Beto O'Rourke

On the Campaign Trail:

Beto O'Rourke
Beto O’Rourke (Credit: Creative Commons)

Where He’s Coming From

In his three terms in Congress, Beto O’Rourke staked out positions on issues of war and peace to the left of President Obama. Where other candidates have gone along with the foreign policy consensus in Washington, O’Rourke sometimes broke with it.

While his signature foreign policy issue is immigration, his record suggests he is more anti-interventionist than some other candidates.

In Jacobin magazine, writer Branko Marcetic says O’Rourke “bucked Obama on several important issues, pressuring him to close Guantanamo, supporting legislation to curtail NSA spying, opposing war in Syria and arming the country’s rebels, and demanding Obama get congressional authorization for his continued war on ISIS.”

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On Immigration: Laws Should Reflect Our Values

Immigration is O’Rourke’s primary foreign policy issue. He advocates comprehensive immigration reform.

On Russia: Not As Bad As Another War

Defense donations only make up 0.14% of all campaign donations

O’Rourke says Russia interfered in the 2016 election but he does not depict Russia as the dangerous enemy.

Russia has interfered & will continue to try to change outcome of our elections. President Trump: where is the help to safeguard integrity of ballot box? Why have you not imposed Congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia?


On the issue of Russian intervention in Ukraine, he broke with the Washington consensus saying the danger of war was greater than the danger of Russia.

From the San Antonio Express News:

O’Rourke was one of two Democrats in the U.S. House in 2015 to vote in opposition to a bill condemning Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea.

“It was us becoming a participant in yet another war …
I’m not down with more war for the United States.”

On North Korea: Slow But Steady

Any nuclear negotiations process with North Korea should be judged by its ability to deliver verifiable progress toward eliminating the regime’s nuclear weapons program. By that metric, President Trump’s policy has been a complete failure. In return for providing Kim Jong Un with the propaganda and legitimacy that comes with multiple presidential summits, President Trump has gotten nothing for the United States. North Korea’s nuclear stockpile continues to grow. It continues to fire missiles into the Sea of Japan. Even the delivery of American Korean War veteran remains has come to a stop.
As President, I would be open to a deal that provided partial sanctions relief for a partial rollback of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But for such an agreement to be in America’s interest, North Korea would have to commit to a mutually agreeable definition of denuclearization, vigorous international inspections, and provide a full accounting of its nuclear program. Any sanctions relief would have to have strong “snap back” provisions. In all these efforts, I will place a high value on working with our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, each of which shares our interest in a peaceful and denuclearized peninsula.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

O’Rourke eschews hawkish rhetoric in favor of articulating a positive goal of negotiations: the denuclearization of Korea and the end to the Korean War.

“Look, this is an incredibly tough, slow, frustrating, deliberate process, but it sure beats the alternative. …. we also need a comprehensive strategy there and we need the administration to be able to articulate that to us and to the American public because it is confusing, it is frustrating, and it’s unclear right now what we have done, whether what we have done is helping to get to our ultimate goal there which is denuclearization of the peninsula, peaceful resolution to the conflict between North Korea in South Korea and preventing using the U.S. military and the service members whose lives will be on the line to try to resolve that.”

Bloomberg Politics

On China and Human Rights:

To address complex global challenges—climate change chief among them—we need smart, principled engagement with China. But we don’t do ourselves, or our relationship with China, any favors by not being forthright about our core values. Chinese oppression of the Uighur minority is a human rights disaster, and the United States should not only be condemning their detention and surveillance, but should be leading an international effort to pressure China to relent. Likewise, the people of Hong Kong should have no doubt about where we, as Americans, stand in their struggle to preserve democracy against increasing efforts by the Chinese government to undermine it. 
These issues are not—and should not be seen as—separate from other strategic interests we pursue in the broader relationship with China. Our values are assets, not liabilities, in the global competitive environment. Indeed, we are more likely to achieve our other objectives with China when China upholds its human rights obligations, including its promises to respect Hong Kong’s independence. 
Navigating the wide range of trade, security, climate, and human rights interests we have with China requires skillful and patient diplomacy, something that is sorely lacking in the current administration. Like all nations, China will act in a way that it believes is consistent with its interests. As President, I will seek to engage China around mutual interests, like climate change, where our countries should be cooperating to build the global green economy.   

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Iran: Nuclear Deal, Not War

O’Rourke puts the issue more starkly than other candidates. The alternative to negotiated agreements with Iran is war.

O’Rourke said he backed the nuclear deal because “without firing a single shot, without sacrificing the life of a single U.S. service member, it was able to stop the country of Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.”

“The alternative to a peacefully negotiated resolution to the threat that Iran poses is war,” O’Rourke said.

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke differ sharply on key foreign policy issues — San Antonio Express-News

On Israel: No to AIPAC

A two-state solution that realizes the aspirations of the Palestinian people and addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns is the only way to guarantee peace and the human rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. Our strong relationship with Israel is key to achieving that outcome, and as President, I will support and sustain it. 
Leaders on both sides continue to take steps that make negotiating a two-state solution more difficult, including Netanyahu’s embrace of the far-right in Israel and Abbas’ ineffectual leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, peace will require bold and principled leadership from both parties. But the United States also has an indispensable role to play. Far from fulfilling that role, President Trump’s reckless and inflammatory actions have added fuel to the fire. As President, I will leverage the unique position of the United States in the region to cultivate a foundation on which negotiations can take place. That will include holding both sides accountable for unjustified acts of violence, whether it be rocket attacks from Gaza, or disproportionate use of force from Israel. Palestinians and Israelis have the right—and deserve the opportunity—to live lives free from violence and depredation. In my administration, I will prioritize rebuilding the foundation for the best way to achieve that outcome: a two-state solution.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

O’Rourke announced that he would not attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.

On Venezuela:

Venezuela has collapsed. The illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro has plunged the Venezuelan people into a nightmare of chaos and deprivation; more than four million of whom have fled because they cannot survive at home. As President, I will take urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and work with regional allies to support a lasting solution to Venezuela’s political and economic collapse. 
First, I will reverse the Trump administration’s politicization of humanitarian aid, which has prevented support from reaching Venezuelans who need it most, particularly women and children. By supporting the efforts of neutral humanitarian agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver life-saving food, medicine, and protection, we will ensure that aid reaches the most vulnerable. I will also immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States, something President Trump has refused to do.
Second, to foster a democratic transition away from the Maduro regime to Juan Guaido, the legitimate president under the Venezuelan constitution, I will support efforts by opposition and regime officials to negotiate a political settlement, while using targeted measures like asset seizure and supporting criminal indictments to increase pressure on regime officials. To reverse Venezuela’s economic collapse, I will lead an international effort to provide financial assistance to stabilize the post-Maduro Venezuelan economy and enable the Venezuelan people to rebuild their lives. 

Council on Foreign Relations interview

When In These Times asked O’Rourke’s campaign to comment on the Trump administration’s announcement that it would seek to install opposition leader Juan Guaido as president, the email bounced.

On Endless War:

In the Eyes of ‘the Blob’ and the Secret Intelligence Agencies

President O’Rourke might give pause to some policymaking elites, intelligence chiefs, and military leaders. Like Obama, he probably would not confront the national security system, but he also might not defer to it.

Research: Daniel Ortiz

Return to Insider’s Guide to the 2020 Democrats on War and Peace