Much has been made in recent months about how the leading Democratic presidential candidates differ on foreign policy. Their rejection of President Donald Trump’s new Middle East peace plan, however, shows that when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, they all reside in the same area code if not the same zip code. They all favor a two-state solution and see the president’s proposal as jeopardizing that goal by essentially imposing an outcome on the Palestinians.
This proposal violates the Palestinians' right to self-determination and will erode the long-term security interests of Israel by placing it on a course toward either a one-state solution that undermines the vision of a democratic Jewish state or a fragmented, disconnected and deeply unequal system of Palestinian islets surrounded by Israeli territory.
Sanders put his objections in a statement, saying any plan "must end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent, democratic, economically viable state of their own alongside a secure and democratic state of Israel."
A negotiated two-state solution is critical to Israel's and the Palestinians' long-term security and well-being, and it is good that President Trump's plan affirms that. Every peace plan deserves a chance, but any viable plan requires buy-in from both sides, and over the past three years, the President has done nothing but hurt the U.S.'s position as an effective broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As this process unfolds, it is critical that neither party take unilateral steps that could trigger instability and violence.
A peace plan requires two sides to come together. This is a political stunt that could spark unilateral moves to annex territory and set back peace even more. I've spent a lifetime working to advance the security & survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel. This is not the way. https://t.co/H6IhtP1YJd— Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) January 29, 2020
This president's Mideast "Deal of the Century," like so much else he’s done in foreign policy, makes complex situations worse.— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) January 28, 2020
Peace requires both parties at the table. Not a political green light to the leader of one for unilateral annexation.
When asked at a rally in Ames, Iowa, if he would cut U.S. aid to Israel if it voted to annex parts of the West Bank, the former South Bend mayor answered that “if you're asking me to commit to withdrawing American support for Israel, the answer is no. But what I will say is that, in my administration, the Israeli government will get the message that we are not going to support those kinds of steps.”
However, the Israeli Cabinet may vote in the coming weeks to annex large sections of the West Bank, rendering the objections of a potential Buttigieg presidency moot. That reality highlights a challenge the candidates face when discussing foreign policy that they generally don’t face on domestic policy. The basic facts on issues such as health care, income inequality, and the opioid crisis won’t change much between now and Inauguration Day. But the state of play overseas could change dramatically. As a result, if one of the Democratic challengers wins the White House, he or she could face a much different world than the one they planned for.
Candidates in Their Own Words
Last summer, the New York Times asked candidates how they would tackle a range of issues if they became president. This week, the Times released videos of six Democratic candidates answering a new round of questions. Biden and Sanders notably declined to participate. Four of the questions the Times posed addressed foreign policy: Does the United States have a role to play in Hong Kong?; Do you see Saudi Arabia as a U.S. ally?; What is the most important thing foreign leaders should know about you?; and, Who is one foreign leader you admire? The winner of the last question was Angela Merkel. Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Warren all named the German chancellor as a leader they admire.
Warren wrote about how she would decide when to use military force. Her metric? “As commander in chief, I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless there is a vital national-security interest at risk, a strategy with clear and achievable objectives, and a public understanding and acceptance of the long-term costs.” She adds that she can be counted on to stick to this promise because she is “recommitting to a simple idea: the constitutional requirement that Congress play a primary role in deciding to engage militarily. The United States should not fight and cannot win wars without deep public support."
Warren also released her plan for "preventing, containing, and treating infectious disease outbreaks at home and abroad." She says she will “invest at home to ensure our public health agencies, hospitals, and health care providers are ready to jump into action when outbreaks strike. And we can help build strong public health systems abroad.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld spoke at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. His speech stressed the importance of addressing climate change, avoiding a retreat to isolationism, and making the Republican Party the “party of national security again.”
What the Pundits Are Saying
If you want a quick crib sheet on where the top eight Democratic presidential challengers stand on foreign policy, Simon Lewis and Amanda Becker of Reuters provided some brief summaries.
Former Maryland congressman John Delaney, the first Democrat to announce his candidacy, dropped out of the race today. His campaign said that he opted to end his campaign three days before the Iowa caucus because he had concluded that his support “is not sufficient to meet the 15% viability in a material number of caucus precincts, but sufficient enough to cause other moderate candidates to not to make the viability threshold.” Of the twenty-eight Democrats who announced 2020 presidential bids, just eleven remain in the race.
Andrew Yang this week qualified for the eighth Democratic debate, joining Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, and Warren. The debate will be held next Friday, February 7, in Manchester, New Hampshire. ABC, WMUR-TV (the local ABC affiliate), and Apple News are the hosts. To qualify for the debate, candidates have until midnight next Thursday to poll at least 5 percent in national polls or 7 percent in early states, and receive at least 225,000 unique donations with 1,000 unique donors in twenty states. They can also qualify by earning one delegate in the Iowa caucuses. The debate will come just four days after the Iowa caucuses, and three days before the New Hampshire primary.
The Iowa caucuses are Monday night. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the low- to mid-twenties. Having lived in Iowa for a dozen years, that’s balmy weather for early February, which should help turnout. For those of you who are counting, Election Day is just 277 days away.
Margaret Gach assisted in the preparation of this post.