Home » Election Revives Doubts on US Foreign Policy Direction

Election Revives Doubts on US Foreign Policy Direction

The spectacle of US Republican hopefuls holding their first major debate of the 2024 presidential race last month has highlighted the possibility of another abrupt change in Washington’s geopolitical priorities after January 2025, with potentially huge implications for US sanctions and energy transition policies.

The eight Republican candidates brandished their opposition to President Joe Biden on energy and other domestic and foreign policy issues, while their biggest antagonist — former president Donald Trump — skipped the debate. Trump leads his rivals in the polls, and only Florida governor Ron DeSantis has managed to break away from the pack so far. A Quinnipiac University poll carried out in mid-August had Trump as the leading candidate among Republican voters, with 57pc, with DeSantis trailing at 18pc and no other candidate breaking above 10pc.

The Republican field appears split on the geopolitical issue of the moment — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — as many of Trump’s rivals appeared to be more aligned with Biden than their own party leader. US entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who is moulding his campaign in Trump’s style, said “Ukraine is not a priority for the US”, while DeSantis said he would not support additional military and economic aid for Ukraine because “Europe needs to do more”.

Trump, in a parallel interview meant to overshadow his rivals’ debate, said that Biden should “be getting us out of that horrible, horrible war that we’re very much involved in with Russia and Ukraine”. Trump said that “the war can be stopped very easily”, having previously promised to end the conflict through a deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Other candidates, including former vice-president Mike Pence and former ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, are more supportive of Ukraine. But that position does not resonate with Republican voters — 59pc of those polled by Quinnipiac University said the US is doing too much to help Ukraine. The far-right members of the House of Representatives who are aligned with Trump have already expressed opposition to Biden’s request earlier this summer for $40bn in additional funding largely for military and financial aid to Ukraine.

Running out the clock

Biden’s presidential campaign highlighted Trump’s statements to cast the former president as being an ally of Putin. The White House, which is not allowed to comment on the current campaign, says it will continue providing aid to Ukraine to enable its battlefield successes. But administration officials concede that the US electoral calendar is a factor in the war’s progress. “The biggest impediment right now to finding peace… is President Putin’s conviction that he can outlast Ukraine and he can outlast all of us,” US secretary of state Tony Blinken says.

The Republican hopefuls promised to take an even tougher stance against China, and claimed Biden is putting the US at an economic disadvantage with his climate policies. “The climate change agenda is a hoax,” Ramaswamy said. Haley stood out for expressing a belief that climate change is real, but said the US needs to “take on” India and China to cut their emissions, rather than pursuing subsidies for electric vehicles — a reference to the Inflation Reduction Act. “These green subsidies that Biden has put in — all he has done is help China,” Haley said. “Half of the batteries for electric vehicles are made in China.”

The Republican field is likely to revive the drama of Trump’s presidency in political relations with allies and the rest of the world. The hopefuls on the debate stage vowed to send US troops to Mexico to address drug trafficking and migration. And Trump has vowed to impose high tariffs on US imports from all countries to reduce the trade deficit.