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 U.S. can and must continue to work with China on global problems where cooperation between the world’s two most powerful nations is crucial – the most urgent being climate change. But the way in which protesters in Hong Kong have looked to the U.S. for support as they demand greater accountability from their leaders is a reminder that our values matter. While we shouldn’t seek out a new Cold War with China, we should always defend those values at home and abroad, instead of trading them for a photo op.
I support legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights violations in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. China is not a democracy, does not have democratic institutions and too frequently abuses the rights of its citizens. If the country wants to be accepted as a global leader, it needs to treat all its people, especially those in areas such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang that have been promised a degree of autonomy, with greater dignity and respect.
I also believe that the best way for the U.S. to handle the rise of China is to strengthen our alliances in Asia and make the domestic investments necessary to ensure our businesses and workers have the tools they need to out-innovate and out-compete the Chinese. The stronger we are at home, the stronger and more appealing our message will be abroad.
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?
The United States will not allow Iran to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. I was initially against the Iran deal, but it was a mistake for President Trump to unilaterally walk away from it. While the agreement was not perfect — it did not address Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and it gave the regime political cover to step up its aggression in the region — the U.S. had an obligation to keep its word once the agreement was in place. The U.S. withdrawal has allowed Iran to abandon its own obligations under the deal, and has left the world with few tools to stop it.
The first thing to do is reestablish the coalition that realized the danger of Iran marching toward a nuclear weapon. Collective pressure will be needed to change Iran’s behavior. This should be the starting point for the use of diplomacy. We should also be prepared to employ the leverage that sanctions have provided.
Next, Iran must come back into compliance with the JCPOA requirements. That will require addressing the advances it is likely to make between now and next year—advances that could shrink its breakout time. After rejoining, in order for any new arrangement to be sustainable, we must also be ready to address other inadequacies in the deal, which include the need to extend fast-approaching sunset clauses, curtail Iran’s ballistic missiles, end its destabilizing regional activities and institute more intrusive monitoring.
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. The North may already possess as many as 20 nuclear weapons and could have 100 within five to 10 years. Total denuclearization should remain our ultimate goal. But we must also be realistic. Freezing North Korea’s stockpile and preventing Kim Jong-Un from developing the capacity to target the U.S. with a nuclear weapon must be our top priorities. I would therefore pursue an interim agreement to verifiably halt the North’s production of nuclear weapons and improvements to its missile program, in exchange for some sanctions relief, which will be calibrated carefully against Pyongyang’s actual commitments. The scope of U.S. sanctions on North Korea should be tied to the country’s behavior – on human rights, on cyber-crime and, most importantly, on its expanding nuclear and ballistic missile programs. If that behavior changes, I will adjust U.S. policies accordingly.
Unlike President Trump, I would conduct negotiations in coordination with Japan and South Korea, our Asian allies, as well as China and Russia, and handle them through quiet, sustained and firm diplomacy – not seat-of-the-pants summits designed for the cameras. And I would maintain U.S. military readiness to defend our allies and the U.S. homeland against the North Korean threat until and unless a truly comprehensive peace deal is reached.
4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?
I favor U.S. efforts to provide defensive military weapons to Ukraine, which sits on the frontline of Russia’s efforts to undermine the post-WWII order in Europe. President Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine’s president has been unacceptable. The United States and its European allies need to bolster Ukraine’s independence through economic and security assistance, while continuing to encourage Kiev to make the necessary reforms to tackle corruption and strengthen the rule of law. A free and stable Ukraine should be a bridge between Europe and Russia.
President Trump has undermined American security by embracing President Vladimir Putin of Russia — a leader whose government meddled in U.S. elections and has been working as a dangerous and destabilizing force around the world. As president, I will work with Congress, our allies and the world community to stand against Russia’s aggression. At the same time, the U.S. should remain open to working with Russia on issues of mutual interest — including arms control and nuclear proliferation. The Russian people are not synonymous with their leader.
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?
This war must come to an end. But it is crucial that we end it in a wise, thoughtful and deliberative way. As mayor of New York, I led the city’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks, which originated in Afghanistan, and I am determined to prevent terrorists from striking America again. As president, I will encourage negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, in coordination with other nations in the region whose support will be critical if any peace deal is to survive. Following a responsible drawdown of the U.S. troop presence, we should leave a residual force in the country for intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism purposes, to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda and ISIS. America also has a moral obligation to stand by those who fought alongside U.S. forces and to continue to provide crucial development and security assistance to the Afghan government. After expending so many lives there, we should not broker a peace only to lose it from neglect.
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 U.S.-Saudi relationship remains critical both to stability in the Middle East and to global energy markets. The U.S. should work with the Saudis to counter Iran’s hegemonic behavior in the region, manage reasonable oil prices and reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But we should not give Riyadh a blank check as President Trump has done. I would make it clear in public and private that the Saudi government must work to end the human rights crisis in Yemen and improve its own human rights record, including the way it treats women. The extra-judicial killing of any journalist, let alone a permanent U.S. resident employed by a major American news organization, is abhorrent and runs counter to core American values. The assault on Khashoggi was an assault on our democratic principles and we have to stand up so the rest of the world sees that no financial or strategic relationship justifies such an action.
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?
Israel is the closest and most reliable U.S. ally in the Middle East, as it has been for more than half a century. Our diplomatic, military and intelligence agencies work closely with their Israeli counterparts to promote the security of both countries. I believe that America’s ability to defend its interests in the Middle East depends on Israel. Guaranteeing the survival of a democratic, Jewish state in the Holy Land has been a solemn obligation of the United States for 70 years. Our commitment to Israel’s security, prosperity and democracy is based on shared values, not just common interests — and I will ensure that commitment remains unshakeable.
At the same time, any enduring peace must have as its foundation two states for two peoples — one Jewish and one Palestinian. Reaching such a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians is the best way for Israel to remain a prosperous, secure and stable Jewish democracy. The issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank will have to be part of any eventual peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Until they reach that agreement, both sides should avoid unilateral preemptive actions that make peace less likely. But my bedrock commitment would be that any two-state solution ensures Israel’s security.
I believe that the U.S. must continue to stand for a durable resolution to the conflict that provides justice, democracy and opportunity to the Palestinians. But the U.S. cannot want peace more than the parties themselves. The Palestinian people deserve leadership that prioritizes basic services, sanitation and economic opportunity. Terrorist attacks against Israel emanating from Gaza are appalling and not in the interests of the majority of Gazans, who are enduring a humanitarian crisis. In the meantime, I support continued international assistance to help the Palestinian Authority improve technology, infrastructure, education and entrepreneurship for law-abiding citizens.
8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?
Once the most prosperous and developed democracy in Latin America, with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela is a case study in how despotism can lead a country to ruin — and destabilize an entire region in the process. Venezuelans have experienced a 56% loss in GDP and a greater than 1 million percent rise in annual inflation. They face extreme shortages of food and medicine and have been deprived of basic human rights. More than 4 million people have fled the country, creating Latin America’s largest humanitarian crisis.
I believe that the U.S. must remain steadfast in supporting the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy under interim president and opposition leader Juan Guaido. This is the consensus of a majority of our North American, Latin American and European allies. I also believe that we should put forward a vision of what a free and democratic Venezuela would look like and what kind of support it can expect from the U.S. once the government of Nicolas Maduro falls. In the meantime, the U.S. should expand assistance to the Latin American countries that are doing their best to cope with the flow of Venezuelan refugees.
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?
A stable and prosperous world depends on a stable and prosperous Africa. I believe that the U.S. must do much more to secure the future of a continent that is home to 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and with which Americans share deep and complex bonds of history, culture, and common ancestry. Through my foundation, I’ve championed the promise and development of Africa. I have supported job training, public health, women’s empowerment, and development across the continent. I have also fought to protect Africa’s future by highlighting the profoundly disruptive impact of climate change. As president, I would be a true partner with African nations on the most pressing challenges: climate, security, migration, and economic growth.
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 Obama administration was right to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and President Trump was wrong to walk away from the deal. The pact as negotiated certainly had flaws, but under U.S. leadership these problems could have been fixed. By withdrawing from an agreement with 11 countries – nations that account for more than 40% of U.S. exports – the current administration has undermined America’s competitiveness, diminished its broader influence in the region and squandered an opportunity to lead the world toward a new global standard for trade rules.
As president, I will commit to bring the U.S. into a new and improved TPP that, among other things, would do more to protect American intellectual property, enforce tougher labor and environmental standards in the other member countries, and provide clear benefits for American workers. The ultimate goal of any trade deal is to improve the U.S. economy and the incomes of Americans. President Trump’s tariff war with China has instead cost American farmers and workers billions, without altering unfair Chinese trade practices. As a condition of joining, I’d insist on strong new measures to protect workers from the costs of economic disruption, whether caused by trade, automation or other kinds of innovation. These would include not just a bigger and more effective Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, but a range of new development initiatives to support affected workers and their communities, encompassing investment incentives, place-based wage subsidies, help with training and retraining, and more.
A U.S.-led TPP would force China to raise its own standards to avoid being left out and put at a disadvantage. This shift would do more to protect American workers and farmers than bluster and tariffs.
11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
As my first act as president, I will rejoin the Paris Agreement. Then I will lead talks with the top 20 carbon-polluting countries to converge on a goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030 – a goal we can only reach by halting construction of all new coal plants worldwide.
At home, I have already committed $500 million to the Beyond Carbon effort, which has helped close half of U.S. coal-fired power plants and aims to see the rest shut down by 2030. I will bring the same determination to this global effort. I will restrict U.S. financing for coal projects abroad and will work closely with China, the OECD and multilateral development banks to eliminate fossil fuel projects from their overseas financing portfolios as well. My administration will use trade and security agreements to promote the spread of clean energy technologies, and will encourage the G-20 and the Financial Stability Board to develop a task force that would bring financial institutions together with multilateral and national development banks to finance clean energy projects in developing countries. It will also provide technical assistance to countries participating in China’s Belt and Road initiative to ensure that they have clean alternatives to coal-fired power. And I will end fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. and work to ensure other countries reduce and eventually eliminate theirs as well.
12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?
Several presidents could lay claim to the greatest U.S. foreign policy accomplishment since World War II – John F. Kennedy resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis and providing the impetus for the Non-Proliferation Treaty; Richard Nixon launching his opening to China and détente with the Soviet Union; Jimmy Carter brokering the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty; and George H.W. Bush managing the end of the Cold War and the peaceful reunification of Germany.
But my choice would be Harry Truman. The 33rd president oversaw the democratic rebirth of Germany and Japan; the establishment of the United Nations; the Marshall Plan; the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty; and the policy of containment of the Soviet Union. Together, these formed the pillars of an international system led by the United States that for 70 years helped maintain peace and build prosperity for much of the world, and avoided war between the major powers.
In hindsight, the biggest U.S. foreign policy mistake since World War II was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That catastrophe led to the deaths of 4,400 Americans and the wounding and continued suffering of 32,000 more; caused the deaths of roughly 200,000 Iraqi civilians; destabilized much of the Middle East; contributed to the rise of a hegemonic Iran; produced Al Qaeda in Iraq and then ISIS; cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $2.4 trillion; and made us lose sight of our mission in Afghanistan. Perhaps most damaging of all, the war distracted Washington from the vital work of modernizing our economy, rebuilding our infrastructure, investing in clean energy, upgrading our education system and equipping American workers to compete with the rest of the world. America’s ability to maintain leadership abroad depends on our strength at home—a lesson we ignore at our peril.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.