by Mark A. Pollack

November 8 will mark the end of one of the most remarkable and bitterly contested presidential elections in American history. Over the course of these elections, Temple faculty have studied, published, and remarked in the media about the domestic sources and stakes of the electoral contest between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump. Whichever candidate emerges as president on Nov. 8, she or he will inherent not only domestic policy concerns such as health care, the economy, and race relations, but also an equally daunting collection of global challenges.

As the world’s “indispensable nation,” the United States faces both the challenge and the responsibility of global leadership on a broad range of issues. In this symposium, four of Temple’s global faculty weigh in on some of these challenges: the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the related challenge of a resurgent Russia, the domestic backlash against international trade, and the long-term challenge of global climate change. 

The Challenge of ISIS

Richard Immerman (History)

Richard ImmermanAs a battle-hardened transnational network that relies on terrorism to pursue its goal of establishing a caliphate that covers the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Northern Africa, the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, its Arabic-language acronym, is almost sure to pose and challenge to and remain an irritant for the next U.S. president. That president, nevertheless, should be careful not to exaggerate the threat that the Islamic State poses and react in a way likely to exacerbate the problem that it presents.

The Islamic State maintains a presence in dozens of nations, most conspicuously in Iraq and Syria. But the string of recent reversals it has suffered, and the virtual certainty of its impending defeats in Mosul and Raqqa, its two major strongholds in Iraq and Syria, signal its declining fortunes and loss of momentum. This is not surprising. The Islamic State is the linear descendent of al Qaeda. And al Qaeda’s disintegration provides compelling evidence that terrorism is an ineffective strategy for winning hearts and minds. It was its own worst enemy, and the Islamic State is following in its footsteps.

President Barack Obama’s successor should prioritize defanging the Islamic State. It is responsible for an intolerable number of deaths, many of whom are innocent citizens, it is a continuing source of instability, and it facilitates behavior by external powers such as Iran and Russia that is inimical to the national interest of the United States and its allies. But the Islamic State does not pose a vital threat to those national interests. It can and will create mayhem and commit horrible acts. The results will be tragic, and in no small measure because of its ideals and values, the United States should do what it can to prevent or mitigate these tragedies. But it must not overreact.

It follows, then, that the commitment of U.S. forces would be a grave error. As attested to by the Iraq War, the presence of U.S. troops, perceived by indigenous elements that cross sectarian lines as an occupying power, generate “antibodies” that resist the “infection.” The Islamic State benefits. U.S. strategy, consequently, should focus on containment, which can be achieved by improved training of local forces, providing air cover, and the deployment of special forces and advisors. It should also enact progressive immigration policies and encourage its partners to do the same in order to minimize the destabilizing effect of the migration of peoples escaping the destruction the Islamic State leaves in its wake. Such policies are also the right thing to do.

The Islamic State is a cancer. The cure is to ensure it does not metastasize.

The Resurgence of Russia

Jane Vaynman (Political Science)

Jane VaynmanRussia has played an outsized role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, from instances of hacking the Democratic National Committee to broader policy questions of how the U.S. should respond to Russian aggressiveness around the world. We have even seen suggestions that Russia has sought direct influence, either through connections to high-level campaign advisors or, even more ominously, though efforts to affect the U.S. election outcome using cyber tools. The question of Russia therefore falls in two categories: In the short term, what are Russia’s interests and capabilities in affecting the U.S. political process? In the long term, how will the U.S. address future threats from Russia?

It is clear that President Vladimir Putin is intent on increasing Russian geopolitical influence around the world — a desire that is not entirely new, but increasingly aggressive in nature. Over the last eight years, the U.S. relationship with Russia has changed considerably, moving from cooperation in arms control and attempts at a further “reset” of relations to a new low point of animosity and tension. In the last few years, there has been direct evidence of the increased use of Russian military rather than economic or diplomatic tools, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, military actions in Ukraine, and military involvement in Syria.

Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election is a serious concern both for Democrats and Republicans. By using cyber tools to access and reveal private political information, Russia inserted itself into the U.S. electoral discourse. While there have been claims that Putin would like to push the U.S. election in a particular direction, it may also be the case that Russia has used the U.S. election to demonstrate its capacity and resolve in the development of cyber capabilities to interfere in domestic politics, perhaps to signal to other countries that its regional influence should not be challenged. The possibility that Russian actions do indeed support one political candidate should leave U.S. voters concerned about improving safeguards against this kind of behavior. While it is unlikely that any Russian actions will be able to tip the scales in this election, Russian efforts to do so should create a bipartisan consensus against both foreign involvement and political candidates who might be willing to use Russian assistance for personal gain.

Beyond this election, the next U.S. president will have to address a number of broader and more controversial policy choices in response to Russia’s increased reliance on military means to promote its regional dominance. The U.S. may need to further bolster capabilities in NATO countries in order to deter further Russian regional aggression. Russian policy statements have also indicated a continued, and perhaps even growing, commitment to nuclear weapons in national security strategy. The form and extent of modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be a key issue for the next president. Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty suggests an upcoming period with few options for arms control, but also U.S. decisions on unilateral security measures and opportunities for new thinking how to engage in mutual restraint with adversaries.

Finally, Russian involvement in key security hot spots, namely Syria, will be difficult to ignore. The U.S. will have to both directly confront Russian behaviors in some cases, and engage in substantive negotiations on others.

In some respects, Russian actions may be “baiting” the U.S. into new arms races or global competitions, ones that could distract resources and political attention from other pressing U.S. national security and domestic issues. The next U.S. administration will face the challenge of standing up to Russia when necessary, while avoiding unnecessary and wasteful military competition.

The Backlash Against International Trade

Alexandra Guisinger (Political Science)

Alexandra GuisingerBoth at home and abroad, new trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and old trade agreements such as the European Union face political backlash. Since the end of World War II, global trade has more than tripled, with imports and exports now totaling over 60 percent of global production. From an economic perspective, the global marketplace offers consumers cheaper and more diverse goods, larger markets, nations access to new technologies, and the world more efficient use of scarce resources. But the domestic and international political consequences of over five decades of globalization will challenge the next U.S. president.

Exports, export industries and the jobs arising from them are less obvious to the American public than imported goods, struggling domestic industries, and job losses. Domestically, many Americans remain uncertain about trade’s benefits for themselves and perceive negative consequences for their communities and the country as a whole. The good news for the next president is that these beliefs are bipartisan, in fact one of the few bipartisan foreign policy issues. The bad news is that the last 18 months of political campaign will have done little to assuage fears that globalization will leave American workers and the American economy behind. Popular candidates on both sides of the aisle appealed to protectionist sentiments with campaigns focused on the domestic losers from globalization. Prominent pro-trade advocates such as Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey switched their positions due to electorally tight races. In doing so, these campaigns have raised the salience and reinforced negative depictions of benefits of trade policy, potentially making it more difficult for the next president to expand or perhaps even continue the strategy of economic liberalism.

Externally, the U.S. faces new hurdles in implementing a foreign policy of trade liberalization. Britain’s exit from the European Union will not only delay negotiation over a proposed U.S. - EU free trade agreement, but also signals the rise of domestic political discontent with globalization in other developed countries. The protectionist sentiment expressed by candidates during this U.S. presidential and congressional campaign has sparked immediate concerns among U.S. allies that ratification of long-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership is in jeopardy and longer term concerns that the U.S. may change its long-running foreign policy of promoting economic liberalism.

If the new president seeks to continue liberal U.S. foreign economic policy, he or she will need to recognize and assuage domestic concerns about job losses while turning the negative portrayal of trade both at home and abroad.

Meeting the Threat of Global Climate Change

Mark A. Pollack (Global Studies)

Mark PollackFew global threats have been more difficult to address — in U.S. politics and policy, or in the international arena — as climate change.  On the eve of the 2016 presidential elections, the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists agree that earth’s climate is changing, becoming warmer and more volatile, as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. It seems likely that we have already begun to feel the effects of climate change today, and scientists predict far more dramatic changes if the world’s countries do not cooperate to reduce our reliance on the fossil fuels that lead to climate change. 

In 1992, the world’s states agreed upon a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and in 1997 they adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which took the first steps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S., however, failed to ratify the Kyoto agreement, due to congressional opposition, and the administration of President George W. Bush defiantly removed the U.S. signature from the agreement in 2001.

Over the past eight years, President Obama has attempted to move the U.S. towards an ambitious climate change policy of greenhouse gas reductions — adopting new and stricter automobile emissions standards, a “Clean Power Plan” that would dramatically reduce the country’s reliance on coal, a bilateral emissions-reductions agreement with China, and, in December 2015, a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Paris Climate Accords. 

However, President Obama’s climate policies have been controversial. Many Americans, particularly Republicans, deny that climate change is taking place, or that humans are causing it. Others have objected to the cost of Obama’s proposed policies, or accused the president of overstepping his constitutional authority. The next president will therefore have the power to shape the United States’, and indeed the world’s, response to the threat of climate change for many years to come. Hillary Clinton has pledged to continue Obama’s climate policies both at home and abroad, while Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have pledged to overturn most or all of the Obama’s climate measures. 

Climate change has been the “sleeper” issue in this election, with not a single question about climate raised in any of the three presidential debates. Yet the world’s response to climate change rests on a knife-edge pending the election of the next president on Nov. 8.

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