5 Foreign Policy Issues to Look Out For in Tonight’s Debate

Debate Podium Cropped

Donald Trump and Joe Biden will face off tonight at 9pm ET in their final debate before the election — and this time, foreign policy is finally on the docket. That means one last chance to hear about what, if anything, the candidates would do to change the failed, militarized status quo, and build a more peaceful, progressive U.S. foreign policy. Here are five foreign policy issues you may hear in tonight’s debate — and how, regardless of what the candidates say, we should be talking about them.


  • The past four years of U.S. relations with Iran have been defined by violent threats, reckless brinkmanship, at-times mystifying lies, and an utter indifference to the lives of everyday people — an approach that brought us to the brink of war… on multiple occasions.
  • The United States has withdrawn from the successful nuclear deal, imposed additional crushing sanctions in the midst of a pandemic, threatened to commit war crimes, and illegally assassinated a top Iranian military official. On top of that, the United States has banned immigration of, and stoked xenophobia against, the people of Iran, and illegally deported and detained U.S. citizens of Iranian descent. 
  • Ending deadly sanctions, returning to the nuclear deal, and recommitting to diplomacy by seeking deescalation is the only way to safeguard security in both countries, while supporting people in Iran who are trying to create change on their own terms.


  • As China has grown in wealth and power, hawks on both sides of the aisle have targeted it as a monolithic, existential threat, to be met with hostility. This new Cold War is reckless, ill-founded, and potentially disastrous.
  • Fearmongering about China fuels militarism and excessive Pentagon spending, distracts from domestic problems, and incites racism, while doing nothing to redress China’s human rights abuses. This Cold War benefits arms dealers, the foreign policy establishment, and the corporate class at the expense of the rest of us.
  • The next administration must reject trade wars, militarism, and aggression, while seeking to address any challenges with China through robust multilateral engagement. Confronting the true threats to our collective security — the pandemic, the climate crisis, global inequality, nuclear weapons, unethical and discriminatory technologies, and artificial intelligence — requires cooperation with China, not competition.

North Korea

  • Direct diplomacy with North Korea has been a welcome development over the past few years, but initial steps toward negotiations were quickly undermined by backtracking, capriciousness, and ego-driven foreign policymaking.
  • “Maximum pressure” and “strategic patience” have failed. U.S. unilateral demands for denuclearization and threats of military force only serve to justify the North Korean government’s authoritarianism and drive for additional nuclear capabilities. 
  • We must stop the cycle of hostility, formally end the Korean war, roll back broad-based sanctions, and recommit to seeking peace as the key to unlocking denuclearization, following the lead of the government and people of South Korea.

Endless Wars

  • Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have talked about “ending endless wars,” but what is needed is action, not rhetoric. The past several years have seen bipartisan majorities in Congress pushing for peace only to be met with vetoes, multiple near-wars, and the expansion of secret, unaccountable drone strikes around the world.
  • We must work to end the United States’ role in existing conflicts, repeal the AUMFs, return the powers of warmaking to Congress, and slash the Pentagon budget. 
  • But the absence of war is not enough; we need to build a positive peace by supporting gender-equitable and locally-led peacebuilding, committing to multilateralism and international law, promoting green, justice-based development, and more.

Trade & the Global Economy

  • For years, politicians’ promises to help workers by wielding U.S. power in support of U.S. corporations have utterly failed. Trade wars harm workers across borders in order for a small segment of the corporate class to profit. 
  • We must recognize that corporate globalization is failing working people. But replacing it with economic nationalism only makes matters worse. We must rewrite the rules of the global economy to put people and the planet before profits, everywhere.
  • That means renegotiating trade deals, canceling Global South debt, holding multinational corporations responsible for their abuses, combating financial secrecy., and ensuring that the World Bank and IMF promote a just, green recovery from the crisis.