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Julián Castro explains his vision for a “progressive” foreign policy as president

Julián Castro explains his vision for a “progressive” foreign policy as president

Former housing secretary and current presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party Liberty and Justice Celebration on November 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. | Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The former housing secretary tells Vox about how he would run US foreign policy as president.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, just gave his first major foreign policy speech after about a year of campaigning.

Speaking at his alma mater Stanford University on Thursday, Castro blasted President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and offered what he described as a “progressive” way forward for the United States.

“We need a new foreign policy that reflects our values, one that complements inclusive prosperity at home and supports collective security abroad,” he said. “We have to be a nation of moral authority that stands up for human rights, that pushes back against tyranny anywhere, that promotes peace and prosperity everywhere.”

It’s a noticeable change of pace for Castro, who has spent the first year of his candidacy focusing on nearly every other issue but foreign policy. He’s made a name for himself during the campaign on immigration, pushing his opponents further to the left on the issue of decriminalizing illegal entry into the country.

But in a roughly 20-minute address, Castro detailed how he would run foreign policy from the Oval Office. Among other things, he aims to extricate the US from costly wars, wants to reset frayed relations with Latin America, and wants to find ways to compete with China outside of a trade war.

As with most speeches of this kind, it touched on a lot of subjects at the surface level. It failed to dig into many specifics about what, exactly, he would do as president. So I called the former secretary for a brief interview to get some clarity about what a Castro administration foreign policy would actually look like in practice.

Current polling doesn’t indicate Castro currently has a shot at winning the Democratic nomination. But he is constantly talked about as a potential vice presidential pick, and he’s shown an ability to influence policy discussions among the Democratic candidates. It’s therefore worth hearing what the former San Antonio, Texas, mayor thinks about America’s role in the world.

Our interview, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Alex Ward

You’ve talked about all sorts of domestic issues on the campaign trail, from immigration to education to housing. Now, about a year later, you’ve finally turned to foreign policy. Why did you wait so long to give a full address on foreign policy, and why was now the time?

Julián Castro

The American people are paying attention now. We’re only nine weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. It’s also recently been in the limelight due to impeachment hearings in Congress, so this felt like the right time to articulate my vision for the future of the country and the world.

Alex Ward

You offered what you termed “a new foreign policy, built on progressive values.” Are your foreign policy views colored more by a critique of Donald Trump or of traditional US foreign policy over the last 70 years?

Julián Castro

I absolutely disagree with Donald Trump on his approach to a lot of foreign policy. I also recognize there’s a long-standing consensus that America has that predates Donald Trump when it comes to strengthening our relationships and promoting peace while avoiding conflict.

Alex Ward

You discussed the need to extricate the US from needless wars, saying, “The next president must bring these conflicts to a reasonable conclusion. This will involve bringing our combat troops home and re-committing to diplomacy.”

I’d like to dig in on that. As president, would you not engage the US in a war without a fresh authorization from Congress?

Julián Castro

That’s right. I believe we need to have Congress step up and do its job. We should not send our troops into military conflicts that could lead to the loss of and an expenditure of a lot of treasure without the people’s chamber doing its job.

Alex Ward

To be clear, you’re not saying you wouldn’t use military might at all until you get a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF)?

Julián Castro

There are emergencies, and there are exceptions for that. But when we’re talking about longer engagements that are more drawn out, then we absolutely need a new AUMF.

Alex Ward

You specifically mentioned the conflict in Afghanistan. As you know, some of your opponents in the race vowed to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan within their first year as president. Would you accelerate that timeline to your first six months?

Julián Castro

We’ll begin immediately in my administration, but we want to do this in a reasonable and orderly way. I believe we could accomplish that in the first year, absolutely, and we would start immediately.

Alex Ward

Meaning what, exactly? A review? The withdrawal of certain troops or equipment?

Julián Castro

The American military must have a review, an assessment that’s already been done on how we can withdraw within a certain amount of time. My hope is that that’s ready, and we can pursue that immediately. If that’s not been done, although I’m sure it has, then I would have a new review done and, if possible, start having people physically withdraw.

Alex Ward

Are there any countries US troops are in now that you’d want out within the first couple months of your presidency?

Julián Castro

That we will review. I believe there is a value in getting a full assessment on some of the countries that have not been in the news in the same way. I think all of us have heard more and had an opportunity to learn about Afghanistan and a couple of other countries.

I don’t want to make a categorical declaration about all of the countries. What I want, on January 20, 2021, is an assessment already done of each of these countries we’re engaged in military conflict in, and what it would look like to withdraw our commitment.

Alex Ward

You mentioned in your speech the American “legacy” of achieving arms control deals, and specifically called out the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and New START, both agreements with Russia. The Trump administration withdrew from the INF and may not extend New START. Would you rejoin the INF and extend New START, then?

Julián Castro

Absolutely, I believe that we should do that on the INF. I don’t disagree with those who say there are new opportunities to have a negotiation with China. But I think it was a mistake for this president to withdraw from arms agreements and talk about dropping them.

With respect to New START, we should work with Russia to maintain that agreement and look at the possibility of looping other countries in as well.

Alex Ward

Would China be one of those countries?

Julián Castro

Yes.

Alex Ward

I want to ask about an area you’re paying attention to much more than anyone else in the race: Latin America. You said the way to “regain the trust and confidence of nations in Latin America” begins with “treating them as partners and with respect, not countries we bully and threaten.”

What, concretely, would treating these nations with respect actually look like?

Julián Castro

First, I would immediately invite the leaders of the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — to the White House, and speak to them about how we could work together to promote greater opportunity and safety there so people don’t have to make the dangerous journey to the United States. I would also be willing to visit those countries.

Second, the tone of the Trump administration has been just awful about blaming these countries and threatening to strip their foreign aid. I would immediately change the tone, and also look at how we can partner to invest more resources there.

Third, we have to be honest about how the US has a checkered past in some of these countries. We have to acknowledge that, and understand and treat them as sovereign nations and equals. We can’t act like we can dictate to them how they’re going to be led or what’s going to happen in Latin America.

Alex Ward

So you’re looking for a complete restart in US-Latin American relations.

Julián Castro

Absolutely. I’m confident that, if I’m elected president, I will have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to improve our relationships with Latin American countries for the benefit of the United States and their benefit as well.

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