Her recently published interview with the New York Times editorial board from early December was revealing in that respect:
Serge Schmemann: Let me ask you about the Middle East. In the October debate you said, “I think we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East.” Did you mean nowhere in the Middle East? Do you think — for example, who should control the Persian Gulf, freedom of navigation, should we close down the air base in Qatar?Sen. Warren: I think we need to get our combat troops out. I don’t think that combat is advancing the interests of the United States in the Middle East, and it’s time to end combat operations. Of course we’ll have a continuing presence in the Middle East. We have interests in the Middle East with our allies. We have interests in the Middle East and keeping shipping lanes open, and we will continue to have a presence there, but I don’t think combat troops are how we best advance that presence.SS: So you mean getting rid of the combat troops there now, or preclude sending any combat troops there in the future?Warren: Well, I would take the combat troops out of there now. I see no immediate reason we’d send combat troops into the region, but I’d get the combat troops that are there now out.John Broder: We have combat troops in Syria now fighting ISIS.Warren: Yes we do.JB: And you would bring them all home?Yeah. I think we need to bring our combat troops home.JB: And leave the Kurds to their fate?Look, we can work — and this is what we should have done. We should have been pushing for negotiations with Turkey, with our allies, in order to protect the Kurds. And we could do that or could have done this as part of withdrawal. We could use economic pressure, we can use diplomatic pressure. We can use coalescing with our allies in order to bring pressure to protect the Kurds, and I think that’s what we should have done. We’ve already abandoned the Kurds in the worst possible way and sent a huge signal to the rest of the world that the United States, at least under the Trump administration, is not a reliable ally.
This is the foreign policy school of “Trump, but smarter.” Unfortunately, the same problems that have played out with Trump in the Oval Office arise even if we act slightly less impulsively. (For starters, what does she mean by “combat troops” — trainers and intelligence operations as well?) In talking about the Kurds, she sounds as if she is mouthing platitudes without thinking through the ramifications.
Instead of using the same campaign pitch as Trump — end forever wars — it would behoove Warren and others to explain how we keep Iran in check and the Islamic State from rebounding. Our goals should be enhanced stability, security (against terror groups and their state sponsors) and, when possible, some improvement in human rights. Those have been our bipartisan foreign policy goals; if you want to yank all the troops out, you need to explain how it furthers those goals or why you think making those goals harder to attain is no big deal. (For example, is she willing to see girls and women at the mercy of Islamic fundamentalists, deprived of education, if we leave entirely?)
Regarding her plan for trade policy, as my colleague Daniel W. Drezner wryly put it last summer: “It’s a great plan — if you don’t like the benefits of trade and want to see it restricted as severely as possible. If you think freer trade is good for the economy and good for foreign policy, then it’s the mother of all dumpster fires.” At that time, none of our existing trade deals would have passed muster under her plan.
In her interview with the Times, she still sounded as if tariffs are a cure-all to be used, well, rather indiscriminately:
SS: Well, speaking of using leverage, you’ve argued that nations that want to trade with the United States should be held to higher standards.Warren: Yeah.SS: The Obama administration tried that, Trump administration tried that in different ways, but no results. What kind of leverage would you use? What would you do?Warren: Well, I’m not sure I accept the premise of the question, that they actually tried what I was talking about. Look, our No. 1 leverage is everybody wants the American consumer. They want access to the American consumer. They want to be able to sell us all of their stuff because the American consumer is not only the engine of about 70 percent of our economy; it’s a worldwide engine. So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say, if you want to be able to trade with United States on the best possible terms, then everybody needs to raise their standards just a little. Who wants to do that?And you may start out with modest increments and increase them over time, but there’s no reason that we should be treating a country that is producing goods through prison labor or child labor or unsafe working standards or by polluting the earth, that we should treat a country that produces goods in that way the same way we’re treating a country that produces goods with standards that are much closer to ours. We simply put our own businesses and our own workers at a competitive disadvantage, so we end up doing things like exporting pollution. Can’t pollute here in the United States, but move this polluting industry. This way that you’re going to paint dolls or produce chips, move it somewhere else where they have no environmental standards and then resell, and then sell those goods back in the United States.Binyamin Appelbaum: Would you reduce existing —We just undercut ourselves when we do that.BA: Would you reduce existing access in order to achieve that goal?Yeah.BA: So you’d put tariffs on existing foreign imports?Warren: It’s that you don’t get the tariff benefit. This is what it’s really about. Where’s the baseline? Right? And is the baseline one that says, across the board, you’ve got to give plenty of notice. You’ve got to work through, make sure you’ve got something that’s achievable for countries we trade with. But this is not like trying to institute a trade war. This is not like saying we’re mad at you and therefore we’re going to impose all these tariffs on you, and doing it as Donald Trump has done by tweet.
The conversation went on from there, but her formula is essentially “Smoot-Hawley, but worse.” (I don’t know what she means by “tariff benefit.”) She enthusiastically embraces tariffs but insists she is not insisting on “tariff protectionism.” She likes to call it “regulation.” (The sort of things she wants to regulate, such as use of prison labor, are already addressed under current law; the hard issue is wage differentials.) She can call it whatever she wants, but her enchantment with tariffs and the trade wars that inevitably follow should be disturbing.
The good news is, Warren has since come out in favor of NAFTA 2.0. On Jan. 3, in an interview with a CNN affiliate she said: “It’s gonna help open up some markets for farmers, they need that stability. It’s gonna help with enforceable labor standards and that’s gonna be useful. We really need trade negotiations going forward that make sure anyone who wants access to our markets is actually helping us in the fight against climate change and helping build an economy that works for everybody in the US.”
CNN reported that she “supported the revised deal because of the changes made to strengthen labor standard enforcement, thanks to the efforts of her Senate Democratic colleagues such as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. The revised deal also dropped the prescription drug provision from the original deal and provides help for farmers, according to the aide.”
That suggests she might be modifying her views to accept reasonable trade deals with enforcement mechanisms. It would be a good idea for her to clarify how if at all her views have developed. She deserves credit if she has become more flexible and realistic.
If Warren wants to be a credible alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one way would be to develop foreign policy and trade policies that make sense in the real world. Repeating talking points that the most progressive elements in her party cheer is not good policy nor good politics (Sanders already has the true believers). Her approval for NAFTA 2.0 is encouraging, but so far, the rest of her international agenda is somewhat frightening.