Voters almost never decide a presidential election based on foreign policy. But in the 2016 race, most of the current candidates are taking that rule to an almost extreme conclusion: They’re hardly bothering to deal with it at all.
Among the five remaining candidates in the race, there’s one former secretary of state. But what about the rest? One has stocked his team with fringe anti-Islam elements and repeatedly invoked carpet-bombing in a nonsensical manner. One has premised his campaign on implausible walls, likely unconstitutional immigration measures, and illegal tariffs. One has made his work closing military bases in the 1990s a top credential. And the fifth has been pilloried for answers that were vague at best during an interview with the New York Daily News.
A group of Democratic foreign-policy figures has issued a letter (distributed by Hillary Clinton's campaign) criticizing Senator Bernie Sanders for that interview. They say they are “deeply troubled by his continued lack of interest in and knowledge of essential foreign policy and national security issues.” The letter continues:
Senator Sanders was asked specific—but not unexpected or unusual—questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He couldn’t answer, but said that if he 'had some paper' in front of him, he might be able to. He was asked his opinion on key parts of the Obama Administration’s counter-terrorism strategy. Again, he couldn’t answer … These were not 'gotcha' questions. As people who have advised presidents on critical issues like these, we know how important it is to have a Commander-in-Chief who has a deep grasp of them—or who, at the very least, takes them seriously enough to reach beyond the basics.
None of the names on the list will come as great surprises. They include, for example, Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff to Leon Panetta at the CIA and the Pentagon; retired Ambassador Nicholas Burns, a top State Department official; Philip Gordon, who worked for Clinton at State and then advised President Obama on the Middle East; and Tamara Wittes, who also worked on Middle Eastern affairs for Clinton at Foggy Bottom.