Foreign Policy

What role should America play in the world? Some suggest the United States should continue to play an active role in world affairs, while others say our country needs to stop “policing the world.” With so many arguments for both sides, how do we come to a consensus?

A country’s foreign policies are the strategies it employs to secure its self interest in dealing with foreign nations. American foreign policy centers around the question of how involved the United States should be in world affairs, and how it should respond to crises around the world.

Our country’s foreign policy began with George Washington’s policy of non-interventionism. Washington believed that it would be unwise to involve ourselves in the affairs of other countries where our interests aren’t affected. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, even declared in his inaugural address that the United States should avoid all entangling alliances.

American foreign policy drastically shifted both as the country entered World War II, and as the world became more intertwined through commerce. After the WWII, the United States became the dominant economic power in the world—and as a result, the champion of democracy in the face of Communism. World War II shook the world, and both it and the Cold War resulted in a shift in American viewpoints on the role of the United States in world affairs. The attacks on the World Trade Center sparked what became known as the War on Terrorism under then-President George Bush, and this trend continued with both the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and other conflicts. Supporters of increased American involvement overseas have often cited the need to fight the enemies of the United States overseas—and not on American soil. Opponents, however, contend that the country’s increased military involvement actually makes us less safe both physically and financially—and, less free.

Foreign policy is a big issue this election. In light of recent terrorist attacks, international crises (like ISIS) and globalization, what should the role of the United States be in world affairs? How aggressively should America pursue its national interests abroad, and how should it present itself to foreign nations?



The United States should adhere to Washington’s advice of non-interventionism. When the United States involves itself in international agreements that don’t align with its national interest, it puts itself at risk of entering into entangling alliances. Decisions should be made that are in line with our national interest first and foremost, and involving ourselves in the affairs of other countries only puts us at risk. We should peacefully trade with all countries, but should heed Washington’s advice of non-interventionism.


Non-Interventionism doesn't believe that the United States should have a larger role in global affairs, shaping larger trade agreements for other countries, signing treaties, and addressing needs for humanitarian work.



The world is a dangerous place without the United States in charge, especially because of the War on Terrorism. It’s important that the United States play an active role in waging the war against Al Qaeda and ISIS; it should command respect from its enemies through strong use of force, and should promote democracy around the world by promoting nation building. If the United States doesn’t take an active role in world affairs, then Russia and China certainly will—and in light of their human rights track records, that’s not a world we should want to live in.


Neo-Conservatism doesn't see the unintended consequences of their actions across the globe. Their meddling in trade agreements, treaties, and upheaval of foreign dictators can foster an environment that creates more terrorism.



The United States should lead through a broad coalition of other countries around the world. American interests often align with other countries, and we should take the fight to ISIS and Al Qaeda by gaining support of the international community through the United Nations. While use of force is sometimes necessary, global dialogue and negotiation should be the starting point for all actions.


Neo-Liberalism doesn't see the unintended consequences of their actions across the globe. While trying to be aggressive through military force, their message can be weakened while seeking approval from the United Nations or other global coalitions.



The United States should seek to lessen its involvement around the world by asking what conflicts are truly in its national interest. In terms of the War on Terrorism, the United States should seek to contain terrorist organizations as much as possible—truly destroying them is an impossible goal. The United States should peacefully trade and talk with all countries, and should seriously consider what actions require and don’t require the use of force before engaging in military operations. When war is deemed to be necessary, the United States should use overwhelming military force to win—but then should come home.


Containment doesn't believe that the United States should be global leaders. Containment is sometimes viewed as being too cautious and timid in situations of what is in the nation's best interest. There is also a question as to whether under a "containment" view if the War on Terrorism is really a war to begin with.

What Students Think

The current generation of students have grown up in a time where the United States has been at war. Their views are shaped in the post-9/11 world with heightened security. The debate in more recent years has been on liberty vs. security and questioning America's role in the world. With that debate, there has also been the rise of ISIS in the middle east, gaining influence and land by force.

Should United States foreign policy take a more interventionist stance?





Candidate Positions

Donald Trump

Republican Candidate for President

I love America. And when you love something, you protect it passionately–fiercely, even. We are the greatest country the world has ever known. I make no apologies for this country, my pride in it, or my desire to see us become strong and rich again. After all, wealth funds our freedom. But for too long we’ve been pushed around, used by other countries, and ill-served by politicians in Washington who measure their success by how rapidly they can expand the federal debt, and your tax burden, with their favorite government programs.

Gary Johnson

Libertarian Candidate for President

The objective of both our foreign policy and our military should be straightforward: To protect us from harm and to allow the exercise of our freedoms.

Looking back over the past couple of decades, it is difficult to see how the wars we have waged, the interventions we have conducted, the lives sacrificed and the trillions spent on the other side of the globe have made us safer. The chaotic, reactive military and foreign policies of the past two Presidents have, if anything, created an environment that has allowed these threats to flourish.

Many military and political analysts conclude the rise of ISIS can be traced back to the instability to which our actions contributed. While our leaders have thrust our military and our resources into regime changes, failed nation-building and interventions that have strained valuable strategic relationships, the murderers of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other violent extremists have found new homes, established a state to implement their warped dreams and secured the resources to become very real threats to the stability and security of the Middle East.

As President, Gary Johnson will move quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way. The U.S. must get serious about cutting off the millions of dollars that are flowing into the violent extremists’ coffers every day. Relationships with strategic allies must be repaired and reinforced. And the simplistic options of “more boots on the ground” and dropping more bombs must be replaced with strategies that will isolate and ultimately neuter those violent extremist groups.

Hillary Clinton

Democratic Candidate for President

Defending America and our core values is one of the cornerstones of Hillary’s campaign. When America leads with principle and purpose, other people and governments are eager to join us. Hillary’s framework of American leadership includes:
Establishing a strong foundation. Our economy provides the foundation for our leadership, our diplomatic influence, and our military might. We succeed when we invest in our people, our infrastructure, and our technological edge. As secretary of state, Hillary went to bat for American companies and workers around the world, helping open markets and boost exports that created jobs back home.
Keeping our homeland secure. As secretary of state, Hillary expanded global anti-terrorism cooperation and helped step up our efforts to go after terrorist recruitment, propaganda, and safe havens. As president, she’ll keep America safe and strong, while upholding our core values and principles.
Making sure that our military is on the cutting edge. As a senator, Hillary was a champion for our men and women in uniform as a member of the Armed Services Committee. As president, she’ll ensure the United States maintains the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known. America must also respond to the new challenges our veterans and military families face, providing them with the support they have earned and deserve.
Following a vision for America that is centered on our core ideals. Hillary will continue her long-standing emphasis on gender equality and human rights, including the rights of LGBT individuals around the globe, and standing up for an open Internet to ensure that all people have equal access to information and ideas.
Hillary understands the importance of leading for the long term. We can’t stop the world from changing, but we can help to shape those changes. If America is smart, our advantages position us to meet new challenges and emerge safer and more prosperous. Smart, long-term leadership means:
Never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. America and our allies, especially Israel, will be safer if we vigorously enforce the nuclear agreement with Iran and implement a broader strategy to confront Iran’s bad behavior in the region.
-Defeating ISIS. ISIS and the foreign terrorist fighters it recruits pose a serious threat to America and our allies. We will confront and defeat them in a way that builds greater stability across the region, without miring our troops in another misguided ground war. Hillary will empower our partners to defeat terrorism and the ideologies that drive it, including through our ongoing partnership to build Iraqi military and governing capacity, our commitment to Afghanistan’s democracy and security, and by supporting efforts to restore stability to Libya and Yemen.
-Holding China accountable. As secretary of state, Hillary reasserted America’s role as a Pacific power and called out China’s aggressive actions in the region. As president, she’ll work with friends and allies to promote strong rules of the road and institutions in Asia, and encourage China to be a responsible stakeholder—including on cyberspace, human rights, trade, territorial disputes, and climate change—and hold it accountable if it does not.
-Standing up to Putin. Hillary has gone toe-to-toe with Putin before, and she’ll do it again. She’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our European allies and help them decrease dependence on Russian oil. With our partners, Hillary will confine, contain, and deter Russian aggressions in Europe and beyond, and increase the costs to Putin for his actions.

In order to succeed, America must strengthen our current partnerships, and work to build new ones. In an interconnected world, people are hungry to partner with America, and many share our vision for the future. Hillary will strengthen our alliances and nurture new relationships across the globe. In order to ensure that America maintains successful global partnerships, she will:
-Strengthen alliances. From the Middle East and Asia to Europe and our own hemisphere, Hillary will strengthen the essential partnerships that are a unique source of America’s strength. That’s particularly true of Israel, which is why Hillary will continue to support Israel’s ability to defend itself, including with Iron Dome and other defense systems. If anyone challenges Israel’s security, they challenge America’s security.
-Create partnerships for tomorrow. Hillary believes in free peoples and free markets. As president, she’ll invest in partnerships in Latin America, Africa, and Asia with people and nations who share our values and vision for the future.

Engage civil society. America has the opportunity to resolve familiar conflicts and nurture new democracies; to empower moderates and marginalize extremists; and to open markets and champion human rights. From engaging students and civil leaders to broadening our development partnerships to involve our businesses, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, Hillary knows that America’s greatest assets are our diverse citizens and the vision of fairness and openness we offer the world.
America must adapt for the world of tomorrow. Wishful thinking will not prepare America for new and emerging threats. Preparing for the world of tomorrow means we must acknowledge:
-Climate change is not just a moral and economic issue, it is a defining national security challenge of our time.
-Safeguarding our country from rising sea levels and extreme weather requires domestic action and intensive global engagement. America must lead this effort, not back away from a threat to our security or an opportunity for our economy.
-Cyber attacks have profound consequences for our economy and our national security. Hillary will leverage the work of the public and private sectors—overcoming the mistrust that impedes cooperation today—to strengthen security and build resiliency for economy and infrastructure. Our country will outpace this rapidly changing threat, maintain strong protections against unwarranted government or corporate surveillance, and ensure American companies are the most competitive in the world.
-Highly contagious diseases are a constant threat. Warmer and drier conditions caused by global climate change, along with our increasingly interconnected world, enable germs to spread more quickly across the globe. America must remain vigilant and do more to prevent and contain outbreaks.

Jill Stein

Green Party Candidate for President

Peace and Human Rights:

Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament.

Justice for All:

Restore our Constitutional rights, terminate unconstitutional surveillance and unwarranted spying, end persecution of government and media whistleblowers, close Guantanamo, abolish secret kill lists, and repeal indefinite detention without charge or trial.

  • Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, human rights, and nonviolent support for democratic movements around the world.
  • Cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases. Ensure a just transition that replaces reductions in  military jobs with jobs in renewable energy, transportation and green infrastructure development.
  • Stop U.S. financial and military support to human rights abusers. Barring substantial changes in their policies, this would include Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
  • End the US’ role as the world’s arm supplier.
  • End use of assassination as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, including collaborative assassination through intermediaries.
  • End the destructive US economic and military intervention into the affairs of sovereign nations. Such intervention serve the interests of multinational corporations and  global capitalism over the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of those nations.
  • Freeze the bank accounts of countries that are funding terrorism, including the Saudi royal family.
  • US policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality. End US policies that have supported the worst tendencies of the Israeli government in its treatment of the people of Palestine.
  • Restore the National Guard as the centerpiece of our defense.
  • Ban use of drone aircraft for assassination, bombing, and other offensive purposes.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, withdrawing troops and military contractors.
  • Join 159 other nations in signing the Ottawa treaty banning the use of anti-personnel land mines.
  • Lead on global nuclear disarmament:
  • Rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the US dropped out of in 2002 when it installed missiles and missile bases in Turkey, Romania, and Poland.
  • Agree to Russia’s proposal to jointly reduce US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,000 nuclear weapons each. Also call for all countries to the table to negotiate a treaty for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Remove US nuclear weapons in Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
  •  Support Russia and China’s joint effort to open negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space.
  •  Pledge to end any further laboratory or sub-critical nuclear tests at the Nevada and Novaya Zemlya test sites, and end all nuclear weapons research, design, and modernization at the weapons laboratories.
  • The US must take the lead in nuclear disarmament by itself starting to disarm. We should create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East region and require all nations in the area to join.