Where The 2020 Democrats Stand On Foreign Policy

Oct 19, 2019
Originally published on October 19, 2019 10:08 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump's quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria may push foreign policy into the presidential campaign spotlight. So what foreign policy proposals do some of the Democrats running for president have? During Wednesday's debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren said...

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ELIZABETH WARREN: I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don't think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way.

SIMON: We're going to take a closer look at the Democrats' foreign policy positions with Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, frequent commentator on foreign affairs. Susan, thanks for being with us.

SUSAN GLASSER: Oh, it's great to be with you.

SIMON: And how do you read Senator Warren's comments? She criticizes President Trump, but does her approach to foreign policy share some of the same goals?

GLASSER: Well, absolutely. In fact, her campaign considered that enough of a gaffe they actually tried to correct it in the middle of the debate itself by clarifying that she did not mean that she wanted to withdraw all U.S. troops from the Middle East, where we, of course, have an extensive network of bases, but simply meant she wanted to end combat missions and combat troops in the Middle East, which is also kind of a questionable strategy in the sense that what are the troops going to be at the bases for if not to fly, for example, counterterror missions and the like?

SIMON: Bernie Sanders, another frontrunner, has called for - called to bring the forever war to an end. How are his views different?

GLASSER: Well, you know, it's interesting. Both Sanders and Warren and a number of the Democrats essentially are adopting some of the language that President Trump is using now. He's ending the endless wars. He's ending the forever wars. And I think, you know, it's not entirely clear what kind of American leadership in the world they want to substitute for that. It's also not entirely clear, by the way, that the American presence in Syria that President Trump has now upended would actually qualify as one of those forever wars.

SIMON: Which candidates on the debate stage in Ohio that you heard seemed to present - I'll phrase it as the most developed views on foreign policy?

GLASSER: Well, you know, it's really an interesting thing because on some measures, Elizabeth Warren is not a novice on foreign policy. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And yet, you know, to me at least, she seemed not really very fluent in the subject and quite uncomfortable, a stark contrast to her very strong views and very clearly articulated plans for everything. She didn't really seem to have a plan that was well thought through on the foreign policy side.

Ironically, you know, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of a small Midwestern city, seemed to be the most competent. And he took her on in that portion of the debate. And remember; he did serve in the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and he seemed quite confident in saying that it's a false choice between endless wars, fighting forever, or complete isolationism. And he said that was basically going to be the death of American leadership.

SIMON: Former Vice President Biden, of course, has a lot of experience in foreign affairs. How important is foreign policy experience or expertise in the Democratic primary for 2020?

GLASSER: It's a good question. I think it goes to the overall package that Joe Biden is selling - right? - you know, which is to say that he's experienced contrasting himself in everything he does in his campaign with Donald Trump as the person not only who he says can beat Trump the most but would sort of steady the ship at a time when this week certainly has underscored the volatility of American leadership. Vice President Biden, that was the answer he gave, in fact, in the debate. He basically said, we should trust me on foreign policy because I know everybody, and I've dealt with Putin personally, and I've dealt with Erdogan.

The next day in Iowa, he gave a speech that I thought was stronger than his debate answer, in which he critiqued President Trump's recent moves in Syria.

SIMON: And quickly, Tulsi Gabbard says that Hillary Clinton should get back in the race. The two of them have been lobbying accusations. Is this going to improve her hand in the Democratic primary?

GLASSER: Look; she's a distraction. She doesn't have any real support in the Democratic primary field. You know, but she represents - on foreign policy in particular - just a complete outlier perspective on the debate stage. She was essentially agreeing not only with Donald Trump but with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

SIMON: Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, thanks so much.

GLASSER: Oh, I'm happy to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.