug related violence and illegal immigration. Through programs like the Merida project, the U.S. has assisted the Mexican government scrutinize law enforcement and institutionalize rule of law south of the border. While this program enjoyed limited successes, it serves as a starting point for further cooperation in the fight against drug-related violence. In her article, U.S. and Mexican Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Drug Trafficking, Yasemin Tenkin argues the U.S. could more effectively eradicate root causes of the illicit drug trade and drug related-violence by investing further in Mexico’s economy, targeting poverty and unemployment. To address these security concerns, the U.S.’s conceptualization of Mexico must shift to recognize it as a permanent, strategic partnership. Contrarily, Trump’s isolationist discourse suggests the U.S. renounce its links to Mexico, failing to recognize the positive economic effects both countries experience as a result of their working relationship.
The increasingly populist tone of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Mexico has led to tension in the past decade, occasionally putting a strain on diplomatic decision-making; as such, a Donald Trump presidency that maintains this rhetoric would place bilateral relations between the two nations at risk of severe deterioration. From Trump’s perspective, the U.S. enjoys a hegemonic status in the sphere of foreign affairs, and may wield its political power for leverage in its international relations. What Trump’s rhetoric fails to recognize, though, is that his brand of isolationism is ineffective in today’s globalized reality. In order to achieve progress in shared policy areas such as immigration reform or weakening the drug trade system, the U.S. must maintain a working partnership with Mexico. If Trump were to stifle the Mexican economy’s growth and cut off remittances, as he proposes, the consequential loss of income for Mexico’s vulnerable population would provide prospective immigrants an increased incentive to seek better opportunities in the U.S. Ignoring the role of American consumers in perpetuating the influx of illicit drugs and failing to coordinate policy with Mexico decreases the U.S.’s ability to address long term solutions to cross-border dealings.
By promoting a characterization of Mexico as a dependent, underdeveloped, and violent country, Trump and his supporters disregard the value of Mexico’s growing economy, and hence fail to recognize the benefits of the U.S.’s partnership with Mexico. Without cooperation and coordination between the two countries, the U.S. would suffer the loss of a significant trade partner and destroy myriad opportunities for economic growth and employment, weakening North American competitiveness in the global market. In regards to national security, Trump’s failure to recognize Mexico’s potential as a cooperative, problem solving partner rather than the source of conflict weakens the U.S.’s ability to create far-reaching policy solutions to stabilize the border. So who’s gonna pay for that wall, Mr. Trump? Looking at the likely economic and political future of a U.S. without strong bilateral relations with Mexico, it looks like the United States stands to bear more costs than the presidential hopeful foresees.
All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.

The Candidates and Latin America: Foreign Policy in Our “Backyard”

Here is a run-down of candidates’ positions on three key issues facing foreign policy towards Latin America
By Gretchen Cloutier
Although hailed as the United States’ “backyard,” Latin America is merely a blip on the foreign policy radar in the 2016 presidential campaign season. Ahead of the November election, questions on candidates’ foreign policy positions have mainly focused on the Middle East, with tough debates surrounding ISIS, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second and third in line for candidates’ foreign policy concerns seem to be the growing economic influence of China and Russia’s political aggression. However, three issues regarding Latin America have been widely discussed by most campaigns: Immigration reform, normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and NAFTA. The candidates’ stances on the issues vary, not only between political parties but within them as well.
With an estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S., immigration is no small issue. The two parties are vehemently divided on immigration reform; Democrats often promote a “pathway to citizenship,” while Republicans tend to favor securitization of the (southern) border.
As the son of a migrant from Poland, Bernie Sanders’ proposed immigration policy emphasizes justice and human rights, with plans to keep families together and protect workers from exploitation. He plans to build on the Obama Administration’s immigration reforms by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans programs, which exempt immigrants who fall within these categories and under other certain guidelines from deportation. Sanders will not wait for Congress to act; instead, his policy outlines a plan to take executive action within the first 100 days of his administration. Sanders specifically addresses the flow of unaccompanied child migrants, primarily from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. While it reached a peak in 2014, the U.S. is still dealing with the repercussions of the massive influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children. Sanders condemns the deportation of these children, amid reports that children who are returned to their home countries are being killed by the same gang-incited violence they fled.
Hillary Clinton also supports comprehensive immigration reform. Her proposed immigration plan includes creating a pathway to citizenship, closing family and private detention centers, and upholding President Obama’s previous executive orders on immigration reform. Clinton also plans to provide deportation relief for DREAMers, DAPA candidates, and to “extend those actions to additional persons with sympathetic cases,” although she does not specify how these cases would be evaluated. As a senator, she co-sponsored the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Although Clinton mainly addresses the legal aspects of immigration reform, she also emphasizes that immigration is a “family issue” and wants to work to keep law-abiding immigrant families together.
The presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, proposes the (both financially and politically) radical and improbable solution of building a wall to seal the border with Mexico. Trump also plans to force Mexico pay for it, by refusing to process remittances from relatives and friends in the U.S. Trump states, “ It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion [in remittances] continues to flow into their country year after year.” According to experts, the proposed 2,000-mile wall would be the largest infrastructure project in the U.S. since President Eisenhower’s highway system. Additionally, while Trump estimates the cost of the wall at about $10 billion, the same experts state that it could actually cost up to $25 billion and would take, at minimum, four to five years to complete. Furthermore, it is unclear if it is feasible or even legal to halt remittances. To make matters worse, Trump has also come under fire for racist comments, equating Mexican immigrants with gang members, drug traffickers, and rapists.
The Democratic candidates propose building on current policy and enacting reforms to allow more immigrants legal status. Their policies focus on families staying together and using immigrants’ skills to benefit the country through education and training programs. On the other hand, Trump’s plan entails closing the southern border with a massive infrastructure project. His proposal prioritizes heightened security, while ignoring the humanitarian situation of current and future immigrants.
President Obama’s actions to normalize relations and lift the embargo against Cuba have become major topics in most candidates’ foreign policy proposals. Since the process began in December of 2014, Cuba has been removed from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, embassies in both countries have been re-opened, and direct mail flights have been re-established. Ongoing efforts are working to lift the trade embargo and allow greater freedom for Americans wishing to travel to the island.
Sanders has long supported the normalization of relations with Cuba. Furthermore, in an interview from 1985, Sanders commends Castro’s reforms to improve access to universal health care and education. While Sanders has expressed hope that Cuba move towards a more democratic system of governance, he has also emphasized the need for the U.S. to respect Cuba’s sovereignty. This last statement is evident of Sander’s non-interventionist position, and he has often criticized the U.S.’s habit of toppling left-leaning regimes in Latin America (from 1898 to 1994 there were at least 41 U.S. interventions in the region – an average of one every 28 months). More recently, in 2014, Sanders traveled to Cuba to discuss human rights, trade, and health care as part of an official U.S. delegation.
Clinton’s position has slowly shifted from her tenure as First Lady to her more recent position as Secretary of State for the Obama Administration. As First Lady, she supported the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law, that prevents the embargo from being lifted until Cuba fulfills certain requirements, including fair elections, freeing political prisoners, and freedom of the press. In her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton maintained her position in opposition to lifting the embargo, however she added a caveat, stating, “As president I would be ready to reach out and work with a new Cuban government, once it demonstrated that it truly was going to change that direction.” Later, as Secretary of State, Clinton recommended that Obama reconsider the embargo, as it “wasn’t achieving its goals.” In July of 2015, Clinton made a speech in Miami, a highly symbolic location due to the number of Cuban immigrants living there, in which she declared, “The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all.”
Although not entirely clear or detailed on his position, it appears that Trump is not opposed to the normalization of relations, stating, “Ultimately, it’s going to be good.” However, in the same interview, he went on to express that, “we could have had a better deal, a much stronger deal,” though he does not reveal what a stronger deal might entail. Trump’s lukewarm views on Cuba are consistent with his campaign’s lack of clear cut policy positions, likely in an attempt to appeal to as many voters as possible. Earlier in the campaign season, other Republican candidates criticized Trump, as they generally opposed lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba.
The candidates express varying degrees of enthusiasm for normalizing relations with Cuba. Clinton and Sanders would build on the Obama Administration’s policy and work to promote liberal democracy in the country through opening economic markets. Sanders comments reinforce his outsider political identity, as it is quite unlikely that a member of the establishment would have commented positively on Cuba thirty years ago. Clinton, on the other hand, has changed her views several times. While some may say it is due to a sincere progression in thought, her inconsistency on other issues raises the question of whether she is playing political games and leveraging public opinion to capitalize on votes. Trump, in keeping with his lack of foreign policy experience, or perhaps interest, has said little on the issue; however it is surprising that he shows even vague support for the same position as the Democratic candidates as the two parties have been extremely divided on issues so far in this election.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enacted in 1994, is a multilateral agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada to increase economic cooperation. NAFTA has been highly controversial; critics say it causes job losses in the U.S. and unfavorable working conditions abroad, while supporters respond that it will actually help create jobs and spur economic growth across the region. Currently, most experts conclude that NAFTA has been net positive for the U.S., although it has failed to deliver on some big promises made in its early years. However, it is also important to note that, amid increased globalization and technology use across different sectors of the economy, it is difficult to distinguish the direct effects of NAFTA on various economies.
Sanders strongly opposes NAFTA, blaming it for increased poverty in Mexico, loss of jobs, and an influx of undocumented migrants in the U.S. His plan is to rewrite trade deals such as NAFTA to promote fair trade in lieu of free trade. Sanders has been consistent in his position, stating in a debate in early March, “I was on a picket line in the early 1990s against NAFTA, because you didn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour.” While Sanders’ interpretation of NAFTA may be a bit exaggerated, his critiques are not unsubstantiated, as poor labor conditions in Mexico and shifts in industry in both countries remain as challenges.
Clinton has a complicated history with trade deals. She supported NAFTA as the First Lady during Bill Clinton’s Administration. As a Senator, Clinton supported free trade, as long as it “can increase living standards and foster…economic development for all parties.” In 2007, during her first presidential run, she remarked that NAFTA was a mistake because it did not deliver on many promises that were made in 1994, which, as discussed previously, is mostly true. As Secretary of State, Clinton embraced free trade with the beginnings of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – which she has since turned against. Her stance as a current presidential candidate has been fuzzy; she does not openly support NAFTA and other free trade agreements, but she does not decry them as middle-class and job destroying plans, either. This is another case, similar to Cuba, of questioning whether Clinton’s change of heart is due to gradual belief progression, or, as is likelier in this case due to her sudden turn against TPP, an attempt to round up votes.
Trump also opposes NAFTA, as he believes it is destroying the U.S. manufacturing industry. In an interview in which Trump was asked how he would respond to an American car company that wished to open a plant in Mexico, he stated that he would charge the company a 35 percent tax on each product that was then sent back into the U.S. However, this measure is illegal as it directly violates NAFTA and disregards the fact that only Congress can establish separate tax rates. In another interview, Trump said, “I am all for free trade, but it’s got to be fair.” These statements underscore Trump’s tendency to ignore the details of economic policy, a habit that could prove dangerous in the global finance market.
The foreign policy positions of the candidates represent a wide range of experiences, interests, and perceptions. Clinton, having served as Secretary of State, is by far the most qualified candidate from a foreign policy standpoint, however her record in Latin America is stained by revelations that she played a role in the 2009 Honduran coup d’état. Sanders remains fervently committed to his “diplomacy first” and non-interventionist beliefs, especially in Latin America, and often connects foreign policy with reducing inequality and promoting social services – two core points of his domestic campaign. Finally, Trump’s proposals are largely infeasible due to factors such as cost and legality, and his discriminatory comments toward Mexicans and other Latinos are concerning. It seems that the only issue the candidates might be able to agree on is their condemnation of NAFTA, which, in reality, is not the catch-all to blame a stagnant economy and loss in industry jobs on that they want it to be.

All views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Mind or of Clocks and Clouds.