Senator Klobuchar’s Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations
December 11, 2019
Well, thank you everyone. And it is wonderful to be here and thank you for the work you’re doing. I also note that I somehow made it here from the Judiciary hearing on the Inspector General report on the FBI. I’m here, and then can return to ask my questions, which means that that hearing is going on for a really, really long time.
But it is truly an honor to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations, which has played such a major role in the world for 98 years. You were founded in the aftermath of World War I and the Senate’s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, which was a critical moment in history when America rejected a global role and retreated into isolationism. The rest, unfortunately, is history.
Since that time, CFR has always sought to help remind us of the importance of engaging in the world and helps us think about how we can work to resolve global challenges that affect us here at home, rather than simply wishing them away.
Several years ago, David Ignatius of the Washington Post once wrote a column titled “The Internationalism of the Heartland.”
And in it he wrote about how some of the defining voices of global commitment over the past half-century have come from America’s middle – and by that he just didn’t mean people in the middle of the political spectrum, he meant people in the middle of the country. He meant people like Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee … Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas … Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana … and, yes, Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
And I actually have given speeches at home about my own state’s transition from isolationism. We actually had the congressman who said “Europe should paddle its own canoe,” if you remember that. Yes, he was from my state. And then you saw other elected officials out of Minnesota, like Senator McCarthy, who actually played a role in international trade and opening things up, as well as — of course — Senators Humphrey and Mondale.
And that change in our state coincided with more international businesses. It coincided with outreach to the world. It’s one of the reasons we have one of the highest rates of international adoptions. And it is very interesting to trace each state’s transition.
But when Ignatius interviewed me for that column, I told him that as a senator from the Midwest, that I believed we needed to “embrace” rather than “tolerate” internationalism. He summarized my comments by saying that, “after a difficult decade … the United States needs a refreshed internationalism that recognizes its stake in the world, even as it avoids costly military commitments where possible.” He called this approach “internationalism of the heartland,” and I think it is more important now more than ever.
We know that a safer world is not just about what we do here at home. It is also about what we do abroad. And even if you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, the rest of the world doesn’t let you. And if you try, you miss when international problems come banging at your door, and you do nothing about them and then they get worse, but you also, most importantly, miss opportunities when they come knocking.
So, how do we respond to the problems that we have before us, and how do we seize the opportunities that we may miss if we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world?
So on November 4, 2020, the long-term future of America’s role in the world will be determined. That is not an overstatement. Make no mistake: under Donald Trump’s presidency we are witnessing an erosion of our long-held principles, our alliances, and really, America’s moral authority.
We still hear it every day…
I am still waiting for the President to tell us how asking a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent and essentially try to fix an election, how that makes America great again.
I’d like to hear from him how leaving the Kurds — our allies, from year after year after year — how leaving them for slaughter makes America great again.
And I would like to hear about how walking out of a NATO conference just because some other leaders were making jokes about you — honestly, I’ve heard worse on the United States Senate floor, not just about the President, but about a lot of people who we may even like. I’ve heard these jokes before. But you don’t walk out just because people are making jokes about you. You don’t quit on the world. I don’t think that makes America great again.
And I would most like to hear about how coddling up to Vladimir Putin makes America great again. It doesn’t make America great again. It makes Russia great again.
Most troubling of all is the damage to our moral authority and makes it more difficult for us to attract allies, to inspire people around the world to look to our example. Our democratic allies and partners have trusted us to lead for the benefit of all and not just for ourselves.
But this Administration has fundamentally changed that perception. The President has aligned our country with the forces of corruption and authoritarianism at many junctures. And when he does that, he implicitly and sometimes explicitly blesses the conduct of those who fail to uphold our values and rejects the rule-based international order that has endured for generations.
He does it when he goes after the press and the First Amendment. That’s what dictators do.
He does it when he goes after our refugees and our immigrants and people of color. That’s what dictators do.
He embraces Kim Jong Un because, the President says, they “fell in love.” Meanwhile there have been no meaningful commitments, no timetables, and no verification when it comes to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We continue business as usual with Saudi Arabia even after its Crown Prince ordered the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and our President touts billion-dollar arms deals with those responsible for untold numbers of civilian deaths in Yemen.
We need a new commander in chief. Someone who can command with stability and strength. Someone who understands that the great challenges of our time can and should be dealt with by using our country’s advantages: the ingenuity of our talented and diverse population, the connections we have all around the world because of that population, our entrepreneurship, our big ideas, our unmatched military, and yes, that’s true, but also our diplomats and our global networks of allies and partners with shared interests and shared values.
By standing together with our allies and investing in ourselves, we can protect our interests and build a more just world.
Today I want to talk about five steps we can take to address the challenges facing our country. They are simply called the 5 Rs — as opposed to the 3 Rs of writing and reading and arithmetic — we do need those too, but I’m going to focus on these 5 Rs:
Restoring American leadership, repairing our alliances, rejoining international agreements, responding appropriately to the threats and challenges that come before us, and reasserting American values.
Restoring, repairing, rejoining, responding and reasserting.
So we’ll start with restoring American leadership.
We have to send a clear message that America is once again a global power of good.
Trust from our allies that we will stand with them is key. And trust from our adversaries that we will oppose them and defeat them.
For me, that begins with respecting our front line troops, diplomats and intelligence officers who are out there every day risking their lives for us. They deserve better than foreign policy by tweet.
The impeachment hearings have made clear the devastating effect that Donald Trump and his policies have had on our State Department and our diplomatic corps.
As Ambassador Yovanovitch, who I know personally, said in her testimony: “The State Department is being hollowed out from within…this is not a time to undercut our diplomats.”
Restoring American leadership, both at home and around the world, begins with rebuilding the State Department and expanding our budget for foreign assistance. That’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. As former Secretary Mattis once said — and I wish he was still there — “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
Whatever issue we face — whether it’s conflict in Syria or Ebola pandemics in Africa or Zika in South America — our response is more effective if we use the tools of diplomacy and work with our allies.
In my first 100 days as President, I will launch an effort to rebuild and restore our diplomatic corps. That begins with immediately depoliticizing foreign policy making and ensuring that the State Department and international agencies receive sufficient funding.
We will recruit a new generation of Foreign Service officers who will carry the mantle of American values and ideals forward.
But, we will also welcome back — this is sort of ‘Make new friends but keep the old’ — we will also welcome back and make it possible for career diplomats who were forced out of the State Department under the Trump Administration to return. And there’s some things you have to do to create those pathways to allow them to return.
Then, there’s foreign aid, which has always gone hand-in-hand with our diplomatic efforts. Fortunately, Congress has been successful in pushing back against the dramatic cuts to foreign aid proposed by the Administration — I have been part of that — and has overwhelmingly supported a strong foreign assistance budget.
Helping our friends and allies is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Foreign aid is also critical to our national security, strengthening our economy, and demonstrating America’s moral leadership.
In 2017, I joined forces in a bipartisan effort to push back against the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to foreign aid, including for security and economic development in the Horn of Africa.
I actually joined forces with a conservative Republican congressman from my own state. We went over to the Refugee Committee in Minnesota and did a joint public event. We talked about the fact that this is a security issue for America and we specifically talked about the drought in Somalia, since Minnesota has one of the largest East African populations, actually the biggest Somalian population in the United States.
By doing that together, by showing that bipartisan support, our constituents understood the catastrophic results and national security risks that can come from in that one instance that they understood well, because we have so many Somalians, inadequate responses to global disasters. That’s the kind of thing we need to do to make this a national priority.
I’ve also strongly supported the PEPFAR program, which is a great example of the positive impact we can have in the world with bipartisan cooperation.
PEPFAR, as you know, was launched under President Bush and continued under President Obama, and over the years it has saved millions of lives in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world and changed the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Restoring American leadership also means making sure we continue to be a country that thinks, that invents, that makes stuff, and exports to the world.
We know that over 95 percent of our customers are outside of our borders. That means exporting goods and have a strong manufacturing sector, but it also means trade agreements, but fair trade agreements with environmental and labor protections.
I have voted for some trade agreements. I have voted against some trade agreements. But I think you have to look at each individual trade agreement and make your own decision.
But mostly what do we need? Cohesiveness and consistency in our trade policy. It means having allies at our side so we can knock down trade barriers across the world, and seek new markets. Little bit of a sideline — not as relevant, sadly, in today’s news, but I actually lead the bill, the bipartisan bill, to lift the embargo, to open the Cuban market, something that President Obama was working hard to do, but has kind of been left aside.
But having been there now several times, I have seen what we can do with those, what, 11 million people 90 miles off our shore. And my most memorable trip, by the way, in addition to the one with President Obama, was with Secretary Kerry when he opened the Embassy.
And there were just three Senators on that trip — Senator Flake and Senator Leahy and myself. And on our plane were these three Marines. I think their names were Jim, Mike and Larry. And they were there — they were the ones that had taken our flag down when we closed the Embassy over 50 years ago to a jeering crowd. And one of them said, “We will be back.”
And over 50 years later, they were there, handing that flag to three young Marines, who hoisted it over the Embassy. That makes you think anything and everything is possible if you believe it can get done.
The next R: repairing our alliances. And this is key.
I believe that strength means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies, not cozying up to dictators.
In my first 100 days — if you wonder why I keep mentioning this — this is key to building trust not only abroad but with our country. And I have a 100 Day Plan that has over 137 things a new President can do without Congress, that are legal.
When you look at what happened — FDR had this 100 Day Plan because of the economic crisis that we were facing — we have a bit of that ahead of us if we don’t change our ways — but that was also a trust crisis. And I think to get at that you have to immediately show leadership and change, including in the international area.
So in my first 100 days, I will meet with the leaders of our neighboring countries and assure our allies across the world that we will stand with them, and I’ll renew our commitment to the UN and other international organizations such as NATO.
This is in stark contrast to President Trump, who criticizes our allies and coddles brutal adversaries.
According to a Pew survey, people in France and Germany now are more likely to trust the leaders of Russia and China than President Trump. Why? Well, here’s one good example. They listen when the President dismisses questions about ISIS fighters escaping because he says, “well they’re just going to escape to Europe.” How would you feel if you were the people in those countries?
He bashes our NATO allies and injects doubt about our willingness to fulfill our treaty commitments. For 70 years, the NATO alliance has stood as a bulwark against aggression, not just in Europe but around the world.
And it remains a vital partnership today — vital to our allies and to the security of the US. We can never forget that in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it was NATO that invoked Article 5 for the first and only time. I will reaffirm America’s commitment to the NATO alliance and end any question of America’s commitment to collective defense.
I will strengthen our relationships with Japan and South Korea, the cornerstones of our economic and security alliance in the Asia-Pacific region.
I will stand with Israel, one of our strongest and most enduring allies and a beacon of democracy in a really tough neighborhood. President Trump has tried to drive a wedge time and time again into bipartisan support for Israel. I don’t approve of many of the things that he has done, nor do I agree with what Prime Minister Netanyahu has done, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t change things and regain that bipartisan support for Israel.
I will stand up for a strong US-Israel relationship and also return us back to a peace process that combines — not separates — the political and economic tracks, has buy-in from Israelis, Palestinians, and the Arab world, and ultimately leads to direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves that can lead to a two-state solution.
The third R, the third pillar, will be rejoining and re-engaging with international agreements and institutions that serve to protect and advance US interests. US leadership in creating the global security and economic frameworks through international institutions, agreements, and norms has been one of our greatest foreign policy accomplishments.
It’s allowed for peace and prosperity at home and around the world as well as global cooperation to address challenges.
By contrast, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from international agreements has been one of America’s biggest foreign policy blunders. Whether it’s taking us out of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, the International Climate Change Agreement, or the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, President Trump has made us less safe and squandered America’s leadership abroad.
Here’s what I will do, again in the first 100 days.
On day one, I will rejoin the international climate change agreement. As you know, when he announced our withdrawal from the agreement, there were only two countries not in it, Nicaragua and Syria. They are now in the agreement, and we are the only ones who are not in the agreement. Then, of course, we have to lead by example by bringing back the Clean Power rules and the gas mileage standards and introducing sweeping legislation to tackle climate change.
I will meet our commitments to the UN and other multinational organizations. And I will also jumpstart negotiations with Russia to extend the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and restore the INF Treaty that are linchpins in this global framework. Yes, we know that Russia was cheating on the INF Treaty, but that doesn’t mean that you precipitously withdraw from that treaty.
And I will renegotiate us back into the Iran agreement.
One of the major focuses of US foreign policy for years has been reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, particularly from Iran. That is why I supported that agreement, even though it wasn’t perfect, and why I believe we should renegotiate ourselves back into it. Not only does Iran remain a destabling force, as we know, it is also responsible for supporting terrorism, for directly aiding Assad’s brutal war against his own people in Syria, and for threatening the security of Israel and the entire region, but allowing them to again move toward a nuclear weapon by giving leverage to China and Russia by leaving our allies in Europe holding the bag, that is wrong, and that is against our own interests and the interests of the world.
Because of Donald Trump’s feckless decision to pull us out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, Iran is resuming its enrichment activities, including at the underground site and increasing its uranium stockpiles. We need a realistic long term strategy for Iran that will contain its aggressive actions and prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons, not just tough talk — or tweets. That means renegotiating back into the nuclear agreement, but also rebuilding consensus with our allies and our partners.
The fourth R: responding to threats and challenges we face — I’’ve already mentioned some of them. This means we must remain vigilant against terrorism. Since 9/11, we have made significant improvements to our counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities but the threat remains. Our military forces and intelligence agencies must continue to go after terrorists wherever they pose a threat to the US or our allies.
We must also push back against Russia and China, two of the most significant beneficiaries of the disruption of our global system. They have seized the opportunity to strengthen their dictatorial regimes and challenge global peace and stability. They share an aversion toward democracy and a desire to reshape the international system in their own image. They use political, economic and military coercion to exert control over their neighbors, while also exploiting cyberspace to threaten our critical infrastructure.
Putin’s regime presents a serious threat to our allies and our security. We know what they did in Ukraine. I went there twice, once with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. Seizing Crimea, poisoning political opponents, arming militants in eastern Ukraine who shot down an airliner, and propping up Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria.
Ukraine itself was targeted by Russian hackers, I like to remind ourselves as this current debate — it’s not really a debate — as falsehoods are being put out there. I love Fiona Hill’s words, by the way, when she said they are literally peddling in Russian propaganda, anyone that blames Ukraine for the interference in our own election. But they themselves were targeted by Russia.
On my trip with Senator McCain to the Baltics, I also learned of a whole number of other incidents like this, including in Estonia, when they moved a statue of a Russian fighter away from a public square into a cemetery. They then had their internet shut down, and they had to go and try to communicate with people from a hillside. It’s a small country, but still. These were things that had been going on for years.
And when we were there, I really didn’t fully understand that this had happened in such a big way in our own country. But now we know, in the words of Robert Mueller, that it happened in a “sweeping and systemic fashion.” We should continue, of course, to cooperate with Russia in areas where we have common interest, but also must be clear-eyed about the limits of productive engagement, as long as Vladimir Putin is in power. Effectively standing up to his aggression means reasserting our commitment to NATO. It means strengthening sanctions against his regime and its enablers, and it means protecting our elections.
It means major investment in cybersecurity. I was just talking to Senator Lankford on the Senate floor before I came over here. He and I lead the bill for backup paper ballots. We were gut-punched by the White House and, actually, by Senator McConnell in stopping that bill, which would have passed about a year ago. It was in a markup in committee, and calls were made to Republican senators to stop that bill. There is no excuse for that. This is not a partisan issue. It is about protecting our elections by having good equipment, by having audits, and by having backup paper ballots.
Then there is China. We only have to look at China’s detention of over one million Uyghurs in internment camps or its attempts to crack down on democratic protesters in Hong Kong to see how far the country will go. And it has been playing by its own trade rules for years, stealing our cutting edge technologies and intellectual property and dumping steel. It weaponizes its economy against its neighbors by withholding key exports to try to extract political concessions. And it is pouring money into a military modernization program specifically designed to keep America at a distance and intimidate its neighbors.
It’s trying to embed itself in our most sensitive infrastructure through internet firms, which we know have strong ties to the Chinese government, and by acquiring American startups and other companies to gain access to technologies.
Despite some very tough rhetoric, the Trump administration’s attempt to rebalance our relationship with China is focused on the wrong things. His trade war has already cost our country 300,000 jobs, but it has done nothing to forestall the long term competition we face.
There is an Ojibwe saying that — we have a lot of tribes in my state — that great leaders make decisions not just for this generation, but for seven generations from now. If you’re China and looking at us right now, you see a president that doesn’t keep his decision seven minutes from now.
He has used a meat cleaver, or should I say a tweet cleaver, and is creating chaos with his erratic approach.
On August 1, he claimed he was going to put tariffs on $300 billion worth of new goods. Then, on August 13, they dialed it back. And on August 20, he says he’s going to lower taxes, because he’s concerned about what’s happening, which he said then will add more to the debt. And the next day he dials that back.
As they say in trade negotiations: Keep your promises and keep your threats. He has done neither.
We must go back to the negotiating table. You know that. But the point here is to focus our efforts on results and focus on trade enforcement efforts that actually help America. The stakes of this competition are high. And it’s not about some far off balance of power in Asia. We don’t want to prevent China from succeeding, but we do want to prevent it from doing so at the expense of others, including Americans.
Our China policy needs to leverage our full range of economic, diplomatic and security strength. This includes investments here at home, in education and research to increase America’s competitiveness in the global economy and ensure a level playing field. It means repairing our diplomatic and security alliances, which China can never match, and it means standing up for US values on human rights and democratic freedoms.
We don’t seek conflict with China or Russia. But we are also not going to allow them to break up the international system that has enabled peace, stability, and prosperity. We also must continue to ensure that our military remains second to none. I’m committed to maintaining our military’s superiority over any adversary that would challenge us. We will ensure that our troops are the best trained and best equipped in the world.
We also should not be trapped by the false logic that higher defense spending automatically leads to a better military or a safer nation. Virtually every analysis of the Pentagon’s budget has found duplicative and unnecessary programs. So, we may need to make it clear that we will take a much clearer look at how money is being spent. And I will immediately focus on making sure we are making the right investments. One of those investments, as I alluded to before, is clearly cybersecurity.
This is not just about attacks on our elections. It’s electric grids, it’s our businesses, and it’s the new reality that we know we are facing. Congress has already provided the Pentagon with special authority to recruit civilians to cybersecurity experts.
As President, I’ll direct the Department of Defense to immediately provide adequate staffing and cybersecurity programs. We should vastly expand cybersecurity service programs that recruit top technology experts from the private sector, because a modern national security strategy means prioritizing cybersecurity.
Another foreign policy challenge we have is Afghanistan. We know we are now deploying soldiers who literally weren’t even born when this conflict began.
But the way we do that is by being very clear in our purpose and working with our allies to make sure that any negotiated settlement doesn’t go backwards on our democracy gains.
It is not by haphazardly inviting the Taliban to Camp David or surprising people both in the Ghani administration and the Taliban with tweets that we are renegotiating again. What we must do is make clear and be very consistent in these negotiations and work to end this conflict.
I have committed to bringing our troops home by the end of my first four years.
Reasserting American values is the fifth R and that means having our values at the heart of our foreign policy.
This includes standing up for freedom, democracy and human rights around the world, and it starts right at home. We have to stop the fear-mongering and stop the hate.
We may come from different places, we may pray in different ways, we may look different, we may love different, but we all live in a country of shared dreams.
I remember at the height of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the last campaign, I heard the story of a Somali family in Minnesota that had gone out to dinner. Their parents had been in our state through 9/11, and they had not experienced any discrimination. But at this moment they went out to dinner in a suburban restaurant, and a guy walks by and he says, “You four go home, you go home to where you came from.” And the little girl looks up at her mom and she says, “Mom, I don’t want to go home to eat. You said we could eat dinner out tonight.”
And you think of that word, that innocent child. She didn’t even know what he was talking about. Because she only knew one home. That was my state. That was our country.
So as we think of reasserting our values at home and abroad, we have to remember that what we say at home matters to the rest of the world. It is very hard to be the beacon of democracy and talk about the Uighurs or talk about what’s happening to the Kurds if in fact, we are not taking care of our own house.
I come from a family of immigrants. My mom’s family came from Switzerland and ran a cheese shop for a while — kind of cliché.
My relatives on my dad’s side of the family came from Slovenia, and worked in the mines in northern Minnesota.
My grandpa had to quit school at age 15 to help support his family of nine because his parents were sick. He became a Teamster, and then spent the rest of his life working underground in those mines.
He wanted to be in the Navy. And I often think when he went down in that cage with his lunch bucket that my grandma would pack for him, how much he thought of that life at sea, but instead he went 1500 feet underground every single day to take care of his brothers and sisters.
His youngest sister had to go to an orphanage when his parents died, and he promised he’d get her and he borrowed a car when she was, I think, 10 years old, and he went back and got her out of that orphanage.
That was his sacrifice. Every day he would go to work in his hard hat and pull on his boots and get the job done. That’s what we have to do now. Because we believe in our country, a country where the granddaughter of that iron ore miner and a daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman, and the first woman elected to the US Senate from the state of Minnesota can run for President of the United States.
That is because — why did my great grandparents come here on my dad’s side and my grandparents come here on my mom’s side? Because they were looking for a better life. They saw our country as a beacon of democracy.
We must believe that America can continue to be that beacon. The damage President Trump has done to our standing in the world is serious, and it will last long beyond his presidency.
But I don’t believe it is irreparable, or I wouldn’t be running for this job.
It will take time and hard work. But I believe we can rise to the challenge and restore the promise of America’s unique role in the world.
Four more years of Donald Trump would permanently weaken our country. And that’s why we cannot afford to lose this election. The world is watching us closely. Allies and adversaries alike are wondering, has America definitively turned away from its commitment to values that truly make us great, and enabled us to build a global network of alliances unmatched in history? Or is the current administration an aberration, a hiccup on the path to greater prosperity and a secure future?
I know where I stand, and I hope you will join me.