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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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