Candidate Catchup: Foreign Policy Approaches of Presidential Hopefuls

By Lucie Abele PO ’22

As of December 2019, foreign policy was among the political issues that matter most to voters. In the face global issues such as the trade war with China and rising tensions with Iran, candidates’ foreign policies are extremely relevant. The foreign policies of each of six potential presidential candidates, selected from the frontrunners of the Republican and Democratic parties, are discussed. For the Republican party, President Donald Trump is considered the only major candidate as his current approval ratings from Republican voters are eighty-nine percent. For the Democratic party, the race is much closer, and the policies of the five candidates who polled the highest as of January 2020 (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar) are presented.


Trump instituted many of his individual perspectives on foreign policy and trade agreements throughout his first term, withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement in July 2017, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, and the U.N. Human Rights Council in July 2018. Additionally, Trump has entered a trade war with China, an action that “increases uncertainty and threatens the global trade system” according to critics. Further actions from his first term that Trump highlights include his pledge to tighten laws on immigration. While he did not build the wall that he proclaimed he would, he did institute a travel ban for many predominantly Muslim countries. With a second term in office, it is possible that Trump will continue to make immigration more difficult, especially for people looking to emigrate from Middle Eastern or Latin American countries. Finally, Trump began to remove troops from the Middle East, pulling U.S. forces from Syria in October of 2019; however, additional troops were recently reinstated in other regions of the Middle East due to rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran following a U.S. airstrike directed by Trump that killed Iranian military general Qasem Soleimani.


Biden carries significant foreign policy experience during his time as Vice President of the Obama administration, and thus confidently delivers a foreign policy plan for if he is elected to office. Biden plans to work toward increased arms control by reentering the Iran Nuclear Deal, and by collaborating with allies and other world powers to denuclearize North Korea, as well as creating a new S.T.A.R.T. treaty for strategic stability between the U.S. and Russia. Biden will also rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and convene a world climate summit to bring climate back to a global stage.


Warren’s foreign policy plan promises to cut the defense budget, which she calls “unsustainable.” Aiming for the success of diplomacy over military might, Warren hopes to bring home American troops, as does each of the Democratic candidates. Warren additionally aims for a multilateral approach to foreign policy and plans to work more extensively with partners and allies in terms of foreign relations and trade.[9] However, Warren opposes Trump’s N.A.F.T.A. 2.0 because she contends that the plan does not support working families. Championing a foreign policy that “works for all,” Warren’s approach is in contrast with Trump’s, which academics criticize to “express the opinions . . .  of the elites.”


Sanders, like the other Democratic candidates, intends to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, and to work with pro-democracy forces on a global stage. Additionally, Sanders wants to end support for the invasion of Yemen by the Saudis in order to end the human rights abuses that are taking place. The justness of the Saudi intervention in the Yemeni civil war is debated, but Sanders calls for the end of U.S. support as the human rights abuses have not been improved.


Buttigieg advocates a similar multilateral approach as the other Democratic candidates of working with international institutions and ending the seemingly endless wars abroad. Recognizing the rise of authoritarianism abroad, Buttigieg hopes to advance democratic principles by working with foreign allies and partners. A military veteran, Buttigieg notes that military intervention should be used as a last step in international crises. Finally, Buttigieg aims to use climate security as a key basis for diplomacy, recognizing climate a global issue that requires international cooperation.


Klobuchar’s foreign policy approach advocates better diplomacy and partnership with allies as opposed to the use of military might to accomplish foreign relation goals. She intends to do this by rebuilding the State Department, which has seen a decline in power in past years. Additionally, Klobuchar wants to modernize the American military through various methods, including investments in cybersecurity, in order for the U.S. to remain competitive with other powerful nations such as Russia and China.

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