CFR invited the presidential candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they are received. View all questions here.
1. How, if at all, should China’s treatment of the Uighurs and the situation in Hong Kong affect broader U.S. policy toward China?
The treatment of the Uighurs in China is unacceptable, and we need to be a part of the chorus of voices across the world calling the situation out for what it is. It’s also troubling to see China take a more aggressive stance throughout the region, whether towards Hong Kong, Taiwan, or in the South China Sea.
China obviously has great ambition, and their system of government is becoming increasingly authoritarian as they develop more technologies that allow them to monitor and control their population. It’s important that we work with our allies to combat the spread of this authoritarian capitalism, and provide a model for democratic capitalism.
By providing a model and engaging in international work to help developing nations, we can show the world a better way to engage in governing their nations. We should help developing nations to liberalize, and work with them to diversify their economies. Trade and exporting US technologies to these countries can help us build alliances throughout the world as more countries modernize and liberalize.
We need to make sure China isn’t stealing our IP or exporting their authoritarianism to other countries, and we must ensure that we have reliable access to rare earth metals. But the current trade war is just hurting both sides. An ascendant China isn’t a direct threat to the United States, as long as we are strong at home and project that confidence to developing nations, to show them a superior path to the one China is offering.
2. Would you rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? What changes to the existing agreement, if any, would you require before agreeing to rejoin the accord?
Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, and the JCPOA gave us both short-term victories in stabilizing the region through minimizing their influence, and inroads to further discussion to find a solution that would work over a longer period. Leaving the JCPOA was a massive strategic mistake, and one that only served to increase the likelihood of armed conflict in the country. The American people have no desire for armed conflict with Iran, which would lead to another multi-decade engagement that would spread throughout the region and have no clear benefit for the American people.
We need to work with our allies that are still party to the agreement to negotiate a new JCPOA, with longer terms and delayed deadlines to reflect the time wasted with Trump and Bolton’s posturing. We need to get Iran back in compliance with the limitations placed on them under the agreement on nuclear materials and enrichment capabilities.
Then, we need to build on the agreement to get Iran to stop destabilizing the region, attacking our allies, funding terrorist organizations, and causing conflict in the Strait of Hormuz.
3. Would you sign an agreement with North Korea that entailed partial sanctions relief in exchange for some dismantling of its nuclear weapons program but not full denuclearization?
Yes. You can’t find solutions to problems if you’re not willing to talk. I would engage with North Korea without preconditions in order to find a path towards complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization. We can’t leave any options off the table, and we need to accept incremental gains in order to reach our eventual goal.
4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?
Russian aggression in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, and we have the obligation to work with our allies to act. We need to echo the chorus of our allies in stating that Russia must return to its borders, and we won’t recognize any expansion they have into neighboring territories. Russian aggression is a destabilizing force, and we must work with our allies to project a strong and unified face against Russian expansionism.
Even though Ukraine is not a NATO member, that relationship is an important one, and I’d work with our NATO allies to reaffirm and expand our security coordination with Ukraine. It was encouraging to hear Pres. Zelensky’s words during his visit to NATO headquarters.
Helping Ukraine will also help us prepare for Russian aggression. The Russian interference in Ukrainian elections was a precursor to their interference in US elections. By helping neighboring states to Russia defend themselves, we’re also learning how to defend ourselves.
Finally, we need to expand sanctions against Russia, and Putin and members of his government specifically through the Global Magnitsky Act, in order to pressure the country to play by international rules.
5. Would you commit to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of your first term, or would you require certain conditions be met before doing so?
America has been in a constant state of war for over 18 years. We have people who can vote in elections who have known nothing but war. We need to do everything in our power to end our current conflicts and prevent ourselves from getting embroiled in future open-ended conflicts with no clear benefit to the US. That’s why I’ve signed the pledge to End the Forever Wars. The US people are sick of paying trillions of dollars and seeing thousands die without feeling any safer.
We need to get our combat troops out of Afghanistan. By utilizing our diplomatic options, we can bring our troops home during my first term.
However, we have to continue our involvement in order to ensure that the rights of individuals - in particular, women and young girls - are protected, and that terrorist organizations can’t reform and organize within the borders. We can do this through helping the country to diversify its economy and maintaining diplomatic ties.
6. Given the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, what changes, if any, would you make to U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia?
First off, the United States should be providing no aid to Saudi Arabia in its assault on Yemen. It’s creating a humanitarian crisis that ranks amongst the worst of all time. We should end all support for this situation - logistics, arms sales, refueling efforts, intelligence.
The United States must take action against Saudi Arabia given the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. That violent and illegal action against someone living in the United States must not go unanswered. It also hints at the larger conflict of values between our two countries. While we must be pragmatic in our foreign policy in recognizing that we will often have to deal with countries that have bad values, we should also be sure to always let our values lead us. A reset of the relationship with Saudi Arabia under this understanding would prevent us from getting involved in another conflict like the one in Yemen by centering our diplomacy around our values and ideals.
7. Do you support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, if so, how would you go about trying to achieve it?
The only acceptable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves a two-state solution that allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to have sovereign land and self-determination.
Israel has been an important ally to the US, and it will continue to be an important ally. It is a democracy in a region where that is rare. I disagree with some of the policies of the current Israeli administration, but I believe the relationship is fundamentally strong and will continue to be.
I don’t want to prescribe the specifics of a two-state solution, as the Israeli and Palestinian people both need to be leading any conversation, and I look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to come up with confidence-building measures, such as a ceasefire and an end to the expansion of settlements, as we look towards building a sustainable peace. Coming together to provide aid to those suffering in Gaza can also be an opportunity for all parties to work together to handle a humanitarian crisis that is causing untold suffering.
The US should also restore our USAID programs for Palestinians that have been ended by this administration.
8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?
The United States must promote free and fair elections in Venezuela to determine their next leader. The most recent elections were obviously marred by fraud, intimidation, and voter suppression.
While Maduro’s actions of undermining democracy are inexcusable, we should not get embroiled in military action to remove him from power. The United States must push with our allies for Maduro to step down, through diplomacy, and through sanctions targeted at Maduro and his supporters. We must also work with Guaido, and with him consider amnesty for some of Maduro’s military support to entice them to support Guaido as President of the National Assembly and interim President.
We should continue to support the Venezuelan people with humanitarian aid, and also assist our regional allies in dealing with the crisis of the massive number of refugees. And we should signal that we will provide aid to Venezuela after a transition to a new and democratically elected government.
9. By 2050, Africa will account for 25 percent of the world’s population according to projections by the United Nations. What are the implications of this demographic change for the United States, and how should we adjust our policies to anticipate them?
Africa’s youth population is driving the adoption of new technologies at awesome speeds. Cell phones are now prevalent on a continent where wired phones never took hold. Adopting renewable energy now will allow Africa to avoid the shortfalls that come from having a centralized grid.
The United States should serve as a partner to the African nations. We should be driven by the motto “African solutions for African problems.” We should facilitate American entrepreneurs to partner with African entrepreneurs in technology - especially energy, agriculture, civil society, and beyond. We need to ensure that the African nations view the United States as an ally and model. We can also learn a lot from the continent, as they’re adopting technologies that aren’t in widespread use in the US and we can see their impact and push to adopt the ones that have the largest benefits.
We also must recognize that China is heavily investing in African infrastructure and technology, oftentimes exploiting natural resources with no tangible benefit for the local communities. We need to outcompete China in technological advancement, economic growth, and in the establishment of sustainable social and environmental practices. We need to restructure our trade agreements to offer attractive investment opportunity and to expand markets: by going beyond manufacturing and goods to include services, intellectual property, fair labor practices, and sustainable environment standards.
10. Under what circumstances, if any, would you support the United States joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), formerly the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Trade deals have inarguably hurt a large number of Americans. By outsourcing American jobs - particularly manufacturing jobs to China - we’ve devastated communities and placed large amounts of financial stress on families.
However, studies show that only 20% of manufacturing job loss is due to trade with China. The other 80% can be attributed to automation. While we need to take steps to ensure that our trade deals work for all Americans, automation is the bigger threat.
I would reenter the TPP in conjunction with policies to ensure the benefits are widely shared, like a VAT, border-adjustment tax, and the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000/month for all American adults.
We need to increase our influence and alliances across the Pacific, so I believe we need to either enter the TPP, or negotiate a similar deal to combat the rising influence of China in the region. We should take this opportunity to renegotiate labor and environmental standards, and intellectual property and data protection, specifically in the tech sector.
11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
The first step to any action on climate change is to rejoin the Paris Accords so that we have the moral authority and allies in order to fight the existential threat that is climate change.
In order to combat the development of fossil fuel power expanding to developing countries, we have to provide a viable alternative. China is currently using its Belt and Road Initiative to invest in projects in developing nations to create economic and cultural bonds between their countries; we have to provide a cleaner and more democratic alternative.
Climate change, while a threat, is also a massive opportunity for the United States to regain its position as an innovator while relocating the energy sector within our borders. By providing grants, investments, and tax incentives, we can develop clean energy and carbon capture technologies, and then help the rest of the world get their energy from clean, American-made sources. The whole world should be using US solar panels, turbines, and other renewable technologies.
By engaging in this work, we can not only make the world cleaner and more sustainable, but we can develop relationships with developing countries and push them towards a more democratic future.
12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?
Global economic development has been our greatest foreign policy accomplishment. This success started with the Marshall Plan, providing billions in economic aid to rehabilitate European economies regardless of which side of the war the countries fought on. This initiative resulted in the promotion of free trade, modern technologies, the spread of democracy, and stronger allies to partner with the US in our global initiatives. We have continued to promote sustainable economic development across the globe by working closing with and empowering international development organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When our global initiatives promote open markets, in turn, we promote freedom everywhere.
The biggest mistake was not investing in and becoming a global leader in renewable energy technology. Climate change is a destabilizing force in a world that could use more stability. A lot of our primary antagonists have economies based largely on oil exports, and the sale of oil has also been used to fund terrorism. Infrastructure programs focusing on energy generation have allowed other countries - especially China - to form relationships with countries, often by exporting dirty energy technology. If the United States had invested heavily in renewables over the past few decades and engaged in an aggressive policy of exporting it to the rest of the world, particularly developing nations, we could have slowed or reversed climate change, cut off a funding source for regimes that we’ve ended up fighting wars with, and made it much harder for terrorist organizations to fund themselves.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.