The United States must reclaim our global leadership role as a democratic republic that offers both an example and influence. Michael believes any president must be able to stand up to authoritarian leaders and must take steps to strengthen our partnerships and alliances that are based on democratic values.
The increasing boldness of authoritarian regimes towards their opponents is among the most significant challenges for U.S. foreign policy. Through my work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have fought to reverse political repression by supporting greater funding for democracy assistance and publicly criticizing governments that engage in such malign behavior. We must support human rights defenders and organizations operating in authoritarian countries through tools like the expansion of the Human Rights and Democracy Fund, as well as the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance to civil society organizations under threat or attack. More broadly, we must work bilaterally and multilaterally with other democracies to fight authoritarian repression.
There is no one-size fits all model for countering the global rise of political repression, but we’ve seen this before and have the tools to confront authoritarians of just about every stripe. While we need to be humble enough to understand that real change must come from within, the U.S. should stand against tyranny and oppression, and support those working to open closed societies.
America has often supported independent media, civil society groups, and individual human rights defenders. That’s something I want to increase, particularly where freedoms are shrinking, whether through financial support, the training of community leaders, diplomatic exchanges, regular embassy meetings, open-ended visas to the US, or simply moral support. The current Administration has gone in the opposite direction – friending tyrants and publicly supporting oppressive actions. We need to get back to who we are, which is a country that exemplifies freedom and gives hope to others.
We can also more responsible in our weapons sales and military alliances so we’re not supporting repression. Before offering to train and equip any government, we need a full review of their human rights record and should restrict our cooperation if a partner didn’t uphold the highest standards of human rights. Likewise, we can work to restrict the new technologies regimes are using to repress freedoms including with expanded US export controls.
Finally – and I realize this would seem obvious until recent days – I would not invite authoritarian leaders to the White House and would minimize one-on-one engagement.
The U.S. should respond to the increasing use of political repression by authoritarian regimes by issuing timely and strong rebukes, with tangible actions such as sanctions. When authoritarian regimes violently repress political dissonance, and we should lead the international community in demanding accountability and use our leadership in magnifying the voice of those repressed.
President Trump’s foreign policy has abandoned America’s moral leadership. We must reclaim these values and re-engage with our allies, so that together we can impress upon authoritarian regimes the cost of their actions against their own people. Two examples of my work on these issues are China and Venezuela. With respect to Venezuela, I have supported efforts to bring about new elections that would represent the will of the Venezuelan people. I believe the broad international agreement in support of new elections, and the humanitarian outpouring designed to support the Venezuelan people are the way to fight repression. In China I have been alarmed by the surveillance and detention of the Chinese Uighur and other Muslim communities. In response, I have called for the Trump administration to control the export of cutting edge American technologies that the Chinese authorities are or can use for the abuse of their people’s rights. And I have called on Saudi Arabia to set free women’s rights activists and have opposed continuing military support to the Saudi regime over the murder of Jamal Kashoggi, a prominent journalist critic, as well as the tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen.
One of the most outrageous aspects of the Trump Administration has been President Trump’s willingness to ignore political repression by foreign governments, if they praise him or offer him inducements. His contempt for political dissent and willingness to side with autocrats – from Brazil to Russia to Hungary to Turkey to the Middle East and elsewhere – strengthens the world’s worst human rights actors and undermines America’s values at home and ability to lead abroad. And the Trump Administration’s recent attempts to intimidate and threaten activists who would protest pipelines with criminal penalties shows that he’s all too willing to import these tactics to America.
As president, I will ensure that the world knows once again that the United States sides with internationally-recognized human rights and freedoms. I will restore America’s support for civic dialogue and independent media in countries where the Trump Administration has abandoned it, such as Hungary. I will make strong protections for human rights, labor, and environment as essential part of America’s trade relationships, including by implementing the Core Labor Standards of the International Labour Organization, strongly enforcing labor standards with stiff penalties, and empowering non-governmental organizations. My administration will also actively participate in international efforts to hold accountable governments that mistreat indigenous peoples and forest dwellers. And my Global Climate Mobilization plan calls for strongly enforcing the Global Magnitsky Act, as well as Presidential Proclamation 7750, to impose consequences on government officials and government-aligned actors who target dissidents in their countries and around the world.
Over the years, we have seen that the struggle for democracy is bound up with the struggle against authorianism, kleptocracy, and corruption. That is true here in the United States as well as abroad.
Bernie has long fought for the protection of human rights and the right of people to mobilize.
When he is in the White House, rather than openly supporting the overthrow of a foreign government, the United States will:
A strong foreign policy will require leadership — both domestically and abroad — to protect and promote American interests across the world. Authoritarian regimes and political repression must be addressed when they pose threats to American interests. In my administration, I will commit to global leadership on this issue by working with our partners and others who share our values in a multilateral manner. I will look at this issue from all levels, firmly embrace democratic values, and systematically push back against authoritarian competitors. We need to reinvigorate the State Department and respect the skill and expertise of our career diplomats and intelligence community to retain capacity for appropriate responses.
The United States should never cozy up to dictators. In his relationships with regimes like those in Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, President Trump betrays our democratic and humanitarian values and diminishes our standing in the world.
We must put liberal democratic values at the center of our engagement with the world. I intend to take the oath and catch a plane, going on a global affirmation tour to re-assure our allies that we still stand with them against authoritarianism. We should work with those allies to create and use a playbook for pushing back on authoritarian encroachment and abuses. We should work as a team on diplomatic efforts to isolate authoritarian regimes, with military force used only as a last resort to address extreme security risks. We should speak loudly and forcefully, from the diplomatic bargaining tables, from the Rose Garden, from the rooftops, in support of nonviolent mobilization for civil and political freedom around the world.
After years as the world’s lone superpower, the United States is entering a new period of competition. Democracy is running headlong into nationalism, authoritarianism, and corruption.
But the thing about authoritarian governments – they are rotten from the inside out. Authoritarian leaders talk a big game – about nationalism, and patriotism, and how they alone can save the state and the people. But it is rotten by its very design because it stacks the deck for the wealthy and depends on corruption to survive.
From Hungary to Turkey to the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wealthy elites work together to grow the state’s power while the state works to enrich those who remain loyal to the leader. That’s corruption, pure and simple. This combination of authoritarianism and corrupt capitalism is a fundamental threat to democracy, both here and abroad. We need to be honest about the hard work that is needed to restore our democracy and to align our foreign policy abroad to regain the trust of the American people.
We must also reprioritize diplomacy and reinvest in the State Department and the development agencies. Alliances are about shared principles, like our shared commitment to human rights, but they are also about safety in numbers. Not even the strongest country should have to solve everything on its own.
As with all areas where we want to influence foreign actors, sanctions and targeted asset seizure can be used in these cases.
But we must also tell US companies that if they provide tools to these repressive regimes, they will face both civil and criminal consequences at home. With the interconnected nature of the world and the ease of obtaining information on events around the world, it can no longer be an excuse that a company is just providing neutral software or banking services, or didn’t know what it would be used for.
US companies that provide regimes with tools they use to violate human rights will be held accountable.
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