Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Tim Ryan

July 30, 2019

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

CFR invited the Democratic candidates to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues before the second set of presidential debates. The questionnaire was sent to all candidates on July 8, 2019. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they were 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 continued terrible treatment of ethnic Uighurs and their slow, methodical campaign of vilification of Hong Kong protesters should be seen as continued attacks on the concepts of multiculturalism and the rule of law. Throughout my career I have been sounding the alarm about an ascendant China that isn’t committed to democracy, international norms and now, after two decades of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world, seems intent on flexing its muscle politically and militarily. As President, I would increase our human rights pressure on China, especially in these two areas.

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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At this point, it would be impossible to rejoin the JCPOA as it was written in 2015. I would absolutely support entering a new version of the JCPOA that extends restrictions even further into the future, but I would not compensate the Iranians for economic losses suffered after the U.S. left the agreement. It is in Iran’s interest to reenter the agreement in order to lift sanctions, they do not need to be compensated beyond that, especially given the possibility that this money could end up in the hands of terrorist organizations and malicious actors throughout the region.

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?

Absolutely not. Without preconditions for meeting, Trump has given Kim Jung Un’s dictatorship unprecedented, international legitimacy. The international and humanitarian crimes committed by the North Korean government are well documented and cannot be ignored. I believe meeting with and negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, is an inevitable and essential prerequisite for peace in the region, but such meetings must be taken in a calculated, methodical way.

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

Russia has shown that they must be contained and we will use every diplomatic tool available to us in order to prevent Russian aggression in the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. The most successful counter to Russian hybrid war in Ukraine would be to continue to work with our Ukrainian partners to build a strong democracy and steadfast adherence to the rule of law and anti-corruption. We must also work with our European allies to ensure a credible threat of harsh sanctions against any new Russian aggression.

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 must seek to bring American forces home from Afghanistan in the smartest way possible, with stated goals that are operationally feasible and diplomatically wise. Even with the bulk of American forces gone, we must work with our allies and ensure the United States maintains the ability to counteract any rebirth of terror elements within the country, through targeted military strikes when warranted. We must also remain engaged diplomatically with the Afghan government and our allies to push future governments in Afghanistan toward openness, equality, and the rule of law. By the end of my first term, the bulk of US combat troops would be sent home.

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 war in Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe that is hindering our international fight against terrorism and undercutting our need for diplomatic pragmatism. We need to stop logistical and fiscal support to Saudi Arabia immediately. We cannot continue to be complicit in the killing of innocents and we cannot be tied to crimes of the Saudi government. They’re our allies and I will support their interests, but I cannot support their war in 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?

Yes. There is no moral solution to this dispute that does not involve sovereign territory for both peoples.

First, we must build trust between the parties and that starts with recognition that Israel’s right to exist must be conceded by the Palestinians. The Israelis must then address numerous aspects of its security which have made it harder for Palestinian families to have an upwardly mobile economy. Once trust begins to be rebuilt, then and ONLY then can both sides begin the process of talking.

The current administration’s blatantly one-sided policy has pushed away the Palestinian’s and hardened Israel’s resolve to take a tough stand. One of my first priorities would be to regain the trust of the Palestinians and work to bring them back into the peace process.

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

The United States, along with its allies, must use its diplomatic powers to pressure President Maduro to relinquish his power in Venezuela. We should continue to use robust economic sanctions against Maduro and his supporters to weaken his position. At the same time, we need to remain vigilant in our strong support to the Guaido Government. Additionally, we must work with international and regional partners to build a strong economic plan and protect the region from further fiscal depression. A multi-government, non-military, coalition is essential to building trust and compassion with the people of Venezuela, the US can lead the coalition but we must not operate independently. Lastly, I oppose any military action against Venezuela. In a region with a history of U.S. military incursions, the United States would be hard-pressed to gain allies if it took such unilateral steps.

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?

The United States has historically not paid nearly enough attention to Africa. It is time for this to change, for the benefit of both Africans and Americans. African population growth presents an incredible opportunity for America as we seek new markets abroad for American products. I believe that America needs to rebuild its manufacturing sector and needs to do so in a way that creates the technology and implements for the production of green energy. Africa is going to need incredible investments in infrastructure, water, sewer, power, pipelines, roads, bridges, trains and consumer products. There is no reason that America can’t be helping Africa by supplying those badly needed resources.

We also need to understand geopolitically, that if the United States doesn’t step in to invest and work with the Africans in the crucial years ahead, the Chinese will, and, in fact, already are. But, with their heavy-handedness and the fact that their economic investments don’t often bring returns for many Africans, the United States has a particular moment at hand to make inroads on the continent.

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 have spent my entire career fighting bad trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. I am currently opposed to the CPTPP because it has been negotiated under the cover of darkness, it does nothing to protect American workers or lift the standards of workers abroad and further erodes sovereign protections that countries have to hold companies accountable for bad actions abroad. I simply couldn’t support a trade deal that does this much damage.

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

By turning America into the number one producer of green technologies and energy efficient products. America has a transformational opportunity to not just ensure America’s future energy needs are clean and sustainable, putting millions to work, and rebuilding our manufacturing sector-- but exporting those products abroad to encourage and build THEIR clean energy infrastructure.

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 accomplishment was a world order that has led to the proliferation of democracy, democratic ideals and the raised standard of living for every human being alive today. It’s truly a miracle and it’s special-- never before have so many prospered or lived in relative peace and we must guard it vigilantly.

Our biggest mistakes were moves since 9/11 including the war in Iraq that undercut our moral standing in the world and allowed the relativistic worldview of men like Putin to proliferate.

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