Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Steve Bullock

August 18, 2019

Scott Olson/Getty Images

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 oppression of the Uighurs including the detention of a massive number in internment camps is a gross violation of their human rights. A fundamental component of American foreign policy must be to promote human rights and democracy. That means having a president who has the moral authority to encourage our allies to share in the job of speaking up and hold China accountable for these human rights violations. We must speak out about any nation’s abuse of its minority populations or infringement upon the civil liberties of its citizens. The U.S.–China relationship is complex and touches security, trade, human rights and climate change. We need to confront China on both human rights and unfair trade practices, while at the same time pursuing our mutual interests on combatting climate change. A foreign policy that prioritizes working with our partners and allies will put pressure on China to improve its treatment of the Uighurs and ensure that it keeps its word to the people of Hong Kong.

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?

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Yes. I would rejoin the JCPOA, if it is still an option by January 2021. A nuclear Iran would further destabilize the entire Middle East and we must prevent it. I would work closely with our European allies and collaborate towards our common goal of a non-nuclear Iran and a Middle East that can work toward peace and prosperity without the constant threat of nuclear conflict.

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? 

Any agreement with North Korea must include credible commitments – and verifiable progress - toward significant reductions in its nuclear weapons arsenal. North Korea is an irresponsible
 
 regime whose nuclear capabilities pose a threat to not only the security of the United States and our allies, but to every nation around the globe. A nuclear North Korea would pose an immediate and existential threat to our security if left unchecked, and that’s why we must work with our regional allies to ensure that this situation is properly monitored and managed. While President Trump has legitimized the Kim regime in North Korea and on the international stage without anything in return, I would work to ensure that North Korea provides more than hollow promises but demonstrates real progress towards denuclearization.

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

Russia’s unwarranted and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine demonstrates its lack of regard for the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors and the extent to which it is willing to go to maintain its so-called “sphere of influence.” Such action has set a dangerous precedent for several of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, and we must work closely with these allies to ensure that they have the necessary military capabilities to deter future Russian aggression. We must coordinate with our NATO allies to ensure there is adequate military preparation and readiness in the case of such an incident, particularly in the Baltic region. Simultaneously, we must also continue, in coordination with our allies and partners, effective sanctions against entities connected to the ongoing occupations of Crimea and the Donbas to make it explicitly clear to Russia that its unlawful infringements of Ukrainian sovereignty is unsustainable and counter to its long-term interests.

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?

There are young men and women entering military service this year who weren’t even born on 9/11. We’ve been entangled in the region for too long, and it’s time to reassess our posture. I want our brave servicemembers to come home as soon as possible. The only way to end the Afghan war in a meaningful and lasting way that respects the sacrifices of our service members will be through diplomacy, and I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen by the end of my first term. We must also ensure that this solution would also uphold fundamental human rights, such as women’s rights, and the rights of minorities, and that they will be respected after we depart.

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 Trump Administration has not held Saudi Arabia accountable either for the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi or its conduct of the war in Yemen. While the U.S. has important interests in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, it does not serve U.S. interests to allow the Saudis to act with impunity against its own citizens or in Yemen. There needs to be a credible investigation of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the U.S. should press the Saudis to improve press freedom and the treatment of journalists. The U.S. should stop its direct support for Saudi Arabia’s reckless war in Yemen, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians with millions on the verge of starvation. Our priorities must be to facilitate the peace process between the warring parties and to deliver humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Yemen.

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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 support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict which would provide Israel with security and the Palestinian people with a better future. Under the Trump Administration, efforts to reach a two-state solution have reached a standstill as the U.S. negotiating team does not have credibility with both parties. I would use the fresh start of a new Administration to reinvigorate efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and consult closely with regional partners whose support would be necessary to implement a final status agreement.

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

Venezuela has gone from one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America to one of the poorest due to decades of governmental incompetence, corruption, and indifference towards the suffering of its own people. Maduro is a dictator whose regime has lost legitimacy in the eyes of both the Venezuelan people and the world. His corruption and abuse of human rights are completely unacceptable. The U.S. must support Juan Guaidó as the Provisional President of Venezuela and his National Assembly colleagues as they advance a constitutional transition that includes new elections and the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. As part of that support, the U.S. must work closely with our allies and partners to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on the Maduro regime in order to facilitate that transition.

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?

Many African nations are still embroiled in poverty, sectarian violence, and the inability to provide basic services to its citizens. Africa is also the continent with the largest youth population on the planet. The U.S. must provide African nations with the tools they need to meet this impending demographic challenge. The U.S. should work to foster entrepreneurship programs and encourage the growth of locally-owned and operated businesses to ensure that there will be employment opportunities available come 2050. Additionally, the U.S. should encourage governments across the continent to make the necessary reforms in sectors such as governance and the rule of law, so that their countries can be stable places for foreign direct investment and to increase the economic opportunities of a quarter of the world’s future population.

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 will not sign any free trade agreement that doesn’t require high labor standards, leverage improved environmental conservation, and that isn’t accompanied by significant efforts to ensure that American workers are not left behind. By those standards, I would not have entered the TPP as it was originally written. If the agreement were improved, I would consider joining the CPTPP under the right circumstances. Before joining the CPTPP, I would seek enforceable environmental and labor standards. Additionally, joining an effective CPTPP has the potential to be an important element of a comprehensive U.S. strategy for pushing back against growing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.

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

The more important thing we need to do is return to the Paris Agreement so we can be part of the international elements of climate change solutions. We simply can’t lead if we are not a part of the Agreement.


The World Bank has predicted that 143 million people would be internally displaced without action, just in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. Building more coal plants in these countries is not the answer. Instead we must work with the IPCC and other multi-lateral organizations to promote international investments in energy production that are balanced with carbon capture and re-use, re-forestation, and other strategies that will bring other nations toward our shared priority of carbon-neutrality by 2050 at the latest.


Fifty years ago, American ingenuity put a man on the moon – a feat no other country has matched. Today, America can and will lead the way in solving the challenge of climate change. In my administration, Commerce, Energy, State, and the Export-Import Bank all will play a larger role globally in helping other countries to consider and adopt U.S.-engineered carbon-free energy technologies.

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 of the United States since World War II has been the construction of the post-war liberal world order through our establishment of a system of alliances and institutions. It was this U.S.-led order that facilitated a peaceful end to the Cold War and created an international economic system that has led to unprecedented flourishing.
This system has proven its resilience over the past 70 years and has been an indispensable tool for ensuring global peace and prosperity. As President, I will continue to invest in this system and work closely with our allies to further its legacy.


The greatest mistake of American foreign policy since the end of WWII has been the Iraq War. This conflict was started based on the naïve belief that the U.S. could overthrow a regime in the Middle East and democracy would naturally ensue. Rather than a stable democratic regime in Iraq, this war produced a massive amount of instability in an already volatile region. This conflict, which was initiated without all but one of our allies, was doomed from the start. The U.S. sacrificed over a trillion dollars and over 4,500 lives for virtually nothing in return. As President, I will ensure that we work closely with our allies and not take such drastic and unnecessary unilateral actions.

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