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.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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