Candidate, 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination; Former Governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Anchor, BBC World News America
Governor Deval Patrick discusses his foreign policy views and priorities.
TREVELYAN: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the Election 2020 Series, and tonight is a conversation with Governor Deval Patrick.
I’m Laura Trevelyan. I’m an anchor of the BBC’s World News America broadcast. I’m delighted to be here. I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion, which is on the record, which is exciting for all of us.
So let me just briefly introduce Governor Patrick. He is going to speak for about fifteen minutes, then I’ll ask him some questions, and then I’ll throw it open to the audience and we’ll have about thirty minutes for a question-and-answer session.
Now, Governor Patrick, of course, is seeking the Democratic nomination to be the person to take on President Trump in what is, of course, a crowded field. He was born on the South Side of Chicago. He went to Harvard University. He was twice elected as the governor of Massachusetts. And he is positioning himself as the bridgebuilder in this race.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Governor Deval Patrick and his opening remarks. (Applause.)
PATRICK: Thank you very much. Laura, thank you very much for the warm welcome. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here this afternoon.
I want to start off by thanking Richard Haass and all of the members and leadership of the—and the staff of the Council for all the work you do to help us understand the challenges that face us across the globe. I’m looking forward to the conversation with everyone this evening.
I want to start by trying to frame how I think about America’s role in the world, and start maybe with a story. In my senior year of college I was not at all sure what I wanted to do next. I took the exams for both business and law school, but couldn’t bring myself to apply. I did apply to the seminary. That’s a whole other story for another day. I was rescued from my indecision by something called a Rockefeller Traveling Fellowship, which grant—was granted to—at that time to two or three graduating seniors at Harvard to spend a year overseas. The only condition was that you spend the year on a self-designed project in a distinctly non-Western culture. The money was about enough to get you there and back, and no more, I later surmised so you wouldn’t be tempted to hole up in the local Intercontinental Hotel and just kind of wait out the year.
I was twenty years old and I’d never traveled abroad before. But it was 1978, I was a young black man, and I wanted to go to Africa. So I wrote letters—how many of you remember those? (Laughter.) I wrote letters to everyone I knew who knew someone in Africa. And after many months worrying that I would fail the basic precondition of having a project in place, I received one reply. It was from a Sudanese middle manager on a UNDP project in Khartoum. He said he wasn’t sure just what I would do, but I should come and he would figure it out when I got there. So I got myself a passport, a visa, a backpack, the supplies I thought I needed, and set off after graduation. I taught myself the greetings and the numbers in Arabic on the flight from Athens to Cairo. And then, after a few weeks in Athens—excuse me, in Cairo—hitchhiked from Cairo to Khartoum, a trip that involved every imaginable kind of conveyance and took about three weeks, the last of which was without a bath.
I eventually found my way to Khartoum and to the office of the man I had been writing to for many months, and learned when I got there that he had left the week before for two years in Long Beach, California—(laughter)—and said nothing to his office about my coming. After about a week of first absorbing the shock and then trying to talk my way onto the project, I was sent to Darfur along with a recent University of Khartoum graduate about my age who spoke about as much English as I did Arabic. And since there were no flights or trains, no roads in fact, this part of the journey required bargaining for room on top of a cargo lorry, bringing enough food and water, and setting off on tracks through the sand for the next five or six days.
Now, to move this along I’ll leave off the part about the truck flipping over and being stranded in the Nubian Desert for several days. I’ll simply say that we eventually got there, a small town called El Fasher with no mail or phone service—no internet or cell service for that matter because those things hadn’t been invented yet. But I figured it out. And throughout all of this, I began to gain a deeper and different perspective on America. That’s why I tell the story.
I grew up on welfare on the South Side of Chicago, but I had never experienced poverty quite like this. I saw ingenuity, determination, desperation, and also grace, and I thought of it all in different ways. I saw the power of expectations, the way people’s reactions to me changed once they figured out I was American instead of Sudanese or Egyptian. And I saw the impact that that had on people if I, the American, was respectful and gracious toward them, how the same courtesies and kindnesses were shown back to me in multiple.
After I had made friends and become facile enough with the language to have actual conversation with my friends, I remember an older man asking me a probing question, completely without guile. He mentioned that he had once seen a Time magazine with pictures, he said, of a civil rights movement in the United States. “What happened to it?” was his question. My point is that I didn’t really come to absorb the power of American reputation, the significance to others of our values and our adherence to them, until I got some perspective on America from abroad And from the conversation with that simple Sudanese merchant to a comment from a Latin American billionaire soon after Barack Obama was elected president, when he told me “America is back,” and countless encounters like it in between, I am convinced that American values of equality, opportunity, and fair play significantly enhance our power and may even sometimes constrain our behavior in the world.
The point has implications. Our ability to tell the story of America abroad convincingly depends on whether we live that story at home. Indeed, I believe that our standing in the world, our ability to persuade, to arbitrate, to deescalate, in a very real sense to make ourselves and the world more secure, turns in greater measure than we may think on whether we are who we say we are. I will return to that point in just a minute.
Since that first time—(audio break)—Africa I have spent a lot of time on airplanes to and from points abroad. Counting my time on that U.N. project; or issuing visas later that year in the U.S. consulate in northern Nigeria; or later helping to write the new South African constitution and human rights laws; or as a board member of a global foundation visiting projects overseas; as a senior executive in two Fortune 50 companies, one of which does business in more places than there are members of the United Nations; or leading trade missions; or visiting our troops in Iraq, in Afghanistan as governor of Massachusetts; I have solved problems, done business, and built relationships directly and on the ground in some thirty-one countries over five continents. I am not a foreign policy expert, but I have not—and I have—I’ve not had a diplomatic role or been a decision-maker in global hotspots. But I’ve learned a few lessons—a few lessons—that I would bring with me to the Oval Office.
The first is that relationships matter. I remember on official trade missions that some business leaders and all of the media would expect us to get off the plane with a fistful of purchase orders after our trip. At the outset I would always make the point that you have to make friends before you make money. I think the same is true when it comes to making trade deals or making peace. You make friends first. The conduct of foreign policy, I believe, is more personal that many people credit, and requires a commitment to building clear and wherever possible trusting relationships well in advance of when you need them.
So as president I commit to renewing our bonds with traditional allies in Europe, North America, and Asia. I believe it is also critical for America to develop deeper commercial and strategic relationships with nations in Africa and Latin America. We are missing opportunities to better secure ourselves and our interests, as well as to expand trade in new and in some cases alternative markets. I think about this for its own merit, but also as we meet the challenges of a rapidly-growing China. Strengthening our diplomatic, commercial, and in some cases military ties with global allies and training partners makes us safer, more prosperous, and more effective.
I suppose I should say here, to leave no doubt, that I will never pick a needless fight with a friend of the United States, and will certainly not air our complaints, differences, or grievances in public. Needlessly quarreling with and embarrassing a friend publicly is rarely a formula for a strong, lasting relationship in any context.
The second lesson I would offer is about the importance of building and working in coalition. The United States fought both world wars and various regional conflicts more successfully, and addressed humanitarian and commercial challenges more effectively, when in coalition with other nations. There’s strength in numbers. There is also the substantial benefit of not having to address a big challenge on multiple, sometimes competing fronts.
Therefore, my administration will recommit to NATO, the WTO, and other international alliances with old allies as well as new in Africa and Latin America to enhance our ability to solve global problems together. This is just practical reality. Some of the challenges facing the world simply cannot be addressed by America alone. The scale of the climate crisis and the existing refugee emergency it will almost certainly make worse. The aggression of Russia and Iran in the Middle East and elsewhere, or of North Korea in Asia and beyond; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the spread of terrorism; these and other challenges face all of civilized society, and we should and would be better off confronting them in partnership with others.
As an example, let me say that I think conceptually, at least, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was right. The goal was to join nations through the—throughout the Pacific Rim and North America to create an economic, security, and diplomatic counterweight to a more assertive China. Such an alliance offers the potential for greater success in protecting worker and human rights and the environment; and making markets more fair, open, and constrained by the rule of law.
In that same vein, I believe a global alliance is important to help address the climate crisis. I am committed as president to rejoining the Paris Accords and to leading an effort to strengthen and accelerate member commitments. I favor an independent global organization to track progress, to serve as a clearinghouse for best practices and to resolve disputes, and otherwise to hold signatories accountable. Such a body may be able to serve a useful role in coordinating a response to the refugee crisis that failure to act on climate change will make exponentially worse.
And the final lesson is about the importance of preparation. Every relationship—whether diplomatic, social, military, or commercial—has a backstory. Before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Abbas, with Brazilian business leaders or Northern European wind-energy developers, or with troops in warzones, I was always thoroughly briefed, always by my team, usually by outside experts and State Department leadership as well. Our embassies on the ground were unfailingly helpful as well. Preparation, I believe, has a direct connection to credibility. I will not conduct foreign policy over Twitter or otherwise on impulse, without advice or a plan. I believe the president owes more to the men and women in uniform or otherwise in harm’s way, as well as to the American people and the world as a whole. Instead, as president, I will act deliberately and strategically, having considered the advice of our intelligence, diplomatic, and military personnel, and insights from our allies.
And perhaps no episode, in my view, dramatizes the opposite approach than the recent strike in Qassem Soleimani and its aftermath. Soleimani was a menace to the world and to peace-loving people everywhere. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents, including Americans, and his death will not be mourned at least by me. I also believe America reserves the right to protect her interests around the world at any time. But that right has to be bound by international norms, by law, and by forethought. And we have seen no evidence that any of those boundaries were respected in this case or even acknowledged in the decision-making around the drone strike. Instead, we’ve seen contradictory and incoherent explanations coming out of the administration, further undermining our credibility, I believe, in the world. This is not how great nations behave, and—much less decide matters of war and peace.
Now, with both our countries stepping back from the brink of war, at least for the moment, we should take advantage of the fragile moment to engage with Iran alongside our global allies to bring the regime back to the negotiating table. My administration would provide a path to containing Iran, achieving a progressive stepdown from the current environment to a comprehensive new Iran deal. We would demand longer-term, verifiable assurances on the nuclear and missile programs in return for sanctions relief. And any process must ultimately address and degrade Iran’s support for terrorist groups and other proxies in the region.
After that, there are a few practical but critical things we need to do to rebuild our capacity to prepare, as well as to contribute to the coalitions we seek.
We must both reinvest in our diplomatic corps and mend the apparent rift between the office of the president and the intelligence community. The record numbers of retirements and other departures from the State Department takes with it a rich trove of institutional knowledge and relationships. It will take time to rebuild that. This also, in my view, presents an opportunity to attract new people from the wide range of diverse talent across America and build a corps for the future, renewing a call for public service, as a member of the Foreign Service and intelligence official or a member of the Peace Corps.
I believe we must also look for ways to get more out of our current defense budgets and otherwise to assure our military is as future-forward as possible. Our administration will assess our military capabilities across the board for preparedness to address future threats such as cyber and swarm warfare, always searching for ways to innovate. To respect the service and sacrifice our military members, we must also address the lack of clarity about mission, any lack of suitable equipment, and the gaps that I keep hearing about again and again in the processes and procedures for enabling servicemen and -women to reenter civil life.
So instead of bullying or demeaning other countries and peoples, instead of limitless war with only limited impact and objective, I believe American leadership should be steady, reliable, firm, and consequential. That will require rebuilding American stature and influence in the world on the strength of our military, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence resources, and above all our values, in the ways I’ve described above.
As dark as the times often seem, I am convinced that we have before us the best chance in generations to build for our children and ourselves a fairer, more just, truly great America—an America that is great because it is good. And I say that because throughout our history there is a constant tension between our reality and our ideals. At any given time America has been a land of hope and welcome, and of enslavement and exclusion; a land of extraordinary progress, and of confining nostalgia; a land where extraordinary wealth and transformative kindness can exist side by side with abject poverty and hate.
It still makes my heart ache to think that this great nation could defeat totalitarianism and win the Second World War, and then demean and disenfranchise the black veterans who helped deliver that victory when they came home. But the ideals of equality, opportunity, and fair play are enduring. They still offer the best hope of the world for humankind. And they have meaning only when we remember, especially in times like these, that whether around the corner or around the world we have a stake in our neighbors’ dreams and struggles just as they do in ours. That’s the kind of leadership I’m about, it’s the kind of foreign policy my administration would project, and the kind of responsibility I will bear as president of the United States.
I thank you again for having me. Looking forward to the conversation. (Applause.)
TREVELYAN: Thank you, Governor Patrick. So we have—we have the whole world to discuss, but we’ll start with Iran because you just mentioned that in the aftermath of the killing of General Soleimani if you were in the Oval Office you would seek to engage with Iran. What would the goal of your engagement with Iran be?
PATRICK: Well, the first would be to deescalate because the great worry—as I said, I don’t mourn his loss, but the great worry is that it sets off a chain of events that if we had confidence in this president we’d think he’d have thought through, but we don’t have confidence he thinks that way because he hasn’t, historically. And so I think right now the most important thing to do is to deescalate. It was—is it—is it—it’s probably the wrong word, but a comfort, and I hope not entirely a coincidence, that the—that the rain of shells down on our interests in the region didn’t cause any loss of life. And the—and then, of course, the downing, I guess accidental, of the passenger airliner, tragic—is obviously a tragedy, but it seems to have taken some of the—changed the subject, I guess I would—I would say.
TREVELYAN: But the Iranian regime is on the back foot, though, after the killing of Soleimani, after the downing of that plane. Is the Trump campaign of maximum pressure actually working?
PATRICK: We don’t know and I doubt it, because I think it’s got to be sustained and it has to be—it has to actually be reasoned through. We also know that, alongside the fact that the Trump—excuse me, that the Iran regime is on the back foot, that the president has ordered 3,500 more troops in the—into the region. So it’s not all about what we have gained and what they have lost; it’s by very—it’s very much unclear.
TREVELYAN: You talked about wanting to end those limitless wars. President Trump has also talked about ending endless wars. But if you were president, would you have to reconcile yourself to forty (thousand) to sixty thousand American troops in the Middle East?
PATRICK: I hope not. But you know, it’s hard to—it’s hard to make those kinds of decisions, those kinds of resolutions on our own. This is back to the point about the importance of coalitions. You know, even the decision to strike at Soleimani did not seem to take account of the fact that allies of us had troops on the ground as well who were placed in harm’s way. So I think a resolution has to be a—has to be the result of collective success.
TREVELYAN: And when you look at Syria, where President Trump is trying to bring the troops home but there are still several hundred there, how would you look at that when you want to stop ISIS resurging and yet you also want to bring the troops home?
PATRICK: Well, you know—and here’s the disadvantage of not having access to the intelligence and diplomatic insights that a president does. I was going to say I’m not sure this president concerns himself with that, but that’s what I was getting at in terms of preparation. I think there is more I’d like to know, but it certainly seemed that the withdrawal from Syria was abrupt. That was the reaction of our allies. The fallout from that, from the Kurds, from—and you know, the resurgence—if that’s the right term—of ISIS, is concerning.
And so I—but it—you know, we get this a lot in politics, these false choices, that you have to have—you know, you have to—you have to demean refugees in order to have a secure border. I’ll take a very simple one: You have to hate Republicans to be a good Democrat, or vice versa. These are false choices. And my suspicion is that in the case of—in the case of the withdrawal of troops from Syria it’s also an unnecessarily binary choice—due respect to your question—of simply pulling out or keeping troops in place and defeating, or at least limiting, the impact of ISIS or related terrorist groups.
TREVELYAN: You talked a little bit about trade and you talked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now has a new name. Free trade’s got a bit of a bad name at the moment.
PATRICK: I know. I know.
TREVELYAN: Would you seek to give it a good name again?
PATRICK: Well, look, I think no treaty is perfect. NAFTA had a lot to answer for. Some of those criticisms were justified. But the idea that we can or would limit ourselves from participating in a global economy is absurd. You know, in a very oversimplified sense, the fact that capital is mobile but labor is not explains some of what has been happening over the last couple of decades in terms of immigration.
We need a—this is not an argument for open borders. That’s not what I’m talking about. But we just—we need to update our thinking about how the economy moves, what economic cooperation means, how people engage in that, talent engages in that in fair and reasonable way, and have systems that respond in real time instead of trying to, you know, deal with real life—modern life with old systems.
So I think—I think having agreements that set the rules are important. And as I said, conceptually TPP seemed right because the rules that can bind China require a significant counterweight, and that seemed to me to make a lot of sense. And in fact, some of the solutions or some of the answers to what—to the weaknesses in NAFTA, if I understand it correctly, were a part of the TPP in terms of worker and humanitarian issues and some of the environmental issues as well.
TREVELYAN: Indeed. If you were president you would inherit the trade war with China, which is currently on pause after the phase one agreement has been signed. But what would you do to end that trade war?
PATRICK: Well, first of all, I think—(laughs)—isn’t it interesting? Jobs like president or candidate are a balance of substance and performance art. By the way, I learned that lesson slowly. I kind of shunned the performance art part when I was first elected as governor. Now it seems like all we focus on is the performance art. The notion that the tariffs have done anything at all except hurt Americans is just bizarre.
TREVELYAN: Trump says that they brought money into our coffers.
PATRICK: Well, that’s what he says. That isn’t what happened, but that’s what he says. And we pay, I think the number is something like—if the average tariffs on China goods was at 3 percent before the trade war, it’s close to 20 percent after the phase one deal. And a feature of the deal, as I understand it, is that China is to buy a couple hundred million dollars of agricultural products that come from some of the states that the president especially wants to—this year, by the way—that come from some of the states that the president particularly cares about.
And if I remember correctly, we move legislation to move resources to those states, or to interest in those—in those states because they were being harmed by the trade war. So, look, the issue in China, from my experience, is mainly—it’s not exclusively—but the commercial issue is mainly a disrespect or lack of respect for intellectual property.
TREVELYAN: So what would you do about that question? Because it’s not fully addressed in phase one of the deal.
PATRICK: Well, so I think I’m right in saying that conceptually TPP was about that, so that there were—so that the rules could be set and the consequences of violating those rules would be meaningful on a large enough platform. And conceptually I still think that’s—I still think that’s right.
When I was at Coca-Cola we sold a different formula—a different formula for Coke in China than we did anywhere else. It’s sort of quaint, when I think about it. Because you had to turn over the formula as a part of getting permission to do the—do the deal. I suppose you could reverse-engineer it now. But that’s what used to work, because it was just how it worked. And, you know, when you consider the fact that our economic edge, in my view, is our intellectual property, is our contribution to the innovation in a knowledge economy—in fact, I think we need to harness that and invest in it for our—for our own economic future—that that is just up for grabs when you sell to an important market, is enormously dangerous.
TREVELYAN: Indeed. I’m very conscious of the time, and many people have questions for you.
PATRICK: I know. I stink at soundbites, don’t I?
TREVELYAN: But before I turn it over to the audience I have one more question, which his you are seeking—
PATRICK: Yes. To the members, not the audience. Members.
TREVELYAN: Members, I’m sorry. To the members. You’re seeing to be the Democrat nominee to take on President Trump. So far your polling is in the zero to single digits. What is your path to the nomination?
PATRICK: Well, one is to ignore polls, because if I were—and I don’t say that glibly. If I believed the polls, I never would have been governor the first or the second time, up until the day of the election. And why it is we keep focusing on polls after 2016 I have no idea. But we do.
TREVELYAN: The national poll was right, just not the state polls. (Laughs.)
PATRICK: All right. Well, they kind of matter. Look, we are building—we’re building fast and well. Our emphasis is on New Hampshire and South Carolina, because they are primary states. We were talking about this before coming in, and caucuses are just different. We are on all of the early states ballots, and we have organization. But the real emphasis in time and resources is in the primary states. That’s where I and my wife spend most of our time. I stepped off the trail to come here and I’m going right back tomorrow. We are up on television in both—in all four early states, but, again, the biggest buy there, and digitally, is in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina. And it’s a gas.
TREVELYAN: So you’re skipping Iowa?
PATRICK: No, we’re not skipping. But, as I say, it’s just—it’s just different. I’m on the ballot. We have people there. There’ll be folks caucusing for us. But it is a completely different order of engagement than you can do in the primary states.
TREVELYAN: All eyes on New Hampshire. Thank you, Governor Patrick, for answering my questions.
PATRICK: Thank you, Laura.
TREVELYAN: I’d like to throw it open now to our members. If you could please put your hand up. The microphone will come to you. Just introduce yourself and ask one question, if you could. That would be wonderful.
PATRICK: Should I call on you, or do you—for the first one?
TREVELYAN: I will call on this gentleman here at the front first. And thank you.
Q: Thank you. David Greenberg from Rutgers University.
In 1960, Kennedy and Nixon did not debate Pearl Harbor. In 1984, Carter—Mondale and Reagan did not discuss the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. But a lot of the candidates, your rivals for the nomination, the first thing out of their mouth when asked for their qualifications for commander in chief is a vote from 2002, eighteen years ago. Are you concerned that the Democratic Party is very backward-looking in this regard, that it doesn’t articulate a vision for continued engagement internationally, but focuses on a bad mistake quite a while ago now?
PATRICK: Well, you know, first of all, I’m not—I’m not trying to speak for the whole party, yet. (Laughter.) I understand the critique. And I think I understand the critique mainly because it felt like, at the time, we were—a lot of folks were feeling under pressure to make fundamentally—a fundamentally political decision rather than a wise military decision. And that should worry us. That should worry us. (Audio break)—and earlier, and too great length, the notion that I believe we should engage in the world. That is not the same thing as being’s America’s policeperson. But it does mean that we have unique opportunities in engaging in the world on all levels—strategic, from a security point of view, economic, and so forth. And that we are at our best, in my view, our most influential, and our most constructive if those decisions are framed and based on the set of values that are foundational, so.
TREVELYAN: Sir, at the front.
Q: Thank you very much, Governor. My name is Ryan Kaminski. I’m with the U.N. Association of the United States of America.
You talked about needing to work in coalitions, building relationships, preparation, and then the significance of our values. One platform that seeks to check all those boxes is the United Nations. Can you talk a little bit about how a Patrick administration would engage the U.N., and including advancing human rights, as per our values? Thank you very much.
PATRICK: Thank you. Thank you. Ryan, right?
Q: That’s right.
PATRICK: So the U.N.—first of all, the U.N. has one of the best origin stories of any organization in the history of time. It is—it’s also famously sclerotic. And I say that respectful of that origin story and its opportunity. I think probably the better thing for a president to do, rather than stand outside and complain, is engage. It’s to the point I was trying to make earlier, that we have a host of organizations, and processes, immigration is one, that have not reinvented themselves to keep pace with modern times. And the U.N. may be one of those. The U.N. as a concept, as a convening of interest from all around—all around the world, and an opportunity to debate principles that ought to—particularly around human rights is still, I think, compelling.
But I remember once when I was head of the Civil Rights Division in the first term of the Clinton administration. And I was set up—I can’t remember what treaty was being debated. But it was sent up—it was around civil and human rights—to offer testimony on behalf of the United States. And it was, to me, a big deal. But we made—we had so many exceptions we were taking to the treaty—to the treaty terms that it’s—I think that’s the term. Some of the exceptions that we were taking to the treaty terms, that some of the more hard-bitten participants basically said, well, it’s nice you’re here, but what—you know, what do you actually contribute except you showed up? Which the previous administration had not.
TREVELYAN: And when you talked, with climate change, about an independent body that would have a role in that, were you thinking that would be associated with the United Nations?
PATRICK: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It could be. But to my point to Ryan, I think—and I know that the U.N. has a sub-agency that has been paying attention to that. I just want the—I want it to work, whatever the “it” is. In the case of the question about the U.N., I want it to function. Streamlined, simple, straightforward, and an honest engagement. In the case of oversight around climate commitments, I want it to function. And if the U.N. is functioning, it can be good.
TREVELYAN: Absolutely. Great question, Ryan. And, madam, here, in the white.
Q: Hi. Sarah Leah Whitson, Quincy Institute.
It’s welcome to hear a refocus on American values in terms of foreign policy. Will that mean that you will seek to end U.S. military support of abusive governments that commit war crimes and gross abuses of human rights? Of course, Israel being the leading recipient of U.S. aid, notwithstanding the continued expropriation of Palestinian lands. Egypt, the second-largest recipient of U.S. military assistance. As well as arms sales to abusive governments like Saudi Arabia? Will you commit to joining the International Criminal Court? And will you commit to signing arms treaties that the majority of other states in the world have signed?
PATRICK: OK, how many per customer?
TREVELYAN: Quite a list there. (Laughter.)
PATRICK: Is it Sarah? Sarah. So a couple things. First of all, I think we have to start with our values. That does not, to me, mean that in every case we disengage. It may mean that that’s the premise for our engagement. So that’s the—that’s sort of a categorial statement.
I think the—in the case of Israel, which is our very best ally in the region, the only democracy in the region, but a two-state solution has to happen, and a stalemate is not acceptable. And so I have serious problems with the—with the settlement policy that’s in place today. And I think there is some evidence that the stalemate has remained a stalemate for political—domestic political reasons. And that’s deeply concerning to me. And I say this as a friend of Israel, and as a friend of Palestinians. I can tell you a little bit about my work economically in—on both sides there.
Egypt, I think I’m right in remembering this—so correct me, because there are experts here—you know, I talked about landing in Cairo in 1978? I was there when Sadat came home from Camp David. It was an amazing time to be an American in that part of the world because there was so much hopefulness. And I think a lot of the aid was associated with that deal. I think that’s right.
But we have not—this is another one where we keep doing what we used to do without examining whether the conditions for it are still being met. And in that same spirit, particularly given recent events, our relationship with Saudi Arabia, I think, needs to be refreshed. I don’t know all—I’m not an expert on Saudi Arabia. I’ve been reading a lot about it in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder. The response to that seemed, to me, tepid at best. I understand it as a location for some of our own military interests and security interests. But it seems to me we don’t always use the leverage we have to drive the whole of what our agenda ought to be, including those around our—
TREVELYAN: Well, I guess this president—
PATRICK: But I can see by your body language that you are not satisfied with any of that. (Laughter.)
TREVELYAN: Well, this president has somewhat downplayed human rights and preferred to focus on the relationship that exist around arms sales.
PATRICK: Well, it’s very transactional, yes.
TREVELYAN: So what would your approach be?
PATRICK: Well, first of all, it’s not—I don’t think we can have those—we can have foreign policy which is exclusively transactional. I think that we have leverage and we should use it. Now, again, to Sarah’s point and a point I was making earlier, I don’t accept that every choice is binary, because I think frequently it’s, you know, we will do this if you over time will do that. And we work with you over time. That’s real life, by the way, I mean, in every other context I’ve operated in. It plays better, and in some cases it may be exactly what’s called for to say unless you do this now you can’t have what you want now. But I think that is very much dependent on the situation. My point only to Sarah is that I don’t think, unlike the way you described the current administration, that our values should be off the table, that they stop at the water’s edge. Because I actually do—I honestly do believe they enhance our impact and our effectiveness in the world.
TREVELYAN: Madam at the front. Sorry, you’ve been waiting patiently. I apologize.
Q: Thank you. Paula DiPerna. Lovely to see you again. And I’m not going to talk about climate change. We can talk about that later.
But going back, your remarks, and things being binary-not binary, you almost have, like, a(n) x-ray vision where you talked about the good America and the darker side, the things we’ve left behind, the demeaning of the Black soldiers. How do you frame that in the states that, quote, “count” for the electoral college, where people do feel so left out? I mean, I think this is the issue. People feel left out. So how do you address that?
PATRICK: It’s so interesting—Paula, thank you for the question. The way on the South Side we felt, you know, when the steel mills closed, and the economic uncertainty and anxiety that it left in its wake, the way opioids came in to fill the void—or, some of the void—in the neighborhood, in our own home, for that matter, and the way that our issues became issues at election time, and not in between election time, that is so familiar to me because it is being felt in small towns, in rural communities, and other—in suburbs all over the country today. And this is—it’s a very interesting thing to understand. And I’ve been listening for it and thinking about it well apart from politics and thinking about my own run.
You know, the cheery economic indicators just don’t tell the whole story. Unemployment is low, if you count both or all three of the minimum wage jobs folk have to survive. Inflation is low, if you set aside—to one side—the cost of education, housing, and health care, the very things that enable people to move forward onto a path of economic mobility. And we have to get at that. So our opportunity agenda in this campaign is—and I offer agenda instead of policy silos, because I don’t think that’s—most people live at the intersection of policy—is very much about how we grow the economy out and not just up. Some of it borrowed from what we did in Massachusetts to come out of recession to a twenty-year employment high. And I think there are applications all around the country. So that we are speaking to people who feel unseen and unheard, as you say, economically and otherwise.
TREVELYAN: Is foreign policy—is foreign policy coming up much on the doorstep?
PATRICK: So what comes up is immigration. What comes up—even—interestingly, what comes up in Democratic town halls is the national debt. How about that? Less so foreign policy. There’s a lot of sort of shaking of heads and finger-wagging, especially in and around Soleimani. I get Sarah’s question from time to time, the point about our seeming unquestioning of current Israeli policy with respect to the Palestinians. And that’s always ticklish because people feel sometimes that when you—when you address—or, when you criticize Israeli policy, you are criticizing Israel—which is not my point at all. But sometimes you get into that. So otherwise, not so much.
TREVELYAN: Let’s take another question. Sir, at the front.
Q: Thank you very much. Mustafa Riffat from the Brunswick Group.
And I’m going to preface this by saying I married a girl from Milton, Massachusetts. And every time I see my in-laws I drive past your old house. So good to meet you.
PATRICK: (Laughs.) We miss it. We miss it.
Q: My question is this. I mean, whether one believes polls or not, it seems that voters love to hear a story of perseverance. And based on what I know about you, you’ve defied the odds in so many ways, least of all being your internship in Sudan. So can you tell us a little bit about something from your personal story as to why you would persevere—
PATRICK: Why I am preserving?
Q: Why you’re preserving and why you would make such a good, persistent president.
PATRICK: You know, it’s interesting. It’s—you say the least of all Sudan. When I got to El Fasher, and I realized I would be there for several months without being able to communicate with anybody, you know, at home—you know, by the way, if my kids tried this today I’d kill them. (Laughter.) I remember getting back to Khartoum the first time just before—just before Christmas. Three or four days before Christmas. And they had kept all of my mail at the poste restante, they used to call it. And I had lots of mail. I mean, I can’t tell you what that felt like. And I put it all in order by postdate. And I leisurely read through it over a couple of days. And I got to a letter from my mother, who had also never traveled before, saying: I’ve saved and saved. Meet me in Nairobi for Christmas. And which—and the travel date was, like, two days later. And that’s all she’s said. Not her flight number. Not the hotel. Not the airline. Nothing. Just: Meet me in Nairobi for Christmas.
So I hustled down to—forget about how I got there. But—and met every flight—every international arrival for thirty-six hours, until she walked out. And said, oh, I wasn’t sure I’d see you here. I said—(laughter)—and I had had every feeling. Like, I’m going to kill you when you get here. (Laughter.) But I think the experience of being in El Fasher and figuring out that I could figure it out was probably the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. And it was the thing that has enabled to try new—I’ve had a very zig-zagging career—to try new things without realizing that the biggest thing I had to get past is other people’s skepticism about whether I could do it. And to some extent, you know, we’re working through that right now.
TREVELYAN: And to think, that was before the era of the smartphone. Sir, at the back, you have a question.
Q: Good evening, Governor. John Austin.
PATRICK: Hi, John.
Q: My question is, why now you chose to run for president, as opposed to six months ago, twelve months ago, eighteen months ago? Do you not feel like you’re at a disadvantage by launching at this moment?
PATRICK: Probably. Actually, we had a—we had a plan to do so more than a year ago. We had a launch date. We had a roll-out plan. And about two, three weeks before my wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer. And that’s the sort of thing that just brings your feet back to Earth, John. And so we thought we’d—the better thing was to pay attention to that, and to her. I still think that was a better thing to do. Last may we celebrated thirty-five years of marriage. She’s cancer free, praise God. And the field was—bless you—still wide open, undecided. You know, folks have been spending millions and millions, and months and months, in some cases years, and they haven’t locked it down.
And so when I meet people who are on that narrative about you being late, and I ask them if they’ve made a decision, and they say, well, actually no, I haven’t. I say, I’m not late for you. (Laughter.) And I mean, honestly, there is a way we have turned our power over to, you know, pollsters, pundits, other people to tell us when it’s OK, even though a majority of voters in all of the early states have not made up their minds. So my challenge is not that there isn’t a path. The path that I thought was there turns out to be a wide-open boulevard. And by the way, it has nothing to do, believe it or not, about, you know, always wanting to be president. I had a pretty good life. I had two terms as governor. I get to be called governor for the rest of my life. That’s fabulous. (Laughter.)
And you know, we don’t have term limits in Massachusetts. My terms limit, Diane said, two terms and you better come home. And it was—you know, and get reacquainted. We have a grandson, which is—anybody here have grandchildren? You will wonder why you didn’t skip the kids and go right to the grandkids. (Laughter.) It’s just about as good as it gets. But I really do think that we need more on offer than either nostalgia—because I think the moment is different—or our vision of what’s on offer today, which is, you know, my way or no way. We need to understand—this point about false choices I think is critical.
I mean, I am a very proud Democrat, but I don’t think you have to hate Republicans to be a good Democrat. I don’t think you have to hate business to be a social justice warrior. I don’t think you have to hate police to believe black lives matter. But that’s what we get in politics today, those kinds of choices, which make it impossible to actually make change that lasts. So it’s not about a moderate agenda. I think we need an ambitious agenda. But when it comes to health care, climate change, criminal sentencing, I can go on down the—job creation, everybody has plans. I have results. And that’s the difference.
TREVELYAN: And just a follow-up to that, would you consider being a vice presidential candidate if someone asked you?
PATRICK: Don’t ask me that! Don’t ask me that! Some people, including some in this room, have told me: Stop saying out lout you don’t want to be vice president. (Whispers.) I don’t want to be vice president. (Laughter.) Look, I—(laughs)—but look, I want to—I want to help. And if I’m not the nominee, I’m going to work really, really hard for whomever is the nominee. But my point is—kind of goes back to what I was saying in response to Paula—changing out this president is a threshold question and a threshold requirement. But if we don’t deal with the vast majority of Americans who feel unseen and unheard, we are missing the moment. And the moment, I think, is one where we have an opportunity to reinvent America much more consistent with our—with our values and extend prosperity and justice to everyone. And we ought to be about that, in my view.
TREVELYAN: And there are many questions here. Madam, thank you.
Q: My name is Cathy Gay.
PATRICK: Hi, Cathy. I think I came in right behind you.
Q: You did. You did. I’m sorry I didn’t know who you were. (Laughter.)
PATRICK: That’s the problem. (Laughter.)
TREVELYAN: Clearly not from Massachusetts.
PATRICK: That’s great. Yeah, right. Right.
Q: But I do now.
PATRICK: Great, thank you.
Q: And I want to say, I admire you and everything you’re saying makes great sense.
PATRICK: I feel a “but” coming. (Laughter.)
Q: Actually, before I get to that, let me just say—(laughter)—let me just say, between the two of you I’ve admired that neither of you has mentioned the name of our president. And I think that’s so well done. And I’m not going to mention it myself.
TREVELYAN: Certainly not deliberate omission. Did you have a question, ma’am?
Q: My question is –
PATRICK: Think of him as Voldemort, is that what you—(laughter)—He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? That’s not—
PATRICK: That’s not the reason—
TREVELYAN: Cut to the question—
Q: My question is: You have my best wishes for your candidacy.
PATRICK: Thank you.
Q: If you don’t achieve the nomination, who among those would you like to see? (Laughter.)
PATRICK: Oh! Nice try. (Laughter.) Nice try. It’s a shame our time is up. (Laughter.) No, look, I have—there are a half-a-dozen friends who are or have been in the race. And everybody brings something. And all of us are incomplete. Every single one of us. I remember once saying to President Obama that I liked everything about campaigning except asking people for money and the bragging. And he said, get over it. (Laughter.) So in that spirit, I will say there isn’t anyone in this race who has the range of life and leadership experience I do, solving problems by building bridges in the private sector, in the public sector, here or abroad. I don’t have, you know, heads of state’s names on my speed dial. That’s not what I’m talking about. But you know, if you actually want change that lasts, in my experience you set an ambitious goal, but you allow for the possibility that others may have a different idea about how to accomplish that goal. And it becomes a shared success. and so I understand that, from having achieved.
You know, we are—we are number-one in America in Massachusetts in health care coverage. Ninety-nine percent of our residents have health insurance. In student achievement—bless you—in veteran services, entrepreneurial activity, energy efficiency. We came out of recession with a twenty-five-year employment high. That wasn’t by accident, but it wasn’t by me alone. It was about building a coalition, bringing people in to help achieve the goals that we had set. Indeed, bringing people in help us understand what those goals could be, and then kicking it up a notch.
TREVELYAN: Thank you. Now, who has a question on foreign affairs, because we are at the Council on Foreign Relations.
PATRICK: You’re right.
TREVELYAN: Ma’am, you have a question on foreign affairs?
PATRICK: I know something about filibuster too. You know, I’ve been in the—
Q: Hi. Maryum Saifee, State Department Foreign Service.
Q: My question is on cyber. You talked a little bit about it with, you know, we’ve seen the Russian electoral interference, and China exporting its state surveillance to other authoritarian regimes. What would you do, especially given the fact that at State Department, you know, we dismantled the office of cybersecurity, it’s kind of buried somewhere, and then in the White House as well? So what would you do, kind of, as part of your administration’s policy on that?
PATRICK: I went to—did you say Maryum?
Q: Maryum, yeah.
PATRICK: Yeah. I went to a summer meeting two summers ago, something called the Aspen Strategy Group. Do you know them? And does everybody know what I’m talking about? Yeah, OK. And it was—and they have a couple guests at every session, and I was the guest. It was fascinating. And the guest, the speaker or presenter, in a closed session was the senior-most staff person for Senator McCain, who had just finished his last negotiation on the defense budget and was stopping in Aspen on his way to say goodbye to Senator McCain, who was at home dying. And he gave us a more specific and detailed briefing, because everyone in the room had their clearance, on what the Russians had actually done. And it was chilling.
And what struck me as I stepped back from it—and I’ll come to the cyber. I’m not avoiding your question, as I did Cathy’s. (Laughter.) But I’ll come to the cyber point in a minute. What struck me was not just how divided we were, but how easy it was. And it’s one of the reasons—see, I think it’s easy to divide us because we don’t know each other. It’s one of the reasons why we proposed in our democracy agenda universal national service. Not the Israeli model yet, because I don’t think we’re ready for mandatory. But paid military or civilian service. So you have an opportunity, we have an opportunity, for Americans to work alongside each other in service of an unmet need, and know others from other parts of the country, their perspectives, and so on. Now all we get—
TREVELYAN: How would that help with the cyber?
PATRICK: I’m coming. I’m coming to it.
PATRICK: Practically, and down to the point, I think we need to reinvest time, money, talent in our cyber resources, both defensive and offensive. And I think part of our answer to cyberattacks of this kind has to be in the cyber sphere. And maybe I’ll just—I’ll leave it at that.
TREVELYAN: All right. Good. We have time for one more question on foreign affairs, if you have it. Madam, at the back. The microphone is heading to you.
Q: Hi. I have a little bit of a cold. My name is Kamyush Coya (ph).
Given your experience in Africa, can you talk about your foreign policy—what your foreign policy with Africa would be like?
PATRICK: So, first of all, I would say that in my experience, and correct me if I’m wrong, a foreign policy for a whole diverse continent seems a little oversimplified. You know, the tech boom in eastern Africa is one set of opportunities. The natural resources in southern Africa are a different set of opportunities. Agricultural opportunities, frankly, throughout Western and sub-Saharan Africa are huge, I think. We’re talking about trade opportunities, not, you know, extractive opportunities. But in terms of value. And North Africa is its own wonder, as a region. I think we have to engage. You know, we have to get closer.
I mean, China is busy building infrastructure like nobody’s business. And you know, it’s a marvelous way to help, to make friends. Although, I will say, one account I got about the train in Kenya, in which they invested heavily, is that lots and lots of Kenyans were engaged in helping to lay the track, and none of them are permitted to drive the trains. That can’t be right. I hope it’s not true. But that can’t be right. But I think—you know, we are—China is filling a void that certainly the United States, and much of the Western world, is missing. It’s happening in Latin America as well. And we need to be there.
And it’s not about giveaway. I’m talking about partnerships. I’m talking about relationships of equal benefit and equal respect. And I don’t think that that has been consistent across the continent. So I do want to—I want to make the point that that’s how I come at it.
TREVELYAN: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you to everyone for your questions. This concludes our session. (Applause.)
PATRICK: Thank you all. Thank you all.
TREVELYAN: Thank you, Governor Patrick. And this was the Election 2020 Series. Thank you.
PATRICK: Thank you so much. Good to be with you.