Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Bill Weld

October 3, 2019

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?

China’s behavior should be a wake-up call for the United States, its allies, friends, and partners. While the United States can and must do business with China, it can have no illusions about the type of state China is and about its ambitions. It also needs to be clear that it will not accept China continuing to follow the old line, “we’re big, you’re small. What don’t you understand?” It is not acceptable in the 21st century.

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China should have no doubt that the world knows what it is doing, and is watching. China promised the peoples of Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the world, at the 1997 handover ceremony which I attended in Hong Kong, that there would be and could be two systems in a single country. If China takes a punitive approach, China will demonstrate that its political word is suspect. The implications for Taiwan, a real Chinese democracy, are ominous. The United States must be prepared to help those who face persecution or who escape, including with asylum.

The United States must publicly stand by its friends and allies in Asia. While we will not intervene in China’s domestic affairs, we will not hesitate to defend our rights and discharge our responsibilities in the region.

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?

I thought that Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 JCPOA was a colossal blunder. We had a ten-year period during which Iran would not advance its nuclear weapons program, and they were in compliance. I would rejoin the JCPOA without changes to the written agreement.

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? 

“Partial” and “some” imply matters of degree, but yes, I think a partial dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a development worth promoting, and of course such an agreement might prove to be the first step to a fuller resolution.

4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?

Ukraine, while not a NATO member, is an EU partner and a treaty-recognized buffer zone between Russia and NATO.

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Ukraine is also a sizeable population and economic zone whose seizure would be a major first step toward reconstituting the old Soviet Union’s borders and corresponding influence – for Putin, both an ex-KGB man (and there famously is no “ex”) and an old-school Russian nationalist, it is therefore a major opportunity if it could be seized intact.

Conversely, Ukraine has shown itself willing to fight and take losses in blood and treasure – it would be a mistake to dis-incentivize this, and it would be a mistake to let this first line of defense be overrun.

Allowing Ukraine to fall would effectively “Finlandize” Europe, to the extent it has not already been. It would call into question the U.S.’ willingness to assist in the defense of Europe’s eastern frontier. It would undermine further the EU’s credibility as a guarantor of Europe’s security. It would further break European unity and allow Putin to play European states off each other politically. And all this, in turn, would further hollow out NATO and the U.S.’ partnership with Europe, effectively convincing European states – and not just the ones on the eastern edge – to make their terms with Russia.

Accordingly, I would provide military aid to Ukraine – as much as was necessary. I would make it clear that if the Ukrainians wanted to defend their territory, we would help, and further incursions would be costly. I would continue to hold exercises in Eastern Europe and look at ways to defend the Baltics. I would reach out to Belarus to dissuade it from cooperating with Putin, which would be catastrophic for Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian security.

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?

Yes, I would carry that out in my first year in office. Delay would beget more delay. The question “If not now, when?” is a legitimate one. We need to stop having our troops be sitting duck nation-builders. To that end, we need to draw down the last of our forces there, with an arrangement to support the people on the ground (e.g. interpreters) who have worked with us.

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?

Business as usual with Saudi Arabia has to be over. The country has been supporting militant Salafists who have been trying to kill us – and succeeded on 9/11 and a host of other places – for decades now. We need to stand against aggression, no matter who engages in it, and rally support for that position. The peace of the world depends on our doing so.

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 question suggests outsiders can “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an arrangement, and for us to support their efforts. If there is a deal to be made that’s acceptable to both, we should get behind it, but the timing for further negotiations is going to have to be driven by events and by the parties themselves.

Having said all that, I am personally very much in favor of a two-state solution, and I believe, as my friend Shimon Peres always maintained, that multi-state economic development projects and trade are the sinews of peace.

8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?

We have to go through Cuba, China and Russia to rationalize the situation in Venezuela. Most of the top decision makers there are Cuban, which has hollowed out Venezuela’s government, and the spillover into our ally Colombia has been dramatic. I would propose multi-party talks, in which the dynamic new President Duque of Colombia, who greatly impressed me recently in Cartagena, could perhaps play a role.

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?

We should be thrilled that a continent that was historically underdeveloped and a playground for outside powers is finally growing in wealth as well as population and able to make its voice heard on the world stage. And we should be forging relationships with African countries to support democracy, the rule of law, and prosperity. In some countries, the Catholic Church could be helpful to our efforts.

Right now we are getting our brains beat in by China in courting African nations, because we simply don’t make it a high enough priority. In my Administration, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs would have my ear.

On security matters, we and our allies need to continue to help Africa fight terrorists. Al Qaeda offshoots pose a threat to the entire continent, not just the sub-Sahara.

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?

I stand for free trade. Withdrawing from TPP, like ripping up NAFTA, was a huge mistake by the President. As Benjamin Franklin said, Americans are traders and never went broke from engaging in international trade. Every U.S. governor knows international trade means more and better jobs for Americans. We therefore should rejoin TPP, now CPTPP. In addition, of course, there is an important strategic reason for doing so: a 12-nation beachhead in Asia without China at the table. (During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump was seemingly unaware that China was not to be a member of TPP.)

11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?

Dealing with climate and carbon emissions will be at the top of my list. I think, though, that often when developing countries are pursuing coal power, they are doing so for lack of a viable alternative. As a next-worst measure, we should be looking into ways to provide access for them to cleaner and more carbon-efficient natural gas, as well as renewable energy development and civilian nuclear power plants.

12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?

The greatest foreign policy accomplishment was the peaceful and successful end of the Cold War. That was a world-historical achievement. The biggest mistake we have made since then was to behave as if other countries do not matter. As a result, we have wasted the opportunity to build a really inclusive, stable peace. And, of course, under Mr. Trump we have run up the national debt in an unconscionable fashion, and isolated ourselves from our close allies, friends, and partners to the advantage of those who wish our country ill.

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