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.
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 abysmal human rights record must feature prominently in our policy toward the country. We can’t ignore China’s mass detention of more than a million Uighur Muslims in “reeducation camps” in the Xinjiang region, or its widespread abuse of surveillance for political and religious repression. We can’t ignore Beijing’s failure to respect the rights and autonomy of Hong Kong’s people and the Hong Kong government’s excessive use of force against peaceful protestors. President Trump has consistently turned a blind eye to these abuses in hopes of earning a ‘win’ in his trade war, all to no avail.
Under my administration, we will cooperate with China on global issues like climate change, but we won’t allow human rights abuses to go unchecked. The United States must reclaim our own moral authority and work with like-minded nations to stand up forcefully for human rights in China and around the world.
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?
Yes. President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from an agreement that was verifiably preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – against the warnings of our closest allies, and without any plan for what comes next – was beyond reckless. Since then, we’ve seen nothing but escalations from both sides. Either the Trump Administration is angling for another disastrous war in the Middle East, or it has spent two years saber-rattling with no endgame.
Based on where things stand now, I would plan to rejoin the JCPOA so long as Iran also returned to verifiable compliance. At the same time, I would seek negotiations with Iran to extend and supplement some of the nuclear deal’s existing provisions, and work with our partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including with regard to its ballistic missile program.
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?
Let me start by saying this: I guarantee you I won’t be exchanging love letters with Kim Jong-un. President Trump has handed Kim one PR victory after the next, all without securing any real concessions, so the next president will have serious work to do.
Ultimately, we can’t accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. But it’s clear that simply demanding complete denuclearization is a recipe for failure; we must work closely with our allies to contain and reverse the short-term threats posed by Pyongyang as we work toward that long-term goal.
In any negotiations with North Korea, we must proceed with great skepticism given our past experiences. I would consider targeted sanctions relief to improve the lives of the North Korean people if the regime were to take serious, verifiable steps to roll back its nuclear program. And that relief would have to be immediately reversible were they to renege on their commitments.
4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?
In both Ukraine and Georgia, Russia has used military force to seize territory and undermine democratically elected governments. Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea is a severe violation of the international norms that have guided the world since World War II – as are Russia’s support for combat operations in eastern Ukraine and its cyber-attacks. Thousands of people have died because of Russia’s aggression, including 298 civilians killed when a Russian missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
As president, I would continue to support Ukraine and ensure the U.S. is unequivocal in affirming Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I would also prioritize working with the government of Ukraine to build out its military, strengthen its civil society, and combat corruption, while working closely with our European partners on a diplomatic solution. And unlike the current occupant of the White House, I will consistently stand up to Putin in defense of democratic values, human rights, and the international rule of law.
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?
As I have said many times, this war in Afghanistan must come to an end. I was honored to visit with our brave troops and national security professionals there last year, and I’ll do everything in my power to achieve a political solution – if one hasn’t been reached already – that allows us to bring them home responsibly in my first term.
Nobody can predict what President Trump will do between now and 2021, so as soon as I take office, I will bring together our military leaders, national security advisers, and top diplomats to coordinate and implement that withdrawal plan. I fully recognize the importance of diplomacy and development to success in Afghanistan, and I want to ensure that the country is on a path to stability, that we protect the gains that have been made for Afghan women and others, and that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.
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?
First of all, we need to end U.S. support for the catastrophic Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has driven the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. I voted to do just that earlier this year. I also voted to block the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that only help continue this atrocity. Unfortunately, President Trump vetoed both of those measures. He has stood in lockstep with Riyadh, even turning a blind eye to the heinous assassination of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The United States and Saudi Arabia still have mutual areas of interest, such as counterterrorism, where the Saudis have been strong partners. And we should continue to coordinate on that front. But we need to fundamentally reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, using our leverage to stand up for American values and interests.
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?
Israel is a critical ally and friend and its security is a top priority. I absolutely support a two-state solution because it is the best way to ensure the existence of a Jewish, democratic, and secure Israel. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity, just as Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people.
While all Americans have an interest in a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the fact remains that peace can only be achieved if the parties themselves come to an agreement. The U.S. can – and should – serve as a constructive partner in the process. Unfortunately, while, in the past, the U.S. has been viewed as an honest broker with a strong desire for peace in the region, Trump’s actions have inflamed tensions in the region, diminished U.S. credibility and influence, and undermined the prospects for peace. As President, I would start by reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity, while simultaneously working to rebuild the broken relationship between the United States and the Palestinians. Among all of our international partners, the U.S. is uniquely positioned to facilitate negotiations toward peace, but for that to have any chance of success, we have to start by re-engaging in honest, respectful dialog with both sides.
8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?
Make no mistake – Nicolás Maduro is a repressive and corrupt dictator who is responsible for an unfathomable humanitarian crisis. The Venezuelan people deserve the support and solidarity of the United States. We should start by immediately extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans who’ve fled Maduro’s brutality, which President Trump has refused to do.
We should also provide additional aid to international humanitarian organizations to be disbursed to Venezuelan residents and refugees. And we should continue to support multilateral diplomatic efforts toward a peaceful transition to legitimate new elections, which must be the ultimate goal.
Finally, we should take U.S. military intervention off the table. National Security Adviser John Bolton would have us believe that the choice in Venezuela is between indifference and invasion. That is a false choice, and I reject it.
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 African continent is dynamic, diverse, and full of potential, with the youngest, fastest growing population in the world. There are so many important interests at stake in Africa, from bolstering global security to fostering shared prosperity. The United States must engage now and build strong diplomatic and economic partnerships with these nations or illiberal countries like China and Russia will fill the gaps.
Unfortunately, President Trump is damaging U.S. relationships and opportunities in this important region. His description of African nations as “sh*thole countries” was not only deeply offensive; it was flat-out wrong. He has undermined U.S. diplomacy and undercut work to strengthen security, prevent pandemics, support democratic institutions, and increase U.S. investment.
As president, I will focus on advancing relationships in Africa that President Trump has let languish – and I will do so in a way that is consistent with American values. We need to stand up for democracy, human rights, and economic freedom and development. I will reinvigorate American diplomacy throughout the continent, support economic growth, and deepen security engagements with African partners.
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?
As I’ve long said, I will oppose any trade deal that doesn't look out for the best interests of American workers and raise environmental standards, and unfortunately the TPP didn’t pass either test. I also raised concerns at the time about the lack of transparency in the process.
In my administration, labor and civil society groups will always have a seat at the table to ensure that trade agreements do achieve these important objectives. And I think that’s exactly what we need – pro-labor, pro-environment trade deals – because it’s clear Donald Trump’s protectionist approach has been a disaster. His trade war is crushing American farmers, killing American jobs, and punishing American consumers. I would work with our allies in Europe and Asia to confront China on its troubling trade practices, not perpetuate Trump’s failing tariff war that is being paid for by hard-working Americans.
11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?
First, I would rejoin the Paris Agreement, so that the world understands America is serious about meeting the most complex, far-reaching challenge of our time – climate change. If we’re going to be successful, then countries, states, and cities need to transition away from the dirtiest sources of fuel on the planet. Governments around the world should be bringing dangerous coal-fired power plants offline, not bringing new plants online, and underscoring that necessity should be front and center in every one of our bilateral relationships. In addition to applying diplomatic pressure, the U.S. can better assist partners around the world in making the necessary energy transition by providing technical guidance, policy support, and access to capital.
We should also play a leadership role in compelling international institutions to use their leverage to end subsidies for dirty fuel. And we should invest heavily in clean energy R&D and advanced energy storage and bringing the transformative technologies that have already been developed right here in the U.S. to scale around the world.
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 U.S. foreign policy accomplishment has been the post-war community of international institutions, laws, and democratic nations we helped to build. For generations, presidents from both parties established a network of stalwart partners. These countries have contributed to our prosperity and worked with us in war and peace to deal with some of the toughest international crises and to confront a number of generational challenges.
Our biggest mistake has been to jeopardize all that progress and accomplishment by engaging in failed wars that have cost lives, destabilized the regions in which they have been fought, and undermined our leadership in the international community. To make matters worse, the current president seems intent on inflicting further damage to U.S. credibility by disregarding diplomacy, withdrawing from international agreements and institutions, shunning our allies, siding with dictatorships over democracies, and elevating sheer incompetence in his decision-making processes.