The Democratic debate: foreign policy makes a comeback!

Foreign policy was, finally, a central topic in last night's fifth Democratic presidential debate. Perhaps it was the inspiration of co-moderator Andrea Mitchell, a veteran foreign affairs correspondent for NBC. Or maybe it was the fact that the debate coincided with the impeachment inquiry, which is drawing renewed attention to the state of US alliances. Whatever the reason, we're glad it happened, and here are some key takeaways about how the Democratic field views important foreign policy issues:


The Saudis are on notice – Several candidates criticized the Saudi government over its role in last year's brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as its disastrous intervention in Yemen, which has sparked a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Former Vice President Joe Biden warned that he'd make it "very clear" that he wouldn't "sell more weapons to them." It's worth noting that it was during Biden's tenure as Vice President during the Obama administration – Biden was Barack Obama's deputy; in case you didn't know – that one of the largest US-Saudi arms deals was negotiated. Senator Cory Booker also condemned the Saudis for human rights violations in Yemen but didn't offer much by way of concrete policy proposal. "We will stop engaging in things that violate American rights," he said, vaguely, about his broader foreign policy. Bernie Sanders went a step further, arguing that the US-Saudi relationship should be downgraded, calling the kingdom a "brutal dictatorship" because of its abysmal treatment of women and disregard for "democracy." Interestingly, when Senator Amy Klobuchar was asked directly about the Saudis' bad behavior she demurred: "We need a new foreign policy in this country, and that means renewing our relationships with our allies."

The Palestinians, remember them? Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that while he is "pro-Israel," the status quo in Gaza is simply "unsustainable." Vast media attention given to Sanders' call to treat the Palestinian people with "respect and dignity" shows just how little attention this issue gets at the debates, and in Beltway foreign policy discussions more broadly.

Mending fences with allies –America's deteriorating relationships with allies was a major theme of the night. Senator Cory Booker lambasted President Trump for putting tariffs on Canada at a time when unity is needed "to show strength against China." Meanwhile, Joe Biden criticized the president for "ostraciz [ing] us from South Korea," and offered a vague proposal on fostering old alliances – a sentiment echoed by tech entrepreneur, Andrew Yang. It's worth noting that while Joe Biden, the ultimate centrist Democrat, has said he wants to restore America's pre-Trump foreign policy – "a return to normalcy" – Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, have all called for a major reevaluation of America's role as a global leader, arguing that US troops shouldn't be sent to fight in far-flung conflict zones.

What's your vision? Candidates across the stage agreed on this: Trump's foreign policy is chaotic and unreliable. Senator Amy Klobuchar criticized the president for "leaving the Kurds for slaughter," while Senator Kamala Harris said Trump's erratic approach to foreign affairs is "born out of a very fragile ego." Meanwhile, Tulsi Gabbard was as on-brand as ever, saying she'd discontinue "the Bush-Clinton-Trump foreign policy doctrine of regime change war." But in focusing largely on the president, these candidates failed to address the bigger question: Trump, for better or worse, has challenged decades of accepted wisdom on America's role in the world, rejecting the post WWII assumption that the US should be the world's policeman and financier. In that, he is reflecting the views of a generally war weary public that sees little value in being a global superpower. What would the Harris Doctrine look like? The Klobuchar Doctrine, anyone? We're still none the wiser.

This month, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington state presented new legislation that could soon become the most comprehensive privacy law in the country. The centerpiece of this legislation, the Washington Privacy Act as substituted, goes further than the landmark bill California recently enacted and builds on the law Europeans have enjoyed for the past year and a half.

As Microsoft President Brad Smith shared in his blog post about our priorities for the state of Washington's current legislative session, we believe it is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state's leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation. People will only trust technology if they know their data is private and under their control, and new laws like these will help provide that assurance.

Read more here.

Let's be clear— the Middle East peace plan that the US unveiled today is by no means fair. In fact, it is markedly more pro-Israel than any that have come before it.

But the Trump administration was never aiming for a "fair" deal. Instead, it was pursuing a deal that can feasibly be implemented. In other words, it's a deal shaped by a keen understanding of the new power balances within the region and globally.

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For months now, the US has been lobbying countries around the world to ban the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the 5G data networks that are going to power everything from your cell phone, to power grids, to self-driving cars. US security hawks say allowing a Chinese company to supply such essential infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to steal sensitive data or even sabotage networks. On the other hand, rejecting Huawei could make 5G more expensive. It also means angering the world's second-largest economy.

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The end of the interim in Bolivia? – Mere months after taking over as Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez has decided that "interim" isn't quite permanent enough, and she now wants to run for president in elections set for May 3. Áñez is an outspoken conservative who took over in October when mass protests over election fraud prompted the military to oust the long-serving left-populist Evo Morales. She says she is just trying to unify a fractious conservative ticket that can beat the candidate backed by Morales' party. (Morales himself is barred from running.) Her supporters say she has the right to run just like anyone else. But critics say that after promising that she would serve only as a caretaker president, Áñez's decision taints the legitimacy of an election meant to be a clean slate reset after the unrest last fall. We are watching closely to see if her move sparks fresh unrest in an already deeply polarized country.

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1: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges Tuesday, making him the first sitting prime minister to face trial in Israel's history. The charges came hours before Netanyahu was set to meet President Trump for the unveiling of the US' long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

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