The U.S. election season was watched with great interest around the world, and with good reason—with the office of the presidency comes great power in the domain of international affairs. We asked Brookings foreign policy experts what this election means for U.S. foreign policy (both in general and for a particular region or issue they work on), as well as what key recommendation they’d make to the incoming president. Here is what they said:
Former Brookings Expert
Former Brookings Expert
Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
on U.S. Leadership, politics, and the international order
Daniel Byman, Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy: For those looking for some consolation after Donald Trump’s triumph, it is tempting to hope that his actual power will be limited. On the domestic side, of course, there is the constraining power of Congress, America’s federal structure, and the courts. And on the foreign policy side, scholars often point to the international system, arguing that power balances, the demands of allies, and other factors beyond the control of any one country will limit foreign policy options. For those who want the president to shake things up, this is bad news. But for those who worry about a new president’s agenda, this view of things is reassuring.
I question the validity of this small comfort. On trade the president can levy penalties on other countries for supposedly manipulating their currency, raise tariffs, and otherwise destroy existing arrangements like NAFTA. As commander-in-chief, the president has tremendous power. Technically he cannot bring our nation to war without congressional authorization, but he can threaten force and, as President Obama has shown, bomb other countries with at best a weak legal rationale. These are pretty big powers.
The international system is less likely to constrain the United States because of the preponderance of U.S. power. Many of the other powerful countries are U.S. allies and, even if they move away from a Trump administration, they are not likely to oppose the United States directly. The world will matter, but the United States remains the only superpower and thus many of the limits on the president’s power are more theoretical than real.
Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow, International Order and Strategy and Latin America Initiative: Donald Trump’s election to the White House and continued Republican control of Congress is a body blow to the traditional post-Cold War order of pro-Western alliances, globalized trade, and commerce, as well as important negotiated deals on climate change, Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and even sustainable development. The American people have now joined what looks like a global wave of nationalism and blared the trumpets of retreat from globalization. The results portend a dark era of regional hegemonies over collective problem-solving as impulses for national solutions to global threats take precedence. How ironic that, as the world gets smaller and the demand for cross-border solutions grows, the most powerful country in the world has decided to build walls and run for the hills.
There is a major crisis in confidence toward democracy and its institutions, and I wonder if we can recover from the stain of illiberalism that has emerged so powerfully.
Regarding the longstanding U.S. bipartisan support for promoting democracy and human rights as the north star for international peace, it seems obvious that that button is, at a minimum, on pause. Donald Trump has made clear that he’ll focus on “America first.” But it’s worse than that. The demonstration effect of these elections—the conduct of the campaigns itself, the political interference by the FBI, the vilification of independent journalists, the threats against minorities, the brandishing of violence as a tool of coercion, the mob rule furor stoked by Trump and his allies—had already cast a dark shadow over America’s ability to lead any international effort to foster civil society, promote the rights of women and minorities, or prevent torture, even if Hillary Clinton had won.
Now, all of the world’s worst prejudices and fears about the United States, its democratic system, and its leadership of the international liberal order have been confirmed. Say goodbye to Pax Americana, which has saved more lives and advanced more human progress for millions of people around the world than any other period of modern history. Say hello to Chinese and Russian imperialism, spheres of influence, renewal of radical fundamentalism, higher risks of climate catastrophe, and a return to the worst instincts of human and state behavior.
Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow, Foreign Policy; Fellow, Brookings India: It’s done. A bruising election that defied almost every expectation is now over. The United States will now have to lick many self-inflicted wounds and confront a world that it no longer has the ability to unilaterally shape and mold. The challenges at home—to American democracy and the economy—will naturally be paramount. But it will not be long before the next president will have to make important decisions regarding the United States’ three big strategic challenges: China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific; turmoil in the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan; and Russia and the future of Europe. In each of these arenas, regional actors will be looking for cues from Washington. For the first two challenges, and possibly even the third, a deep and multi-faceted partnership with India is necessary. This is a reality that both the Bush and Obama administrations realized many years ago. A strong, prosperous, and democratic India not only ensures a multi-polar Asia, but could also symbolize a model for democratic growth just as questions are beginning to creep in the world over about the future of democracy, growth, and globalization. India, not being a U.S. ally nor yet a major trade partner, has remained relatively untouched by the sometimes heated rhetoric that we have witnessed during this election cycle. The next president should therefore move early—and firmly—in setting the India-U.S. bilateral relationship on the right track.
Ranj Alaaldin, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center: Donald Trump will be confronted with an international community that is undergoing major ferment. International organizations face constrained resources and a loss in credibility as a result of multiple global crises, ranging from the ongoing war in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis, to the belligerency of Russia and China, to the fragmentation of Europe. A wide divide between the winners and losers of globalization has further undermined the rules-based international order.
Trump must revitalize and restore the international system to ensure that global institutions can handle the severe threats to international security and catastrophic humanitarian crises they face. Part of the challenge will also be countering the popular perception that what happens globally doesn’t have consequences at home—in fact, the opposite is true.
Although global institutions are weaker, the next U.S. president should not take a step back. Where multilateralism fails, a proactive foreign policy must take its place. A proactive foreign policy does not necessarily mean interventionist policies. Keeping the peace is more difficult, and more important, than winning the war. Making stabilization and good governance initiatives a central component of U.S. foreign policy will help hold back the void that enables extremists like ISIS to thrive. When our governments fail to articulate and project fundamental values and international norms, groups like ISIS step in. It is both a moral and strategic imperative for the next U.S. president to dominate the war of narratives and to define the values that determines and guides America’s global role.
Making stabilization and good governance initiatives a central component of U.S. foreign policy will help hold back the void that enables extremists like ISIS to thrive.
Richard Bush, Director, Center for East Asia Policy Studies; Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center: Following the victory of Donald Trump in the wild U.S. presidential race, now the work begins. Regarding Asia, the first step is for its leaders to establish personal relationships with Mr. Trump and his team of advisers. Leaders who know each other are better able to reach understandings about the direction of their governments’ policies for good or ill. If Asia’s leaders will engage the new American administration early on to better define where cooperation is possible and where restraint is needed, it will avoid a lot of trouble going forward and lay a foundation for good relations.
This will be most important concerning policy toward North Korea. The governments of the United States, South Korea, China, and Japan—and the Trump transition team—should assume as a matter of prudence that North Korea will test the incoming administration early on. Having that assumption in place should induce joint preparations for a prompt and proportionate collective response (including coordination before the inauguration between the Obama administration and the Trump team). Failure to prepare will make it harder to address Pyongyang’s provocative behavior going forward and complicate relations among Washington, Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo more generally.
David Dollar, Senior Fellow, John L. Thornton China Center; Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development: The new president has work to do to repair U.S. relations in the Asia-Pacific. The rise of China is the most important development at this moment in history. It could be a relatively benign phenomenon that is win-win-win for the United States, China, and the rest of the world. Or, it could go a different way. The United States can influence the outcome through its alliance system and through the economic institutions and norms that have evolved in the decades since the end of World War II. This election has seen an explicit debate about whether the alliances benefit the United States or whether we should be charging protection to our allies. It has also seen extreme protectionist rhetoric that calls into question the U.S. commitment to open trade. There is a widespread view in the Asia-Pacific that the United States is withdrawing from the global economy and global responsibilities.
A new U.S. president will have to work to repair this damage. The new president’s first trip to Asia should aim to bolster traditional alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. After some loose talk during the campaign, it will be important to reassure allies that the United States is not withdrawing from Asia in either the security realm or the economic one. We should be pursuing deeper economic integration with like-minded countries in Asia-Pacific and Europe. It is a shame that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was mischaracterized during the campaign, and it may be hard to resurrect it under the same name. But we should be pursuing this kind of agreement that addresses investment, state enterprises, labor, and environment. A rules-based order in these dimensions will be a positive incentive for China to reform and meet these standards. A trade war with China via high tariffs or labeling the country as a currency manipulator will not induce China to change and will have negative repercussions on the U.S. economy.
There is no simple “deal” to make with China. Firm security alliances, on the one hand, and deepening economic integration among like-minded countries, on the other—this is the best carrot-and-stick approach to influencing China’s rise in a positive direction.
Dany Bahar, Fellow, Global Economy and Development: One of the biggest losers of this election might be U.S. trade with the rest of the world. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have expressed animosity towards free trade agreements that the United States is or could be part of.
To what extent can ongoing and future trade agreements be modified to fit new political demands? And will the next administration enact policies to protect jobs at home that would, de facto, harm free trade? It is natural that the new president wants to protect the local workforce, but it is also important to remember that the local workforce are also consumers—and trade with other countries benefits U.S. consumers enormously by allowing them to buy goods that America is (comparatively) less competitive at producing. It is true that trade can have harmful consequences in the short run, but the right policy choice is not to stop trade, but rather to provide temporary safety nets to those who are most affected. To maintain America’s position as the leading global economic power, the policies of the next administration must prioritize and address long-term productivity growth. To do so, incentivizing international trade is fundamental.
Elizabeth Ferris, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Program: This U.S. election season has been brutal for refugees and migrants. Vicious rants against refugees and migrants, particularly Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants, have been an affront to our ideals and our very identity as Americans. For decades, refugee resettlement has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the United States—and for good reasons. But that bipartisan support seems to have vanished in the ugliness of this campaign. And the ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States has fed into a toxic global narrative that refugees and migrants are to be kept out. Fences and walls have gone up in Europe, forcing desperate people to take to leaky boats in their search for safety—and far too many to die en route. And other governments have taken note. Why should Pakistan and Kenya (to cite but two examples) continue to host millions of refugees if much wealthier countries are closing their doors to refugees and political candidates blame foreigners for all manner of problems?
The damage done—at home and abroad—cannot be undone overnight. But the U.S. presidential election offers the chance to return to a more rational and more humane policy toward refugees and migrants. The incoming administration will face tremendous challenges in addressing the causes which lead refugees to flee their countries. But if we cannot find immediate solutions for the carnage in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan, at least we can do more to help those fleeing those conflicts. While continuing to uphold high security standards, we can allow more refugees to find safety in the United States. We can support immigration reform and a path to citizenship for many migrants currently living in limbo. We can make support for host communities a centerpiece of our refugee policy. Most of all, we need to put an end to the divisive rhetoric and rebuild the bipartisan efforts which have supported refugee policy in this country for decades.
Robert L. McKenzie, Visiting Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World: Trump should ensure that his administration stays focused on policy solutions for the 65 million displaced persons worldwide. To strengthen a whole-of-government approach, he should: 1) empower the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which tends to play second fiddle to the regional bureaus (even though that’s where the rubber meets the road on refugee issues); 2) create an ambassador-at-large and coordinator for refugee policy at the State Department, modeled after the response to the Ebola crisis; and 3) create a new position in the National Security Council at the level of senior adviser or special assistant to the president or national security adviser on the global refugee crisis.
On Syrian refugees, specifically, Trump should engage Syrian American leaders, many of whom are the best sources for new and creative ideas to help mitigate the baneful effects of the Syrian refugee crisis. The humanitarian organizations they’ve formed have specialized understandings of Syrian refugees and are uniquely positioned to offer insights not typically found in the halls of government or international institutions.
On a related issue, American Muslims were the focus of intense and often disturbing rhetoric during this election cycle, and President Trump needs to reaffirm America’s principles and values vis-à-vis them and other minority groups at the outset. His administration should reach out to and listen to Muslims across the country, including through local-level focus groups. These focus groups should be seen as an opportunity to rebuild trust and dialogue with Muslim communities.
On countering violent extremism, the Trump administration should jettison a community-oriented approach that targets Muslims writ large. A better agenda would focus on interventions for individuals who have demonstrated a clear and sustained interest in jihadi propaganda, or who have demonstrated sympathy for designated foreign terrorist organizations. That’s an evidence-based, data-driven approach to truly mitigating the threat of violent extremism in America.
Jessica Brandt, Associate Fellow, Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s victory does not bode well for the plight of the millions of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. That’s because of his repeated calls for the restriction of Muslim immigration to the United States, which he reiterated again this week.
Such a policy would gut the nation’s resettlement program, which lies at the heart of its efforts to offer rights and refuge to those in need. That would make the the United States a bystander in a global crisis that calls out for leadership, strain the transatlantic alliance, strengthen the forces breeding disunity within Europe, and deny a needed form of support to fragile frontline states struggling to cope with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the violence.
on Russia and Europe
Pavel Baev, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe: The resonance of this U.S. election campaign is truly enormous, in every corner of the world. But despite much disgust about the mudslinging, it is not necessarily all that negative. Observers everywhere may be astounded that a candidate so arrogantly ignorant in international affairs could gather so much support, but that has also given them a greater understanding of the global stakes in this moment of choice. Paradoxical as it may seem, many people now have greater appreciation of the value of U.S. leadership and of their interest in preserving it. This leadership is indeed indispensable in various troubled areas, from the South China Sea to the Barents Sea, and hot spots, from Mosul to Donetsk, and cannot be taken for granted.
One external actor that claimed a far more prominent role in the U.S. elections than it has any right to is Russia. President Vladimir Putin has loomed like an uninvited shadow in every presidential debate, and while he may take pride in this achievement, it comes at a yet-unknown price. The unprecedented cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee cannot be left unanswered, and President Barack Obama must deliver a measured response in the remaining months of his term. It will be up to the president-elect to incorporate this response into a course that effectively curtails the ambitions of a declining but dangerously defiant Russia. This, perhaps, will be one of the first and demanding challenges of a new presidency. (On a personal note: Being a white male myself, I have to express profound chagrin about the preferences of this U.S. minority group.)
Sanctions against Russia—which have become a sort of first response on transgressions as diverse as barbaric air strikes on Aleppo or blatant hacking of e-mail accounts—are useful only to a degree. The sanctions policy needs regular fine-tuning, so that the most biting measures are duly amplified, but some more specific pressure could be applied against Russian export of corruption. Putin’s courtiers are material men deeply attached to their material assets safely evacuated to the West, so every squeeze on these sensitivities registers very prominently on the balance sheet of Russian policymaking.
Matteo Garavoglia, Nonresident Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe: With a Trump White House, U.S. foreign policy is likely to radically depart from anything we have seen since the end of World War II. Or, to become increasingly chaotic and incoherent. Both options are frightening.
President Trump will be a particularly difficult leader for Italy to deal with. First, Italy is one of those countries that, according to Trump, does not contribute enough to the trans-Atlantic alliance. The fact that Italy spends only approximately 1 percent of its GDP on defense will make the country vulnerable to Trump’s accusations of “free riding” under America’s military umbrella. Additionally, President Trump will be able to exercise enormous leverage over Rome, thanks to the numerous military installations that the United States has set up in Italy. The town of Vicenza is host to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Camp Darby, near Pisa plays a key logistical role for operations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Naples and Gaeta are home to the U.S. Sixth Fleet. Air Force facilities are present in Sigonella and nuclear weapons are “shared” by the two countries at the Aviano and Ghedi air force bases.
Last but certainly not least; ideological considerations will make it more difficult for the two countries’ leaders to come to an understanding. While another Berlusconi government would have been in tune with most of the rhetoric and the policies promoted by Trump, the current Italian government—much like the rest of Europe—abhors everything Trump stands for. As he moves into the White House, the new president should surround himself with experienced Republican foreign policy wonks. They will work tirelessly to try limiting the number of enemies he’ll make.
Philippe Le Corre, Visiting Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe: France’s reaction to Donald Trump’s election has been lukewarm, to say the least. President François Hollande said, plainly: “I offer my congratulations, as it is natural to do between two heads of democratic states.” He added that Trump’s victory opened a period of uncertainty, and that “some things Trump said during the campaign ought to be confronted to the values and shared interests France holds with the U.S.”
The U.S. result comes at a time when France itself is starting to get in election mood—in May 2017, the French people will elect a president. Right-wing potential successors to Hollande were quick to try to capitalize on the Trump win. Nicolas Sarkozy said that Americans are reacting to unfair global trade. For her part, far-right leader Marine Le Pen was thrilled, saying: “the Americans have elected the president they wanted, rather than the one a system wanted to impose on them.” But Alain Juppé—who served as prime minister under Jacques Chirac, and now the leading contender for the French presidency—emphasized the risks posed by populism.
A critical area of U.S.-French cooperation will be on counterterrorism. France feels this threat acutely, after experiencing several terrorist attacks on its soil. Trump did not address the issue during his campaign, and the French leadership is no doubt eager to have that conversation. France is also one of the most active Western and NATO countries militarily, on various fronts. As such, it is a critical U.S. security partner. For all the Republican candidate’s complaining on alliances, a Trump administration must sustain ties with its long-term coalition partners, who are indispensable for global counterterrorism.
On the Middle East
Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy: The United States will no doubt have a wide array of immediate foreign policy challenges to deal with in the aftermath of the election—among others, addressing U.S.-Russia relations, the North Korean nuclear issue, and problems all across the volatile Middle East, mainly the Syrian crisis and the U.S.-led coalition’s war against ISIS. As many countries around the world are expecting a more assertive, hands-on U.S. leadership approach in the international arena, there is an opportunity for the Donald Trump administration to recalibrate U.S. foreign policy in a different direction from the Obama administration.
The Middle East region is in flux. The challenges for regional actors—as well as for U.S. policy—are enormous. Many U.S. partners in the region feel neglected or marginalized by the Obama administration’s policies and are awaiting a new U.S. policy under the new president, aimed at solving the tough and complex issues at hand, while also strengthening U.S. partnerships with its regional allies.
My main recommendation for Trump is to reach out to traditional U.S. allies in the region, to consult with them, and to update them on U.S. plans and considerations (rather than surprise them).
Kemal Kirişci, TÜSİAD Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe; Director, The Turkey Project: This electoral upset comes on the heels of a series of major setbacks for U.S. foreign policy in Europe, in the Middle East, and in East Asia. The new president-elect has offered very little detail about the foreign policy he will put into place beyond expressions of sympathy for the Russian president Vladimir Putin, that he intends to crush ISIS, and that he wants to make “American great again.” How will these ideas manifest themselves in the field is unclear. The uncertainty this is causing is reflected in the nervousness of world markets and the erosion of the U.S. dollar’s value.
U.S. policy in the Middle East has long been criticized for lacking vision and leadership. The outgoing administration—after long years of indecisiveness—seemed to be moving, painfully, towards reconstituting a viable Iraq and defeating ISIS in Syria while pursuing a difficult diplomatic process to bring the violence in Syria to an end. The administration had also taken some global initiatives to better address the humanitarian crisis in the region. Time will tell if the new administration will continue with this policy. Defeating ISIS in Syria is a goal that many in the Middle East would share, but the key is how it will be done. This is also inevitably linked to what the future of Syria will look like. A policy that rides roughshod over regional and local actors is likely to provoke considerable backlash at a time when local actors in the region will face the challenge of cooperating with a president who was characterized by his Islamophobia.
Fielding decisive U.S. leadership will be critical. In doing so, it will be important to recognize that the challenge is much more than just “crushing” ISIS and clarifying how this will be done. It will be important that the new administration is able to share the burden of managing the consequences of the humanitarian crisis while focusing on reconstituting order in Syria. The latter is going to be a mammoth task that is going to call for reconciling conflicting interests. All this will depend on whether the new president will be able to convince that he has a plan that goes beyond slogans and that it is a plan that enjoys reasonable support from the diverse players in the region and is and will be backed with hard power if and when necessary.
Beverley Milton-Edwards, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center: Among the losers of the U.S. presidential campaign is America’s foreign policy. The world has watched—at first with some amusement, and then in growing alarm—as the campaign reduced America’s relations abroad to some kind of cruel joke. Serious policy issues were often relegated to the margins of the campaign, and discussions about international relations imbued with hostility rather than messages of global leadership and power. This has hurt America.
In the Middle East—where America must vie with Russia, China, and Islamist movements for influence—there is a sense that the pax Americana moment has passed. Regional actors have reoriented away from Washington and formed new alliances. The 2016 campaign has only worsened this damage. The question is whether its outcome can undo the harm to restore the preponderance of power America once enjoyed in the region.
In this respect, Donald Trump faces a momentous challenge. To begin to recover power in the region, he must go back to Iraq and play a sustained part in assisting not only the military victory against ISIS but also in stabilization and reconstruction. This means extending the current mandate of U.S.-led forces in Operation Inherent Resolve beyond the Mosul liberation challenge.
Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and the Center for Middle East Policy; Director, The Intelligence Project: Donald Trump has one immediate challenge before inauguration, which is to salvage the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. The congressional override of President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism (JASTA) bill means our oldest and strongest ally in the Arab world is going to be the target of unnecessary and dangerous lawsuits. This is likely to damage counterterrorism cooperation with the Kingdom and its Gulf allies, making us less safe. The bill also sets a dangerous precedent which could be used in the future against American soldiers and diplomats.
In the interim between the election and the inauguration, he should quietly encourage the lame duck Congress to amend JASTA to give the new president a waiver to exclude from such lawsuits countries deemed by the president to be major partners in fighting terrorism. Obama could take the political heat and sign an amendment with waiver authority. This will not be an easy sell, but it is far better to change JASTA now than to live with it after January 2017. Failure to act responsibly on JASTA, and acknowledging that this issue has been thoroughly investigated by two congressionally mandated commissions, will set back Trump’s efforts to stabilize a very dangerous region before he even gets started.
Natan Sachs, Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy: One Israeli journalist joked on election night that work had already begun on moving the U.S. embassy to Amona, a small Israeli settlement in the West Bank, due for evacuation by the end of the year by Israeli court order. Not only would Trump fulfill the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which mandates the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (until now deferred by every president using the national security waiver), but all U.S. objections to settlements or Israeli policy in the West Bank would be reversed, he joked.
Amona won’t be receiving diplomatic dignitaries any time soon, but how much of a joke it was—how much U.S. policy on settlements and other Israel- and Palestinians-related issues will change—remains unclear, like so much else at this point. The identity of the next secretary of state may be crucial in this regard, but Trump advisers stated during the campaign that he would in fact move the embassy to Jerusalem. U.S. criticism of the growing Israeli presence in the West Bank will likely be tempered, perhaps dramatically.
The Israeli leadership will welcome the change, of course, but they may find that it is a two-edged sword. Much as Israeli leaders repeatedly tell their U.S. counterparts that their hands are tied with Israeli domestic politics, such that they cannot be too forthcoming toward the Palestinians, so do they tell their domestic audience—like settlers—that their hands are tied by the fear of American ire. If that excuse is truly removed, Israel’s leaders may find that they must now answer for themselves what strategic goal they actually want. If Washington stops trying to save Israel from itself, as many in the Obama administration see it, it will not relieve the Israelis from the same vexing questions about the wisdom of continued and growing Israeli presence amidst the Palestinian population. They’ve long wished for a more understanding voice in the White House, but they may now find that one should always be careful of what one wishes for.
Federica Saini Fasanotti, Nonresident Fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence: U.S. elections have an enormous impact on the world—that’s one reason among many that growing U.S. isolationism is a mistake. In an increasingly connected world, it is absurd to think that the United States can disengage, and any void it leaves would certainly be filled by another (perhaps less savory) party. While the cost of that retrenchment might not be felt immediately, it would severely limit the range of U.S. policy options over time.
In my view, the next administration in Washington needs to double-down on Libya—a far-away country that matters more for U.S. security (not to mention the security of its partners in Europe and the Middle East) than initially meets the eye. In the vacuum that is Libya today, radical jihadism has found ideal soil to grow. The cross-border threat emanating from the country—including specifically from ISIS affiliates—is becoming ever-more urgent, and urgent U.S. and international action may be required. But beyond that, sustained support for Libya is the real key. While military force may be one important piece of the counterterrorism fight, economic and political assistance are also essential for the country’s long-term stability. It still suffers from deep divisions and lack of good leadership, and rebuilding the country won’t be easy. But it’s essential for the next president to recognize that delivering American support to Libya is in America’s own security interests.
Sarah Yerkes, Visiting Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy: As the ugly 2016 U.S. presidential campaign finally comes to an end, there was one positive story—the staggeringly high level of youth participation during the primaries. American youth, who tend to vote at the lowest rates of any age group during national elections, came out in droves during the 2016 primaries, surpassing 2008 levels (the “year of the youth”) in many states. Yesterday’s election saw a youth turnout of 19 percent—on par with 2008 but significantly lower than other age groups, and well below the estimated national turnout of 56 percent. But unlike 2008, where young people contributed significantly to electing Barack Obama, on Tuesday, youth, who strongly favored Hillary Clinton (55 percent of whom voted for her, compared to only 37 percent for Trump) were unable to prevail.
Unlike in years past, young people this year, not surprisingly, rejected the major party candidates. According to early reporting, close to 10 percent of young people (18-29) voted for a third party candidate, up from 3 percent in 2012. This reflects a high level of frustration and disillusionment with the political establishment.
The divide between young and old—both at the ballot box and beyond—is not unique to America. In one of the globe’s newest democracies, Tunisia, we see similarly low levels of youth participation. Tunisian youth, who were responsible for bringing about a revolution in 2011, have increasingly abstained from voting and other formal politics. In 2014—only the country’s second free and fair election in its history—some estimated that 80 percent of eligible Tunisian voters age 18 to 25 boycotted the vote.
It matters whether young people vote. When a significant percentage of the population sits out an election, it challenges the basic premise of our democracy—a government by, for, and of all of the people. 2016 is the first year in which nearly all millennial youth were eligible to vote—and the size of their voting bloc is now about equal to that of the baby boomer generation. But sadly, that influence will not likely be reflected in the next administration’s policies, after so many young Americans stayed home.