foreign policy

Does the U.S. have a moral responsibility to intervene militarily to stop genocides of the sort that took place in Rwanda and the Balkans? To stop the use of chemical or biological weapons by a regime on innocent civilians as in Syria?

Yes, but each situation is different

Yes, but each situation is different

Joe Biden

Former vice president

“The United States will always reserve the right to defend itself and its allies — by force, if necessary. But force must be used judiciously to protect a vital interest of the United States, only when the objective is clear and achievable, with the informed consent of the American people and, where required, the approval of Congress,” Biden told The Post. “In some rare cases, there may also be a humanitarian imperative to intervene. We do have a moral duty, as well as a security interest, to respond to genocide or chemical weapons use. Such cases require collective action by the community of nations, not just the United States. But the United States has a special ability, and responsibility, to mobilize others to such collective action.

Candidate positions highlighted
Joe Biden
Biden

Michael Bennet (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, Colorado

Bennet is no longer running for president. Bennet “believes the United States has a moral obligation to work with the international community to prevent genocide,” a Bennet spokesperson told The Post. “While military intervention may be needed in specific cases, the United States must work within an international coalition setting to determine on a case-by-case basis how to prevent genocide and to build lasting solutions to protect internationally recognized human rights.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Michael Bennet
Bennet

Mike Bloomberg (Dropped out)

Former New York mayor

Bloomberg is no longer running for president. Bloomberg believes that the United States has a moral responsibility to intervene in situations similar to these, but that each situation is different, a campaign spokesperson told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Mike Bloomberg
Bloomberg

Cory Booker (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, New Jersey

Booker is no longer running for president. “Protecting human rights must be a central tenet of our foreign policy, and that means protecting persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, and preventing genocides. As president, I would embrace our responsibility to support those struggling for freedom and dignity around the world, while ensuring that military intervention is a last resort, and comes only after congressional authorization,” Booker told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Cory Booker
Booker

Steve Bullock (Dropped out)

Governor, Montana

Bullock is no longer running for president. “The choice to put our sons and daughters in harm’s way is the most difficult decision a president makes,” Bullock told The Post. “But when we have the ability to prevent a genocide, we have a responsibility to work with our allies to stop it. Military intervention, especially one meant to halt human rights violations and atrocities, needs to be carried out in conjunction with our allies. Preventing genocide is a moral imperative, but it must be a shared responsibility across the entire international community and not America’s alone.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Steve Bullock
Bullock

Pete Buttigieg (Dropped out)

Former mayor, South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg is no longer running for president. “It is a moral obligation to prevent genocide,” Buttigieg told The Post. “Only when diplomacy, development and intelligence tools fail would I consider using force, within a legitimate international coalition. But, it must always be in America’s national security interests and we must have an endgame. Before, during and after a multinational military effort we must use our diplomatic and other tools to guard against future instability -- and consistently communicate our reasoning and objectives to Congress and the American people.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg

Tulsi Gabbard (Dropped out)

U.S. representative, Hawaii

Gabbard is no longer running for president. “Every situation is different,” Gabbard told The Post. “The most important thing is to not do more harm to those who you are ostensibly trying to help, and not undermine the national security interests of the United States. Interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria were supposedly aimed at reducing human suffering, but had the opposite result, and also wasted trillions of U.S. dollars, thousands of American lives, strengthened terrorists like al-Qaeda and undermined U.S. national security interests. Often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Before any ‘humanitarian war’ is waged, the president has a constitutional responsibility to get approval from Congress.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard

Amy Klobuchar (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, Minnesota

Klobuchar is no longer running for president. Klobuchar believes that the United States has a moral responsibility to intervene in situations similar to these, but that each situation is different, a campaign spokesperson told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar

Beto O'Rourke (Dropped out)

Former U.S. representative, Texas

O'Rourke is no longer running for president. “After the Holocaust, the United States and the rest of the international community declared, ‘Never again.’ The U.S. participated in drafting the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and, as a party to the treaty, has pledged to do all it can, alongside other nations and consistent with the U.N. Charter, to make ‘Never again’ a reality,” an O'Rourke spokesperson told The Post. “We have not always lived up to that commitment. And we know from experience that once a situation has reached a point where military intervention is the only way to prevent imminent genocide or other mass atrocities, we have already failed on multiple levels. One of the lessons of the past several decades is the importance of early warning and prevention.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Beto O'Rourke
O'Rourke

Deval Patrick (Dropped out)

Former governor, Massachusetts

Patrick is no longer running for president. Patrick believes that the United States has a moral responsibility to intervene in situations similar to these, but that each situation is different, a campaign spokesperson told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Deval Patrick
Patrick

Tim Ryan (Dropped out)

U.S. representative, Ohio

Ryan is no longer running for president. “Yes. The United States has a moral obligation to ensure genocide cannot be carried out in any corner of the Earth,” Ryan told The Post. “However, military action should not be unilateral. We have supranational institutions like the United Nations to address these issues collectively. While the U.N. mission in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was unfortunately unsuccessful, the United Nations remains the body through which we should combat genocide. In instances such as the Syrian use of biological weapons, however, unilateral action may be appropriate.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Tim Ryan
Ryan

Bernie Sanders (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, Vermont

Sanders is no longer running for president. “The world has a moral responsibility unquestionably — what the United States does in any specific instance should be informed by that responsibility and by a series of questions: Are we acting alone or with others; have we exhausted non-military means; will our intervention make the situation better?” Sanders told The Post. “As president, I would mobilize the full resources of our nation to isolate diplomatically and economically the perpetrators of such violence.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Bernie Sanders
Sanders

Joe Sestak (Dropped out)

Former U.S. representative, Pennsylvania

Sestak is no longer running for president. “Yes, and we also have a legal responsibility according to the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ... and yes, especially when we have previously declared ‘red lines,’ ” Sestak told The Post. “However, ‘intervene’ does not always mean with U.S. military ‘force,’ or by ourselves. At times, it may require air or missiles strikes such as following the illegal use by a tyrant of chemical weapons. At other times, it may take U.S. military ‘forces,’ such as by a specialized use of non-combatant forces (although armed for protection) intended to stymie a vicious genocide by mobs. At other times, by convening strong worldwide diplomatic and economic sanction efforts. And when necessary, appropriate U.S. military force.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Joe Sestak
Sestak

Tom Steyer (Dropped out)

Billionaire activist

Steyer is no longer running for president. “Genocides are an outrage and the international community should come together to address them. The US will lead and participate in those efforts,” Steyer told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Tom Steyer
Steyer

Marianne Williamson (Dropped out)

Author

Williamson is no longer running for president. “Yes. Rwanda, Balkans and Syria are legitimate use of military force,” Williamson told The Post. “That and when we are attacked, or an ally is attacked.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Marianne Williamson
Williamson

Andrew Yang (Dropped out)

Tech entrepreneur

Yang is no longer running for president. “We should determine whether there is a clear goal in mind that promotes U.S. interests or values such as intervention in genocide or chemical warfare. We must identify a clear timeline of involvement, and work to get our allies involved,” Yang told The Post.

Candidate positions highlighted
Andrew Yang
Yang

Unclear/No response

Unclear/No response

Julian Castro (Dropped out)

Former mayor, San Antonio

Castro is no longer running for president. Castro did not answer this question by publication.

Candidate positions highlighted
Julian Castro
Castro

Bill de Blasio (Dropped out)

Mayor, New York City

de Blasio is no longer running for president. De Blasio did not answer this question by publication.

Candidate positions highlighted
Bill de Blasio
de Blasio

John Delaney (Dropped out)

Former U.S. representative, Maryland

Delaney is no longer running for president. Delaney did not answer this question by publication.

Candidate positions highlighted
John Delaney
Delaney

Kamala D. Harris (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, California

Harris is no longer running for president. Harris did not answer this question by publication.

Candidate positions highlighted
Kamala Harris
Harris

Elizabeth Warren (Dropped out)

U.S. senator, Massachusetts

Warren is no longer running for president. “We cannot stand by and do nothing in the face of moral atrocities,” Warren told The Post. “We should exercise that responsibility first and foremost through a foreign policy that prioritizes preventing or ending conflicts and atrocities, including by reaffirming an international order that protects and values human rights around the world. In extremely rare circumstances, there may be a role for humanitarian intervention — when limited in duration, with clear objectives, authorized by Congress, and conducted in cooperation with partners and allies. But we should always consider the unintended consequences of U.S. intervention ... [and] understand that there is no military solution to many of these problems — instead, we must engage in the diplomatic and humanitarian work.”

Candidate positions highlighted
Elizabeth Warren
Warren

Hover for more information

Tap for info

Background Democrats are haunted by President Bill Clinton’s decision not to intervene as an ethnic massacre unfolded in Rwanda in 1994. More than 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, died at the hands of Hutu extremists. But the U.S. decision the following year to intervene in the genocidal Balkan wars, after four years on the sidelines, produced no clear rubric for when U.S. action is morally mandated. President Barack Obama declined to intervene militarily in Syria, despite clear evidence that the government deliberately killed civilians. Donald Trump campaigned on a populist promise that the United States would not be the world’s police officer, and promised to keep the U.S. military out of “endless wars.” It was a popular position, including among swing voters and some Democrats who voted for Trump in key states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

How candidate positions were compiled

The Washington Post sent a detailed questionnaire to every Democratic presidential campaign asking whether it supports various changes to U.S. foreign policy. Candidates with similar stances were organized into groups using a combination of those answers, legislative records, action taken in an executive role, and other public comments, such as policy discussion on campaign websites, social media posts, interviews, town hall meetings and other news reports and surveys. See something we missed? Let us know.

This page will update as we learn more about the candidates’ plans. We also will note if candidates change their position on an issue. At initial publication, this page included major candidates who had announced a run for president. If a candidate dropped out after a question was published here, their stance is included under the "Show former candidates" option. If they dropped out before a question was first published, the Post did not reach out to get their stance.

Curious about where candidates stand on another policy? Fill out this suggestion form.

Candidate illustrations by Ben Kirchner.