Joe Sestak: Foreign Policy Chops At the Ready

Former congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania’s 7th District recently became one of the many candidates running for the Democratic nomination for President.

Besides his 4 years in the House of Representatives, during which he sat on the Armed Services Committee, Sestak’s foreign policy experience comes from a 31-year career as a naval officer and served in the National Security Council during Bill Clinton’s administration.

On the Campaign Trail:

On China and Human Rights:

Human rights in China should absolutely play a role in broader U.S. policy toward China. When we look the other way on fundamental issues of human rights, we are also responsible. I want to restore U.S. leadership within a rules-based liberal world order that collectively holds nations accountable for their illiberal behavior, whether in foreign or domestic spheres. Importantly, we must not do this alone. Rather, we must regain our leadership of the values-based world order from which we have retreated. Our absence has permitted China, Russia and emerging autocrats to act with impunity, with no concerns about consequences. In fact, it has even encouraged former allies and friends to provide support for China’s illiberal behavior. For example, Greece ceded its political voice to China — vetoing a European Union condemnation of China’s human-rights record — in exchange for Chinese investment in the port of Piraeus.
Collectively, we must find points of leverage in order to convince China to improve their treatment of Uighurs, Tibetans, and other minority groups, to ensure the autonomy of Hong Kong, and to continue to protect democracy in Taiwan, among other issues. At the same time, we must improve our own human rights record — such as our treatment of migrants and refugees at the border, and our support for the war in Yemen — so that we have credibility to take on other countries for their human rights record. Ultimately, we need to restore our standing in the world and renew our commitment to multilateral action and the international institutions we built in the 20th century to establish and enforce global human rights standards.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On the Military:

On the Intelligence Community:

On Venezuela:

The situation in Venezuela is tragic. President Maduro has led his nation’s economy to ruin and corruption, and created a disastrous humanitarian situation. We must convene the regional Organization of American States (OAS) — and other international organizations as appropriate — to compel changes in Venezuela that will bring about a political settlement that avoids a civil war while bringing about just governance.  This is not about military force at all. Rather, we must recognize that individual and human rights and a fair and just government, the values the liberal world order once stood for, can only flourish in Venezuela if the world comes together and provides the incentives and disincentives required to bring Venezuela back.. Disincentives should include appropriate financial sanctions against those in government who are looting their nation — often in conjunction with drug traffickers — and travel sanctions against the same. We must do our part to ensure that injustice does not prevail in Venezuela, and prevent a civil implosion that destabilizes the hemisphere.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Iran:

On Russian Aggression in Ukraine:

‘The territorial aggression of Russia and other bad actors on the world stage must not be allowed to continue. It is a threat to global peace and security, and it is an affront to the values we hold dear. Ukraine, from the perspective of Russia, is merely a domino that may lead to further “near abroad” gains. If it fails in one of several ways — from internal dissention that shatters its frail democracy to incursions by “insurgents” supported by clandestine Russian support —Russia will feel empowered to assess where it may find further success in neighboring nations once part of its orbit. This is a prime example of why US leadership of a rules-based global order is so important that also recognizes the value and need of allies for their equal contributions in different ways. We need new leadership here at home in order to re-establish that the United States is committed to democracy’s values, and that we will not turn our backs on democratic countries under threat from autocrats like Vladimir Putin. Putting Russia on notice will require demonstrating that we are serious. We can accomplish that through expanding sanctions, through curtailing Russia’s participation in international organizations and efforts, and even through more active deterrence measures, including cyber activity.’

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Israel and a Two-State Solution:

‘I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are no easy solutions to this decades-long conflict, but we must begin by affirmatively re-engaging in the region. We must maintain our steadfast allied support of Israel, but we must also work much harder to be an honest broker and deal fairly with the Palestinians as we lead the brokerage of peace between them. While Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East — and I have worked hard with and on behalf of Israel for decades, both during my time in the Navy and as a Congressman — we must also work to ensure the Palestinian people know that we are committed to a just solution to the conflict. This means returning our embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, because it has always been accepted that this would be part of a two state solution, not a unilateral decision.  It also means restoring humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. But at the same time we must deal with the bias against Israel in key United Nations organizations and make clear that our support for Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people is sacrosanct. While Israel may be safe today, it will not be permanently secure without a peace agreement that includes a two state solution, and that is only possible if outcomes are not decided unilaterally beforehand. Otherwise, the cycle of violence will only continue. The United States is the one indispensable nation that can work with both sides to reach a just peace deal., and only the full weight of the Presidency will be able to bring it about. Our own interests demand it as challenges elsewhere increase – but we must secure Israel’s permanent security to do so, and can only do that with a fair, honestly brokered process.’

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On North Korea:

With respect to North Korea, I believe we must maintain the goal of complete denuclearization until it has been achieved. But that does not mean I think we will be able to quickly reach an agreement that achieves that goal. Our first step should be re-initiate six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), because each of the other countries in the region will play critical roles in any negotiations — Russia and China, in particular, have leverage over North Korea as their main economic partners — and the IAEA will need to be involved in any inspections regime ultimately agreed upon. Negotiations will likely lead to some sort of preliminary agreement involving partial sanctions relief in exchange for some dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapons program. The eventual success of that initial deal should lay the groundwork for total denuclearization, along with some improvements to North Korea’s human rights standards. As with Iran, we need to build trust between North Korea and the rest of the world – and we know that will take time. We also need to live by President Reagan’s adage: “Trust, but verify” (as we did with the Iranian accord). Diplomacy like this is a slow process, but the peace and stability it leads too will be well worth the wait.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

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