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?
What we have seen in Hong Kong in recent months is a tribute to the ideals that our country should stand for. The people of Hong Kong are standing up to demand a voice in how they are governed, and their protests represent an organic movement by the people inspired by the ideals of democratic government. They deserve the support of the United States and the world.
China’s actions in Xinjiang are a violation of international law and of basic human rights. I have supported efforts to respond strongly to these acts, including export controls on technology used for surveillance of China’s Muslim communities and targeted sanctions on those who are directly responsible for these policies of oppression. The United States should also mobilize the international community to hold China’s leadership accountable for its abuses.
The next president will have an obligation to cooperate with China to advance some of our highest priority national interests, including addressing the climate crisis and non-proliferation, while at the same time handling tough issues where we have little common ground. But our values cannot be used as a bargaining chip.
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?
If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal, the United States should return as well. If Iran is not in compliance, I will pursue strong and principled diplomacy in concert with our allies to bring both the United States and Iran back into the deal.
The JCPOA is only the beginning. We will need to negotiate a follow-on to the agreement that continues to constrain Iran’s nuclear program past the “sunset” of some of its original terms.
We also need to address serious concerns about Iran’s policies beyond its nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program and support for destabilizing regional proxies. The JCPOA made addressing these problems easier by taking the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table. As predicted, President Trump’s reckless decision to withdraw from the agreement has clearly put us in a weaker position, and to make progress we will need to rebuild support from regional and international actors whose interests are also at stake. But with time and leverage, the damage can be undone and diplomacy can be successful again.
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?
Our goal should be the full elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But while we work toward that goal, we must reduce the threat now.
We need serious, realistic negotiations to address this threat. As a first step, and in coordination with our partners and allies, I would be prepared to consider partial, limited sanctions relief in return for a strong, verifiable agreement that keeps North Korea from expanding its arsenal or proliferating to other countries. An interim agreement would open the door to negotiations to reduce North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, control conventional weapons, and stop the regime’s crimes against humanity. That’s not only an imperative for our national security, it is the only credible path toward denuclearization.
4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?
By illegally annexing Ukrainian territory and fueling a war in eastern Ukraine, Russia has imperiled the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace that prevailed for nearly a quarter century. Our response must be centered on a durable strategy that strengthens the security of NATO allies threatened by a resurgent Russia, supports Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and holds Russia accountable while also deterring further reckless actions.
Ukraine faces immense challenges that will require patient, long-term diplomacy and support from the West. We should start by shoring up relations with our EU partners in order to maintain the strongest possible diplomatic front, and by keeping pressure on the Kremlin to encourage changes in behavior. Ukraine must also get serious about sweeping reforms to root out corruption, which Russia exploits to undermine Ukrainian democracy.
Ultimately, Ukraine and Russia will have to negotiate a peace, and my administration will focus on setting the conditions for productive talks.
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?
We have been in Afghanistan for 18 years with increasingly diminishing returns to our own security -- we’ve “turned the corner” so many times it seems we’re now going in circles. Expecting a military victory when a political settlement is required is unfair to our military, and unfair to the Afghan people. It's long past time to bring our troops home, and I would begin to do so immediately.
Ending U.S. military operations doesn't mean we are abandoning Afghanistan. Redirecting just a small fraction of what we currently spend on military operations toward economic development, education, and infrastructure projects would be a better, more sustainable investment in Afghanistan's future than our current state of endless war. We should enlist our international partners to encourage a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that is sustainable and that protects U.S. interests. And we should redouble efforts to support the Afghan government and civil society as they work to promote the rule of law, combat corruption and the narcotics trade, and ensure the basic rights of all Afghans.
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?
Saudi Arabia has increasingly pursued a regional and international agenda that does not align with U.S. interests. The Saudi-led war in Yemen exacerbates instability and extremism in the region and has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Saudi policies in Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt and its irresponsible conflict with Qatar undermine U.S. security. The Saudi government’s role in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its repression of its own citizens insults all who respect human rights and calls into question its reliability as a partner.
While the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will continue to share common objectives -- for example to prevent terrorism in the region -- it is time to reorient our policy in the region away from a reflexive embrace of the Saudi regime and toward one that focuses on U.S. interests. We must be crystal clear about our expectations if Saudi Arabia wants a real partnership. If the Saudi regime is unable or unwilling to meet those expectations, they can expect real consequences in terms of a more limited relationship moving forward.
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?
I believe in the worth and value of every Israeli and every Palestinian. The way we respect all parties is through a two-state solution - an outcome that’s good for U.S. interests, good for Israel's security and its future, and good for Palestinian aspirations for dignity and self-determination. To achieve this, there must be an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living alongside Israel.
As president, I would take immediate steps to reestablish America’s role as a credible mediator by welcoming the Palestinian General Delegation back to Washington and reopening an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I would also make clear that in a two-state agreement both parties should have the option to locate their capitals in Jerusalem, as all previous serious plans have acknowledged. We should immediately resume aid to the Palestinians and financial support to UNRWA, and focus real financial and political resources on fixing the man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. I will oppose incitement to violence and support for terrorism by Palestinian extremists like Hamas. And I will make clear my unequivocal opposition to Israeli settlement activity and to any moves in the direction of annexation of the West Bank.
8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?
Maduro is a dictator and a crook who has wrecked his country’s economy, dismantled its democratic institutions, and profited while his people suffer. The United States should lead the international community in addressing Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and supporting regional efforts to negotiate a political transition, including free and fair elections as soon as possible.
Success will require supporting negotiations between elements of the regime, opposition, and civil society, and identifying specific steps Maduro must take to ensure a credible democratic process and to immediately allow independent humanitarian assistance to enter the country. We must also press China, Russia, and Cuba to become constructive players in this crisis - and if they refuse, we must contain their damaging and destabilizing actions.
Contrary to President Trump’s empty threats, there is no U.S. military option in Venezuela. Congress has not authorized it, the neighboring countries don’t want it, and it won’t solve the problem. Instead, the United States should prioritize support for regional partners in managing an influx of refugees that is unprecedented in the region's modern history, protect Venezuelans currently in the United States by offering them Temporary Protected Status, and empower the Venezuelan people to make their own choices.
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 is made up of diverse countries with differing objectives and needs, and it makes little sense to think of them with a singular policy. My administration will treat the region as a priority rather than an afterthought. Achieving this requires fresh, innovative diplomacy that prioritizes engagement with civil societies as much as with governments. We should seize opportunities to promote transparent governance and more equitable, inclusive growth that supports a vibrant middle class -- including through efforts to tackle wealth concentration, kleptocracy, and corruption. This also means collaborating with regional and multilateral institutions that promote African ownership of growth and governance issues.
Rapid population growth in parts of Africa has the potential to exacerbate environmental and social stressors and has been seen to produce mass youth unemployment, impacting security and regional economies beyond the continent. Re-energized U.S. engagement can encourage alternative outcomes, where population increases instead usher in a period of strong, broad-based economic growth, open civic spaces, and propel nations toward better governance.
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?
Our relationships in Asia are essential for U.S. national security and prosperity, and the countries at the heart of the CPTPP are some of America’s closest allies and best partners. My administration will be committed to working with them.
But I have made clear that I will not enter into new trade agreements unless and until our potential partners meet certain preconditions that match our values and our policy goals - including combating climate change, respecting basic labor standards, and cracking down on tax evasion. I strongly opposed TPP because I thought it was a bad deal for American workers. As president, I will make sure that any new trade agreement we enter sets strong standards and prioritizes working families instead of the interests of giant multinational corporations with no particular allegiance or loyalty to America.
President Trump’s recent trade war escalations are doing real harm to American consumers and farmers. We need a serious, coherent trade strategy that tackles the challenge of China’s commercial behavior and protects American workers and farmers. Instead of alienating our allies and others who share our concerns, my administration will work with those countries to use America’s leverage and all of the tools at our disposal to invest in workers, curtail the power of multinational monopolies, and raise standards across the globe.
11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
A reduction in global coal consumption and new coal-fired plants will only occur where there are economical alternatives available for these nations.
The good news is that while there are still technical problems to solve in renewable generation and storage, solar and wind are generally cheaper than coal. Domestically, I have already set an ambitious target of achieving 100% clean, renewable, and zero-emission electricity by 2035. My Green Apollo Plan would provide $400 billion investment over ten years in clean energy research and development to help solve remaining technical challenges. And my Green Marshall Plan will allow us to lead the world in manufacturing and exporting green alternatives, including by providing $100 billion over ten years to assist countries to purchase and deploy American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology. To make it affordable, I’ll offer incentives to countries hardest hit by the climate crisis, or in exchange for countries making regulatory changes that will further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, we need to work to end government subsidies for fossil fuels. While the main international development banks have stopped financing coal projects and many private banks are starting to do the same, some governments and state-owned enterprises are playing an increasing role in the financing of new coal power projects. The U.S. should not provide funds for international development projects focused on fossil fuel infrastructure. And under my trade plan, the United States would insist on the elimination of domestic fossil fuel subsidies as a precondition for any trade agreement we make.
12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?
No nuclear weapon has been used in battle since World War II. That is a remarkable accomplishment. It rests on creative, visionary, pragmatic diplomacy, on facts and expertise in arms control and non-proliferation, and on the alliances and structure of collective security developed after the war and refreshed after the Cold War. In a world where nuclear proliferation remains a serious threat, we must redouble our efforts in this area to ensure that the world remains safe from nuclear conflict.
Our repeated mistake has been to ignore the relationship between a strong and vibrant America and our effectiveness at advancing our interests abroad. By treating foreign policy as separate from domestic policy, we have repeatedly misspent our strength overseas while leaving vital needs at home unattended. We have the world’s largest economy, but have failed to pursue foreign policies that prioritize American workers. We have the world’s strongest military, but we fight too many wars. We must recognize that our strength abroad is generated here at home, and policies that undermine working families in this country also erode our strength in the world.