A mural in Lithuania depicts a close relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (Screen shot via USA Today)

Thursday night, Americans were treated to the longest Republican National Convention acceptance speech in decades when Donald Trump spoke for an hour and 15 minutes. The tone of his speech was dark and warlike as he focused on threats both domestically and abroad.

Declaring that he would “defeat the barbarians of ISIS,” he used his time on stage to attack Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state. “America is far less safe—and the world is far less stable — than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy,” Trump said. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

In the days preceding his acceptance speech, Trump spoke on foreign policy in ways that diverged from the traditional conservative position. On Wednesday, Trump joined David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times to discuss foreign policy. The big takeaway from the interview was Trump’s startling position on NATO:

Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” …

Mr. Trump’s statement appeared to be the first time that a major candidate for president had suggested conditioning the United States’ defense of its major allies. It was consistent, however, with his previous threat to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection.

Critics, including members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, noted that this proposition would undoubtedly thrill Vladimir Putin — it’s no secret that he and Trump have expressed admiration for each other. “Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East,” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic writes. “His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability — much worse than anything we are seeing today — because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order.”

But Trump’s Times interview didn’t just alarm liberals: Members of the Republican Party also grew concerned by his apparent break from mainline foreign policy. David Wright and Tom Kludt of CNN note that the interview, published Thursday morning, “made matters awkward for Trump’s vice presidential choice, Mike Pence, who delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention within hours of the interview being posted online that contrasted in places with his running mate.” Many longtime Republican politicians, like Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, hoped Trump would clarify his remarks during his nomination acceptance speech.

However, those hopes were not fulfilled, writes Michael Crowley at Politico: “Trump’s words underscored a sudden and dramatic shift in direction for a Republican Party once proudly associated with military intervention and democracy promotion in the Arab world.” In fact, Trump’s proposals were hypocritical to past Republican foreign policy stances, including past statements by Trump himself. Crowley continues:

Like many other Republican speakers this week, Trump also blamed [Hillary] Clinton for the Islamist assault on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.

But many leading Republicans applauded Obama’s intervention in Libya. And Trump himself called for killing Qadhafi, saying in a 2011 video blog post: “We should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.” Trump has since reversed that position and said that the world would be better off with Qadhafi in power. …

Trump says he opposed the 2003 Iraq war, which changed that country’s regime by toppling the dictator Saddam Hussein. But when asked in a September 2002 radio interview with Howard Stern whether he would support invading Iraq, Trump replied: “Yeah, I guess so.” Trump did not publicly criticize the war until 2004.

Perhaps most remarkable was the way Trump glossed over recent GOP policies in the Middle East, which many analysts say bear some blame for the regional mayhem Trump described, including the rise of ISIL.

Trump, as many have pointed out, does not seem aware of his conflicting positions. In fact, much of his speech accuses Clinton of exercising disastrous foreign policy. “In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map,” Trump noted in his speech. PolitiFact states that actually, “the blame touches both Bush, for creating a strong space for al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, and Obama, for giving the group a chance to regroup. … Trump misleads when he pins the rise of ISIS solely on Clinton.”

While Trump’s speech wasn’t 100 percent inaccurate, an NPR fact check found numerous holes in his statements. It is important to note, however, that Clinton wasn’t blameless in her time in the State Department. Ed Krayewski of Reason.com contends that had Clinton “been completely in charge of U.S. foreign policy under Obama, and stuck around for four more years, things could have been even worse.”

One of the biggest lessons from all of this is not that Trump often spouts inaccuracies and contradictory positions, but that a comparison of his foreign policy stance with Clinton’s shows a remarkable shift by both candidates.

Throughout this election season, Clinton has been accused of being a “hawk” and is seen as too conservative for many mainstream liberal voters. Neocons have financially supported Clinton’s campaign, and she’s been labeled “2016’s real conservative.”

Clinton may indeed have the “edge of experience” over Trump, but it can be argued that this experience isn’t beneficial for Americans hoping for peace abroad. James Carden of The Nation, for instance, writes:

[H]er record also raises serious questions of judgment. … New York Times reporter Mark Landler recounts in his recently released book Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power that on nearly every major foreign-policy decision that Clinton weighed in on during her time as the nation’s chief diplomat, she found herself to the right of the Pentagon.

Even The New York Times, which has faced criticism for its lack of objectivity in covering Clinton, published a lengthy adapted excerpt from Landler’s book outlining how she “has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama — and most Democrats” throughout her career. “For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion,” Landler writes, “neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.”

The rise of Donald Trump (and third-party candidates like Bernie Sanders) clearly reflects voter dissatisfaction with traditional party ideologies on both sides of the aisle. When it comes to foreign policy, Clinton seems more in line with conservative ideologies than Trump does.

This could help her win over moderate conservatives who despise Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia — but it could also send many Sanders supporters into Trump’s campaign or third parties. This isn’t lost on Trump, who has repeatedly tried to appeal to Sanders’ supporters since their candidate lost the Democratic nomination.

Sanders, of course, has now endorsed Clinton, and he spent Thursday night sharply criticizing many of the statements Trump made during his acceptance speech. “Those who voted for me will not support Trump who has made bigotry and divisiveness the cornerstone of his campaign,” Sanders tweeted. But as many Sanders fans express their disappointment and outrage over his decision to support Clinton, it remains to be seen where these alienated voters end up settling.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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