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?
It is critical that United States foreign policy be based on a solid foundation of moral principles; that foundation is what has always distinguished the U.S. on the world stage. Within that context, we must place a high priority on defending human rights of all people globally and when confronted with human rights abuses by countries with whom we have relations, we must make the resolution of those abuses an important part of our engagement with that country. There should be no exception to this bedrock foundational policy, not in China, not anywhere and the well documented abuses by the Chinese government that are occurring with respect to the Uighurs demand a U.S. and global response. My administration would work closely with appropriate United Nations agencies – and the U.S. Congress - to investigate human rights abuses which have been committed against the Uighur people. I would place this issue front and center in diplomatic discussions with the Chinese government and would urge them to accord human rights protections to all peoples under their domain. With regard to Hong Kong, while I respect the Chinese government's right to govern within its borders, I will voice strong support for Hong Kong's right to autonomy awarded to the city by its status as a special administration region. Hong Kong's ability to manage its own affairs is important to U.S. policy since thousands of U.S. businesses operate out of Hong Kong because of the economic and political protections.
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?
Yes, I would rejoin, but I would insist on a longer duration. The JCPOA was the best arrangement that six of the leading nations in the world, plus the European Union, could reach to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. At the time the Trump Administration withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran was in compliance with the terms. U.S. withdrawal has become a provocation for the Iranians to not feel constrained to abide by the JCPOA, which has made the situation with Iran inherently more dangerous. The most significant weakness of the JCPOA was the tenor- it was not long enough in duration to provide hope for a successor Iranian regime to confirm long-term compliance. I would seek a longer term - 20 years - as a condition for rejoining the JCPOA. In addition, I would make clear to the Iranians that, while the JCPOA does not address Iranian ICBM developments or Iranian complicity in terrorist activities, the United States will independently of the nuclear deal take strong measures to respond to any such conduct. Iran is a bad actor, and the JCPOA with a longer duration is an important part of eliminating the threat that Iran can possess a nuclear weapon, a situation that must not be accepted.
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?
It is impossible to predict what agreements could be in the best interests of our national security, and that of our allies, short of a full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As president, I will always consider options that best serve our national security interest. Negotiations with North Korea seeking to achieve nuclear disarmament have been one of the most challenging issues facing successive U.S. administrations for decades. Progress will be incremental, and we need to be patient yet firm in our approach to this relationship. Direct negotiations with North Korea are essential to achieving agreement on the important issues surrounding nuclear disarmament and normalizing relations. While we must be clear that our ultimate objective will be full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we should be willing to accept a meaningful and verifiable agreement that takes steps towards denuclearization. We must make clear the path towards our ultimate goal and be steadfast in demanding verified progress before we roll back sanctions. I fear the Trump Administration may agree to removing sanctions against empty measures on the part of North Korea.
4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?
The United States should take a leading role in demanding Russia’s return to its established borders. I would provide leadership within NATO to deliver a unified message to Moscow that such aggression will not be tolerated. I would engage with elected Ukrainian leaders to support their efforts to push Russia back, including military aide, training and support as appropriate. Russian aggression against Ukraine has become a lost issue since the beginning of the Trump Administration. President Putin has led Russia with an antagonistic and predatory foreign policy, including the invasion into the Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, which are unacceptable. I would not walk away from this challenge as the Trump Administration has done. I would also pursue targeted sanctions against Russian interests to drive this point home.
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?
When Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in September 2001 after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the mission was clear in its purpose, to hold accountable those who attacked the United States, and those who harbored the terrorists. Eighteen years later, we are still in Afghanistan, but the mission has since been muddled. Congress needs to pass a new AUMF to update and clarify the mission of U.S. forces. While I support dramatically reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, I presently do not believe that a full withdrawal is in our best interests and therefore I envision keeping a small contingency of U.S. forces with a specific focus to train and support local security forces.
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?
The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocious act and should cause a reset in our overall relationship with Saudi Arabia. I would demand a clearer accounting than what we have received to date from the Saudi government. While I would not completely cut ties and would continue to do essential business with the country, I would not receive any Saudi official in the White House, and I would not extend high-level U.S. official visits to Saudi Arabia. I would impress upon Saudi officials the importance of respecting human rights at home and abroad. Additionally, I support ending U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia for the purpose of carrying out their military operations in Yemen. My approach to foreign policy will include protection of journalists, wherever they may serve.
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 do support a two-state solution but do not think it should be the position of the U.S. to predetermine what that agreement looks like. The only way that lasting peace can be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is if there are direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties. The U.S. president can and should be a facilitator and mediator in helping parties come to an agreement, which we have seen done successfully in the past. To help achieve a successful agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. can work with regional partners including Egypt and Jordan to provide stability in the conflict. This includes providing Israel – one of our most important and enduring allies - with the necessary resources to defend themselves while also providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population to promote human development and humanitarian services such as education and medical services in ways that reach the people directly.
8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?
It is up to the people of Venezuela to decide who will lead their government. I support the elevation of Juan Guaidó to president following the Venezuelan constitution and will continue to speak out in favor of his leadership. I would not, however, favor any direct intervention in Venezuelan power struggles by the United States, but do support our approach to sanctions. I would provide substantial humanitarian support via USAID and through our participation in multilateral agencies such as the OAS and InterAmerican Development Bank.
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 expected population boom will bring new challenges and opportunities to the continent. With half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa expected to be under 21 years old by 2035, there will be a need to create educational and job opportunities for the young population. If jobs are not created, a rise in unemployment could lead to social and political instability and increase the chance of unrest.
The United States can become a key partner in supporting economic growth in Africa by expanding trade agreements (such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act) and increasing U.S. foreign direct investment to promote manufacturing, infrastructure, and innovation of local industry. U.S. economic investment is critical as China is heavily investing in the continent through its Belt and Road Initiative, often through predatory behavior. The U.S. can adjust policies to (1) offer the U.S. as an alternative option (as opposed to China) for countries looking for foreign investment to create jobs, (2) support democratic initiatives and good governance policies, including election monitoring in support of free and fair elections, improving revenue collection, effective policymaking and implementation, and (3) be a helpful partner in providing resources to support economic growth that is less dependent on fossil fuels. With the stakes as high as they currently are for our climate, we must anticipate the growing population’s effect on the environment. A larger population and rapidly developing economy are both common causes for negative environmental outcomes.
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 would seek to reenter the TPP on day one of my administration. In response to the emergence of China as a dominant economic power on the international stage – which does not always adhere to accepted trade and economic norms and rules – 12 leading Pacific Rim countries reached agreement on a set of protocols for a rules-based trade deal covering 40% of the global economy to counter Chinese economic misconduct. I was one of a handful of Democrats who voted in favor of Trade Promotion Authority to give President Obama the ability to effectively negotiate TPP because I felt we needed a strong strategic response to China. I believed that the United States alone could not stand against China, that it would take a multilateral and strategic effort to counter China. The Trump Administration has abandoned this approach in favor of a trade war with China, a trade war that has had a serious negative impact on hard working Americans and several sectors of the United States economy.
11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
As populations grow in the developing world, it is easiest to turn to cheap, dirty energy sources to meet increasing energy needs. Developing countries often don’t have the luxury of choosing more expensive, but cleaner, energy sources and greener infrastructure. This is where U.S. global leadership is so incredibly important. There are several policies that the U.S. can lead on to support global renewable energy efforts and many of them center on a key U.S. advantage – innovation which is why I have called for a five-fold increase in Department of Energy basic research to unleash the potential in our scientific community. We must continue to invest in renewable energy sources that can be built and operated for cheaper costs to make these energy sources more economically viable around the world. Additionally, we must invest in direct air capture and negative emissions technologies which suck carbon out of the atmosphere like a vacuum. The UNIPCC report stated that if we want to meet the global emissions reductions goals, we must invest in technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The U.S. can become a leader in advancing and exporting this technology for it to be used more widely and at a cheaper cost. The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was the first global effort where almost all countries around the world committed to addressing climate change, was a mistake. As president, I would rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one.
12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?
Our steady and substantial support for and adherence to multilateralism has been our greatest foreign policy accomplishment since World War II. The United Nations and all its agencies, NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, The Asia Development Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other multilateral initiatives have all collectively and individually made enormous and crucial contributions to world peace, economic development and poverty alleviation since World War II. The continued financial and political support of the U.S., in particular the U.S. commitment to the economic model of free enterprise and international engagement, was the most important cornerstone of these multinational efforts.
The Iraq War was the most disastrous foreign policy action of the United States since World War II. The most sacred responsibility of the President of the United States, hopefully in concert with the Congress, is to send our young men and women into combat. That decision should only be made in defense of the citizens of the United States or in defense of our allies or in rare circumstances in favor of crucial humanitarian objectives. In the case of our invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was no clear case made that the United States was threatened in any way by the Republic of Iraq. No unequivocal evidence was presented to support such a threat and the Bush Administration relied on faulty and highly-suspicious reporting regarding weapons of mass destruction. They had no clear plan on what to do following the invasion and the resulting chaos in Iraq led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi citizens as well as the destabilization of Iraq and the region. U.S. credibility around the world was undermined by our decisions in Iraq. Looking forward, we must be judicious in when we deploy troops to avoid a similar a catastrophic action.