The Democratic debate: finally, foreign policy!

The Democratic debate: finally, foreign policy!

Foreign policy played a bigger role in last night's Democratic presidential debate than in previous ones, in part because of events that came on the heels of President Trump's surprise, and disastrous, withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria. Some candidates used the opportunity to play up their foreign policy bona fides, but not all of their punches landed cleanly. Here are some key takeaways.


Everyone agrees Trump betrayed American allies: Predictably, most candidates hammered home that Trump's drawdown in Syria – paving the way for Turkey, Russia, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and maybe ISIS to move in – was a major betrayal of America's Kurdish allies, who bore the brunt of the fight to defeat ISIS's self-proclaimed caliphate. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said that this was a major blow to US credibility on the world stage, a sentiment echoed by senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris. Former housing secretary Julian Castro also said that the way to regain trust from allies "is to boot Donald Trump out of the Oval Office." Former Vice President Joe Biden agreed, too, saying it "was the most shameful thing any president has done in modern history in terms of foreign policy."

No one had a plan to disentangle the US from Syria: Most of the candidates think US troops shouldn't be in that country indefinitely, but no one had a clear plan of how to deal with the shambolic consequences of a withdrawal. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, well-known for her strange affinity for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, criticized the US presence in Syria, arguing that the slaughter of Kurds was a consequence of the American "regime change war." But she missed the mark. If there's one thing neither Presidents Obama or Trump had any interest in doing, it was overthrowing the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, when asked about Syria, Biden – the foreign policy heavyweight of the bunch – did what he's done on many recent debate stages – he demurred, obfuscated and bumbled: "I'd let him [Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] know he's going to pay a heavy price for what he has done. Now pay that price." How? No answer.

Did the front runner run from foreign policy? With the exception of Biden, foreign policy isn't the pack's strong suit – and it showed. Front runner Elizabeth Warren, who welcomed opportunities to speak about other signature policy proposals, such as on taxes and jobs, didn't raise her hand to weigh in during the foreign policy round, and spoke less during this discussion than any other part of the debate.

No more foreign wars: Senators Warren and Sanders, both populist Democrats, have long opposed American intervention in foreign conflicts. But while they lumped criticism on Trump for the abrupt troop pullout, they both remain closer, in fact, to Trump's stated ideas than to their centrist Democrat rivals in the view that US troops really shouldn't be fighting in far-flung conflict zones at all: "I don't think we should have troops in the Middle East," Warren said. And the Horseshoe theory comes full cir–– er, horseshoe..)

No surprises on Russia: Russia was criticized across the board for interfering in America's democracy, and that of its allies. The candidates blamed Trump for failing to hold Vladimir Putin to account.

There was one glaring omission: Despite weeks of controversy about the NBA's response to Chinese censorship, months of Hong Kong protests, and more than a year of the US-China trade spat, there wasn't one question about China, arguably the most consequential foreign policy issue of our time.

CORRECTION: We have added more detail on Julian Castro's views on foreign policy.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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