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Julián Castro calls for 'reclaiming' U.S. moral authority in foreign policy speech

"Just about everyone, from students protesting in the streets to leaders laughing in public meetings, is wondering about the future of American leadership," he said.
Julian Castro
Julián Castro, shown in October, laid out his foreign policy vision Thursday at Stanford, his undergraduate alma mater.Eric Thayer / Reuters file

As the House prepared to draft impeachment charges against President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Thursday called for a foreign policy that reclaims the country’s moral authority and restores U.S. diplomacy.

Castro laid out his foreign policy vision at Stanford, his undergraduate alma mater, telling the gathering of students and professors that U.S. allies today question the country’s commitment and that its adversaries are emboldened.

“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," he said.

A couple of hours earlier, in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she had instructed House members to draft articles of impeachment against Trump. House committees have been conducting an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son.

“Today, just about everyone, from students protesting in the streets to leaders laughing in public meetings, is wondering about the future of American leadership,” Castro said, making reference to a video of a hot mic moment in which world leaders appeared to be talking about Trump.

“We need a new vision for the future that pursues a more just world by defending democracy and a more peaceful planet through diplomacy,” Castro said.

Castro touched on a number of subjects in the speech, including tying together interference from Russia in the 2016 elections and voting fairness in the U.S.

“Our security abroad is inseparable from the health our democracy at home,” he said. “We cannot credibly say we support fair elections in the Ukraine or Venezuela, if we cannot guarantee them in the state of Georgia.”

A "Marshall Plan" for Latin America

He called for "making room for new voices" in the nation's alliances. That starts with a 21st Century Marshall Plan for Central America, normalizing relations with Cuba and lifting sanctions and addressing root causes of migration, including climate change issues, he said.

He called for lifting sanctions that have hurt the people of Venezuela, while focusing pressure on President Nicolás Maduro and his allies. The Trump administration's "saber-rattling" in Venezuela "has done nothing to weaken the Maduro dictatorship,” he said.

The U.S. has to "repair" its relationship with Mexico and on drug cartels, "common sense gun safety legislation would deny cartels the weapons of war that do not belong on American or Mexican streets," he said.

On the use of military force, Castro said the next president must bring home combat troops and recommit to diplomacy. Castro said he is "highly skeptical" of what military action alone can accomplish, but there are times the U.S. must be willing to use force. The U.S. needs to “prioritize and modernize the defense budget with a vision toward deterring future conflict,” he said.

Asked if he would bring troops in Afghanistan home, Castro said negotiations with the Taliban should continue with issues such as women's rights addressed, "but my vision is to bring back those combat troops."

He lamented the loss of senior diplomats to retirement and a large drop in applications to the Foreign Service under the Trump administration.

“Trump has slandered public servants like Ambassador Yovanovitch for standing for the rule of law and rejecting corruption,” he said. Marie Yovanovitch is the former ambassador to Ukraine who testified in the impeachment inquiry.

He reaffirmed his support for Israel’s security, but admonished leaders seeking to annex parts of the West Bank to expand settlements, saying such actions make a two-state solution more distant, if not impossible.

“We must make clear that this stands against our values and interests,” he said.

In a call with reporters later, he said Trump's creation moving of the U.S embassy to Jerusalem without making it part of a larger negotiated peace agreement and two state solution, was a mistake. But he said "I don't believe it would be productive to go backwards at this point."

Castro, a former U.S. housing secretary and mayor of San Antonio, Texas, failed to make the debate stage in November. But thanks to a surge in contributions, including from former backers of Sen. Kamala Harris who gave to him after she suspended her campaign, he has met the 200,000 unique donors required for the Dec. 19 debate, Castro said. He still must meet a polling threshold by the end of the day Dec. 12.

Castro has been critical of the nomination process. He told reporters on the call he did not expect the Democratic National Committee to raise the qualifying thresholds so close to the Iowa caucus. "When you get that close to the caucus, you should just let the folks vote," he said.

Castro planned to be in Iowa next week and among the events on his itinerary is a town hall focused on his call to change the decades old practice of Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with limited diversity, being first to vote on nominees.

He said that he does not think the nomination process should be changed in the middle of the primary. "I'm looking for more meaningful change than that," he said.

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