from The Water's Edge

Foreign Policy Roundup: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Israel, and Campaign Advisors

Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference in Washington, DC, on October 28. Mandel Ngan/AFP

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential challengers are saying about foreign policy on the campaign trail.

November 1, 2019

Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference in Washington, DC, on October 28. Mandel Ngan/AFP
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The big foreign policy news of the week was the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The reaction among both Democratic and Republican challengers was predictable and largely consistent: they applauded the news, praised the intelligence community for pinpointing Baghdadi’s location and the special forces team for carrying out the raid, and then criticized President Donald Trump.

The specifics of the criticism varied. Beto O'Rourke didn’t want to credit Trump at all, arguing “that this raid was successful in spite of or despite the president—not because of him.” Joe Biden offered a variation of that argument, saying that the operation “relied on allies he [Trump] has belittled, undermined, and in some cases betrayed and abandoned." Pete Buttigieg hit the president’s failure to notify Congress, saying that “it is a concern to hear that the Gang of Eight were not notified. This should be beyond politics, it should be beyond partisanship, this is the national security of the United States of America." Amy Klobuchar targeted Trump’s overall foreign policy record, insisting that the raid’s success “doesn't mean that his foreign policy overall hasn't been a disaster." Republican challenger Joe Walsh targeted how the president broke the news to the nation, tweeting that Trump’s press conference “was embarrassing. I’m embarrassed for my country. I’m sad for my country. He can’t be trusted. He’s giving away our intelligence secrets. All to just thump his chest. He’s so unfit. I’m sad for my country."

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Policy Toward Israel

J Street, which bills itself as “the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” held a two-day conference in Washington this week on the future of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Five Democratic presidential candidates spoke to the conference—Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders. Five others—Biden, O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang—provided short, taped video addresses.

The candidates largely affirmed their support for a two-state solution. A few went further. Julián Castro pledged “to reestablish a US consulate in east Jerusalem and make clear that under a two-state approach, that would be the embassy under a Palestinian state.” Buttigieg said he would take steps to “ensure that US taxpayer support to Israel does not get turned into US taxpayer support for a move like annexation.” Warren said something similar but also argued that pushing for a two-state solution sometimes “might mean finding ways to apply pressure and create consequences for problematic behavior, as previous Democratic and Republican presidents have done.” Sanders went further, saying he “would use the leverage” that comes with providing $3.8 million in military assistance to push the Israeli government to “sit down with the Palestinian people and negotiate an agreement that works for all parties.” 

Later in the week, Biden took issue with the suggestion that the United States should use aid as leverage with Israel. While reiterating his opposition to further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the former vice president argued that “the idea that we would draw military assistance from Israel, on the condition that they change a specific policy, I find to be absolutely outrageous.” This likely isn’t the last we will hear of this issue.

Who Is Advising the Candidates?

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This week, Reuters looked at the people advising the four Democrats topping the polls: Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg. This isn’t the first effort to make sense of who is advising the candidates. Back in February, The Nation asked whether Matt Duss, Sanders’s chief foreign policy adviser, can “take on Washington’s ‘Blob’.” In March, Vox interviewed Ganesh Sitaram, the Vanderbilt University law professor who advises Warren, about the ideas laid out in his essay on “The Emergence of Progressive Foreign Policy.” The Washington Post ran a piece in June looking at Buttigieg’s foreign policy team, which is led by Doug Wilson, a former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in the Obama administration. Surprisingly little has been written on Joe Biden’s foreign policy team. That’s probably because Biden has a long foreign policy resume and because his advisors are people like Tony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, and Nick Burns, a former undersecretary of state, who are known commodities to the journalistic community.

There are 94 days left until the Iowa caucuses and 368 until Election Day.

Margaret Gach assisted in the preparation of this post.

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