Terrorism expert David Schanzer takes aim at Donald Trump's 'dangerously misguided' policies

<p>Schanzer said that he does not support any of Trump’s views regarding foreign policy.</p>

Schanzer said that he does not support any of Trump’s views regarding foreign policy.

To recap Sunday's second presidential debate, The Chronicle spoke with David Schanzer, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, about the foreign policy consequences of the debate. 

The Chronicle: What happens to the War on Terror if Donald Trump wins the presidency?

David Schanzer: I think his policies are dangerously misguided. I fear he would get us deeply involved in a ground war against ISIS in Syria, which would be even worse than the situation in Iraq. It would have extremely damaging impacts going forward. I'm also concerned, both internationally and domestically, by how he has insulted Islam, and how that would affect the ability of the United States to work with Muslim-majority countries and also traumatize Muslim-Americans.

TC: Clinton has claimed that terrorists are using Trump's remarks as propaganda and recruitment. Do you see this as a problem?

DS: I don't personally know about specific instances of uses of his remarks, but his remarks are reinforcing claims that ISIS is making about the West's hostility towards Islam, which is definitely a recruiting theme of ISIS. ISIS' argument to Muslims around the world is that they will never be fully accepted in the West, so to be a true Muslim, they have to come and fight for the caliphate. Trump's remarks reinforce that theme, and that's why it's so dangerous.

TC: Do you foresee a rise in Islamophobia after this election, as one of the audience members during the debate Sunday suggested?

DS: We're seeing a rise in anti-Islamic bigotry really over the last two years, first from the rise of ISIS, but then it's been exacerbated by Trump's overtly prejudicial rhetoric. We're seeing this in increased vandalism against mosques, hate crimes including even murder against Muslims, so that's happening already.

TC: Should President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton be using the term "radical Islamic terrorism" as Trump suggests they should?

DS: The source of the terrorism we are facing, whether from ISIS or al-Qaeda, has very complex roots. It's true that ISIS and al-Qaeda pull on religious themes to motivate their supporters, but the core sources of grievance have much more to do with history and politics than with religion. So I think it is appropriate not to identify the source of this terrorism as purely religious. There's no doubt that these individuals are Muslim, and I identify it as 'an insurgency of radical Muslims against the West,' and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging this. I also think it's crucial to maintain the alliances and efforts of majority-Muslim countries, so to consistently equate everything ISIS does with religion is very counterproductive. That's exactly why President Obama has veered away from using exclusively religious rhetoric to explain ISIS and terrorism.

TC: How do you evaluate the candidates' stances toward Russia and Vladimir Putin?

DS: Trump's proclivity to support Vladimir Putin is so bizarre and has absolutely no support among Democrats or Republicans, which is what makes his foreign policy so incoherent. Putin has made clear, whether in Georgia or in Syria, that he is essentially trying to resurrect a deeply anti-Western, anti-American foreign policy. Trump's idea that he can somehow charm Putin into different behavior is bizarre. Republicans and Democrats know we are going to need a much more aggressive posture toward Russia going forward, and Trump's bromance with Putin is just at odds with reality.

TC: What are the main flaws in Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, and her strengths?

DS: The main flaw in Clinton’s foreign policy is her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. This agreement is designed to strengthen our relations with 12 Asian countries. If the agreement fails, we will drive these countries towards China, which is not only bad for our economy, but will harm our national security.

TC: Does either candidate have a good policy as to how to handle the crisis in Syria?

DS: Trump's response to that question is emblematic of his lack of understanding and depth in foreign policy. He is great at criticizing the state of the world and blaming it on Clinton and Obama, but he has absolutely no idea how to take difficult circumstances and convert that into policy moving forward. He didn't express a policy on Syria. He actually rambled on for two or three minutes, but he has no coherent position on Syria.

In terms of Clinton's policy, I don't believe it will alleviate fully the humanitarian crisis, but she wants to take more aggressive action in terms of creating safe zones in Syria that would have some impact. I believe she'll be tougher on arming the rebels to force Putin and [President of Syria Bashar] Assad to the negotiating table. Whether those options will still be available to her on the ground in January 2017 is very much unclear right now. 

TC: Do you think the vetting system is up to the task of the 550 percent increase in Syrian refugees Clinton is asking for? Do you think it is likely ISIS will try to send "trojan horses" among the refugees?

DS: No vetting system can provide a hundred percent guarantee that a person has no connections with the many extremist organizations active in Syria or that any individual vetted, will never, at any time in the future, commit an act of violence. It is noteworthy, however, that our current system is only approving 1 out of every 10 refugees that are proposed, which means that is it a tough, rigorous screening. 

Even with this system, there is a risk, but it is a manageable risk that we as a great country can bear. We can’t let fear of terrorism deprive us of our humanity. In light of the magnitude of human suffering that is taking place in Syria, how can we as a safe, prosperous country turn a total blind eye and not do our part to provide a safe and secure home for at least some of those fleeing horror? So we should do our best to screen out those who might have ISIS connections, but accept more refugees despite the slight risk that ISIS might try to abuse this system.

TC: How likely is foreign policy to sway undecided voters, as compared to domestic and economic issues?

DS: I think national security and confidence in foreign affairs is a threshold issue that any candidate has to surmount before any individual will vote for them. I think that's Trump's main problem, that for a large segment of his country, he doesn't meet the commander-in-chief test. So yes, I think it's a critical issue for the electorate. 

TC: Can you say one nice thing about Trump's foreign policy?

DS: That's a challenge. The key issue is that Trump is totally out of his depth and has not done the studying and does not understand the complexities of the world in any way comparable to Secretary Clinton. I can't really isolate anything in his platform I support. 


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