Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Marianne Williamson

Last updated August 16, 2019

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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 is aggressively engaging in theft, practicing commercial espionage, and ignoring intellectual-property rights as well as trampling on human rights and democracy in their drive to dominate global markets. The US must maintain a strong position regarding China with regard to economics, politics, and human rights. 

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China’s treatment of the Uighurs and of Hong Kong reflect their aggressive drive for domination and their disdain for human rights and democracy. The United States needs to stand up for human rights and call out the gross violations of human rights committed by China. It’s a good thing that this week Secretary Pompeo denounced China’s treatment of the Uighurs. We should also be speaking out against the authoritarian push for greater control in Hong Kong where thousands of people are demonstrating for their democratic rights.  

Additionally, the US has the power to prevent China from buying strategically important companies, which we have done through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS). We should exercise this power more vigorously as we defend our economic interests and human rights for all. 

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 would rejoin the JCPOA, a historic achievement in multilateral diplomacy. Every IAEA report confirmed Iran's compliance. US withdrawal and severe sanctions violated the trust that had been painstakingly built. Rejoining the JCPOA will require healing from this rupture and rebuilding trust. 

After the deal, Iranian moderates gained popularity and fundamentalists lost power. President Rouhani was elected to restore the economy and improve relationships with the West. Foreign Minister Zarif, who led negotiations, had a good relationship with then Secretary Kerry. This deal was intended as a first step toward improving relationships. 

The Supreme Leader and hardliners opposed the deal. US withdrawal increases their popularity and justifies their mistrust of the US. Our sanctions are harming the Iranian people. 

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US propaganda exaggerates threats, and falsely claims the deal lets Iran get nuclear weapons within 10 years. This disregards the likelihood of changed dynamics and improved relationships. Iran is a potential ally against Sunni extremism with many common interests to build upon. 

Over half of Iran’s graduate students are women. About 60% of the people are under 30. Many of them want normal relations with the West. 

Iran is a political football. The UAE and Saudi Arabia do not want the US to improve relations with Iran and would like to provoke a war. It is said that the Saudis want to fight Iranians to the last American. We need to be careful to not be drawn into war by those who want us to fight Iranians for them. I would increase diplomacy, decrease tensions, and transform relations to create a context to address human rights and other issues. Sanctions relief and purchasing Air Buses would support travel, entrepreneurship and normalization.

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? 

Nuclear weapons are a symptom of conflict, fear, insecurity, and a drive to dominate. Denuclearization will follow more naturally and easily with decreased tensions and improved relationships.

Sanctions are a form of economic warfare with a high rate of failure. Punitive, coercive policies do not always achieve the best outcomes. Sanctions harm innocent people, escalate conflicts and can put us on a path to war. They can provoke targeted populations to rally round the flag, support hardliners and inflame resentment against America. 

We can achieve superior outcomes with clear-eyed respect and steps towards thawing the ice. This could help improve our relationship with Kim Jong Un and de-escalate threats from North Korea. 

Actions that can be taken to reduce tension and build a stable and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula including the following:

  • Principled progress on diplomacy, including citizen diplomacy

  • A political statement declaring an end to the Korean War, replacing the armistice agreement with a peace regime

  • Support South Korean efforts to improve inter-Korean relations through confidence-building and tension reduction measures

    • Family reunions

    • Inter-Korean economic, cultural and civic projects

  • Humanitarian relief efforts

  • Inclusion of women, youth, and civil society in negotiations

  • Joint US-DPRK trust-building programs

    • continuing POW/MIA remains repatriation

    • reunions between long-divided North Korean and Korean American families.

Action might also include partial sanctions relief in exchange for some serious dismantling of their nuclear weapons program, as steps towards de-escalation and improved relations. 

Negotiating a peace agreement would end the Korean War and ease denuclearization. It could shift resources away from endless wars to human needs, improving life for millions of North Koreans and reducing a global threat.

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

Part of the Russian aggression against Ukraine involves the Russian interference with the Ukrainian elections. Methods that Russia used against the United States in the 2016 election were first used against the Ukrainians. Russia launched a cyber Pearl Harbor attack against the United States and successfully interfered in our elections. I support a vigorous investigation into the Russian interference in elections in the US, Ukraine and Europe, and massively strengthened cyber-security for US elections.

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?

Updated August 16, 2019: The US government is negotiating with the Taliban, discussing US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban’s agreement to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control. My concern has to do with the rights of women, towards whom the Taliban have been known for a history of brutality. When elected, I will talk with the appropriate voices for women in Afghanistan, and factor their protection and rights into all plans for withdrawal. The protection of women and women’s rights must be part of any agreement.

Original Response: The US war in Afghanistan has raged for almost 17 years at enormous expense of blood and treasure. About 15,000 troops are still deployed with no hope of a military victory and no clarity on what an end game looks like. I would confer with the women of Afghanistan to get their sense of what’s needed in their country. My aim would be a safe withdrawal of all US troops as soon as possible. We should consider some kind of UN or nonviolent people force that could assist in the transition.

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 United States needs to take a much stronger position with regard to Saudi Arabia. Although great measures were taken to distract the American people, it was mainly Saudis who attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11, not Iraqis. 

When the US attacked Iraq, we decimated Iraq and strengthened the hand of Iran in the Iraq-Iran regional contest for power. The Saudis are now competing with Iran for regional hegemony.

The Saudi-led genocidal war in Yemen is being fought with US support. U.S. Air Force pilots are reportedly providing in-air refueling so Saudi and UAE warplanes can bomb Yemen, and US special forces are fighting alongside Saudi troops in what the New York Times called “a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.”

We must stop US involvement in the war in Yemen, as Congress has voted to do. The Constitution gives the power of declaring war to Congress and we must respect the authority of Congress in this regard. 

We should reject all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

We should press for an independent criminal investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi including any role that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have played in his death, as called for by the UN expert on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, after her five month investigation revealed the operation was carefully planned and endorsed by high level Saudis. American intelligence officials have concluded that the Crown Prince ordered the killing.

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?

Yes.

The United States should have an equal and simultaneous support for both the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and the human rights, dignity and economic opportunities of the Palestinian people.

I will be a president who listens deeply to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority will know that I hear them and understand their plight, yet nothing is going to sway me from my commitment to the legitimate security of Israel. Israeli leaders will know that I hear them and understand their plight, yet nothing is going to sway me from my commitment to the human rights, dignity and economic hopes of the Palestinian people. 

I do not believe the settlements on the West Bank are legal. Also, I would rescind the president's affirmation of sovereignty of Israel over the Golan Heights. I understand the occupation of the Golan Heights, but only until there is a stable government in Syria with whom one can negotiate.

According to international law, the occupation of a territory does not give the occupying country a right to annex it. Also, according to international law, the resources of the occupied territory are to be used for the good of those living there. 

I also do not support the blockade of Gaza.

I will use pressure afforded me as president of the United States to exert pressure on Israel to restart talks on a two-state solution.

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

The US government - including under Obama - has wanted regime change in Venezuela since at least 2002 (year of the failed military coup against Chávez), and the efforts it’s undertaken to remove the leftwing governments of Chávez and now Maduro have consistently made things worse in Venezuela and have arguably harmed US regional interests. 

The US government has for years supported radical elements of the opposition, those that support destabilization campaigns and military coups, rather than more moderate factions that support electoral solutions, and in so doing have exacerbated the internal polarization in the country which has, in turn, contributed to the current political crisis. The Trump administration’s support for Guaidó, who - until recently was calling for a military coup against Maduro and refusing all dialogue - is an example of this counterproductive approach. 

Since 2017 the Trump administration has been trying to force Maduro out through increasingly damaging economic sanctions that have made the country’s economic crisis worse and generated higher levels of migration out of the country, creating enormous difficulties for neighboring countries. The end result has been more human suffering - including thousands of avoidable deaths - and, ironically, the consolidation of Maduro’s rule over the country, as the lower income chavista base has rallied in his defense against “imperial intervention.”

If the US really wants to see a peaceful political transition in Venezuela it needs to help create the conditions for effective dialogue, which means supporting moderate factions on both sides that seek a peaceful transition and supporting existing efforts to promote dialogue, in particular those being led at the moment - with some success - by the Norwegian government. 

The historical record shows that when the US government engages in aggressive intervention to remove a leader that it dislikes, its efforts generally backfire or lead to unforeseen political and social developments that are not easy to resolve. The best policy in Venezuela and most places is to support efforts that allow the country’s citizens to decide on their political future (even if it’s not exactly the sort of future that the US favors).

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 are wrong to ignore Africa because it is the continent with the fastest growing population. In a generation, Nigeria may have a larger population than the US. While some African countries manage their economies well, others have poor economies and risk becoming failed states. Failing states can become grounds for terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, for epidemics as was seen with the Ebola virus in Eastern Congo or sources of refugees seeking political asylum. Ignoring Africa means ignoring real risks to our security.

At the same time, a growing Africa also means opportunities we should not ignore. Angola has a president who is reversing decades of corruption. Algeria and Sudan are seeking peaceful transitions or power, and South Africa is struggling to re-establish economic growth and build opportunity for its people. In each case the United States could have been involved in these positive developments but was not.

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? 

The TPP would need greater protections for workers and the environment for me to support it.

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

We have the opportunity to leap frog over fossil fuels and dirty energy and build clean renewable energy systems in developing countries. The US should redirect subsidies away from fossil fuels including coal and invest them in building renewable energy power, both in the US and abroad.

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

Accomplishment: the Marshall Plan

Mistake: Nuclear weapons escalation

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