The Democratic debate: foreign policy makes a comeback!

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.

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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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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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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

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

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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