Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat widely considered a top presidential contender for 2020, outlined a foreign policy vision Thursday that echoed her progressive economic views, telling a Washington audience that US foreign policy should “benefit all Americans, not just wealthy elites.”
Warren laid out a series of liberal positions on free trade agreements and efforts to protect workers forced out of their jobs by those agreements. But she also described a vision in tune with past Democratic heavyweights, putting her firmly in line on some issues with long-held Democratic views on foreign policy and the country’s role in the world.
The senator from Massachusetts used the phrase “wealthy elites” repeatedly in her speech at American University and aligned her foreign policy agenda with how the Democratic Party should connect with voters: by emphasizing the need for that policy to work for all Americans.
“We need to end the fiction that our domestic and foreign policies are somehow separate and recognize that policies that undermine working families in this country also erode America’s strength in the world,” Warren said. “In other words, it’s time to create a foreign policy that works for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful.”
That notion was a callback to an anti-corruption speech Warren delivered in August, in which she introduced a plan to stem corporate influence on government and root out corruption in Washington in an effort to ensure the government works better for more Americans.
Eyeing 2020 and Trump
Thursday’s remarks will do little to quell open speculation among Democrats that Warren plans to run for president, as most presidential contenders deliver sweeping remarks on top policy areas before they announce.
The senator, widely considered a top contender for the Democratic nomination in two years, has already begun to chart her path toward a showdown with President Donald Trump. Trump, in response, has turned his focus to Warren, slamming her claim of Native American heritage, a charge the senator looked to rebut last month when she released a DNA analysis showing she has distant Native American ancestry.
Michael Ahrens, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, jumped on the attack in response to Warren’s speech.
“It’s ironic that Elizabeth Warren has chosen to launch her 2020 campaign with the two topics she knows the least about: her heritage and foreign policy,” he said in an emailed statement.
Warren mentioned Trump throughout Thursday’s speech, but her remarks clearly attempted to look past him, blaming the issues with American foreign policy on decisions that began in the 1980s.
“While it is easy to blame President Trump for our problems, the truth is that our challenges began long before him,” she said.
The senator did, however, pledge to vote against Trump’s plan to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, calling it a bad deal for “America’s working families.” She labeled the President’s plan to modernize the US nuclear arsenal “wrong,” and called for all American troops to leave Afghanistan.
“We’ve ‘turned the corner’ in Afghanistan so many times that we’re now going in circles,” Warren said. “Let’s make sure that the three brave Americans killed in Afghanistan this week are the last Americans to lose their lives in this war. It’s time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan – starting now.”
She also took a handful of shots at Trump, arguing that he is being played and bullied by authoritarian leaders on the world stage like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We must face reality head on,” Warren said. “President Trump’s actions and instincts align with those of authoritarian regimes around the globe.”
Trade and defense spending
The bulk of her speech focused on trade, an issue that Trump has made a focal point of his domestic and foreign policy. Warren blasted free trade agreements, arguing that “policymakers were willing to sacrifice American jobs … in return for boosting sales at Walmart and gaining access to consumer markets around the world.”
“For decades, the leaders of both parties preached the gospel that free trade was a rising tide that would lift all boats,” Warren said. “Great rhetoric – except that the trade deals they negotiated mainly lifted the yachts – and threw millions of working Americans overboard to drown.”
The senator, in contrast with some Democrats’ suggestions in response to trade deals, told the audience of students that “job training and transition assistance have proven powerless against the onslaught of offshoring.”
She also struck a hardline position on America’s prolonged conflicts in the Middle East, defining them as failures that have cost thousands of deaths and billions of dollars and have sapped American power.
“Despite America’s huge investment, these wars have not succeeded even on their own terms. Seventeen years later, the Middle East remains in shambles,” she said. “Neither military nor civilian policymakers seem capable of defining success – but surely this is not it.”
Warren said it was time for defense budgets to be cut, arguing that spending hundreds of billions every year was “unsustainable.”
“If more money for the Pentagon could solve our security challenges,” the senator said to applause, “we would have solved them by now.”
Like most Democratic politicians who speak at the Washington university, Warren referenced President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in which he outlined his views on nuclear proliferation and views of the Soviet Union.
Quoting Kennedy, Warren said, “Our problems are man-made. Therefore, they can be solved by man.”
“The same is true today,” Warren said. But seemingly in a nod to her future in the party, the senator paused and added to raucous applause, “I’d add that they can also be solved by women, as well.”
Later, in a question and answer session to close the event, Warren leaned in even more.
“The world changed in 2016. It changed again in 2018,” she said. “I believe it is going to change again in 2020.”