Post-CNN Debate: Visions for the World in 2025

On June 27, CNN held a debate between former president Donald Trump and incumbent president Joe Biden. Both men are in the unique position of running against a previous office holder, and the election itself is a rematch of the socially distanced contest held between the same two candidates in 2020.

There is arguably no area of governance where a president has greater freedom and impact than foreign policy. To better understand how the candidates used foreign policy positions on the debate stage, and the limits of their understanding or desired policies, the fellows of the Center for International Policy have assembled to offer some deeper insight. A transcript of the debate can be read here.

Sina Toossi, on the Middle East in the Debate

The presidential debate offered little hope for a more peaceful and just U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. The most egregious moment was Trump’s use of “Palestinian” as an insult in an exchange with Biden over their “pro-Israel” stances, a shocking display of racism that has largely escaped mainstream scrutiny.

Trump’s false claims about his Iran policy—asserting Iran was impotent and “broke” by the end of his term—belie the reality of his maximum pressure campaign, which provoked increased aggression from Iran, including unprecedented attacks on U.S. assets and allies, and accelerated nuclear activities.

Biden also faltered, with factual inaccuracies about Iran having intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities and misleading claims about U.S. military members not being killed under his watch in the region. Both candidates failed to present a coherent vision of the realities of U.S. policies towards the region.


Joanna Rozpedowski, on NATO in the Debate

Voters concerned about America’s security and geopolitical strategy face a pivotal choice between two starkly different approaches to international conflicts the new president will inevitably confront.

In the CNN debate, President Biden emphasized the importance of robust alliances and collective security measures, arguing that NATO and allied support are essential for deterring Russian aggression and maintaining global stability.

Former President Trump’s transactional approach prioritized national sovereignty, extreme frugality, and direct negotiation over costly multilateral commitments. His rhetoric indicated skepticism about the economic and tactical burdens the US bears in supporting NATO’s Ukraine approach, which thus far failed to result in the war’s peaceful settlement and risks further escalation onto neighboring European countries.

In November, this strategic divide presents Americans with a critical decision: maintain strong international alliances, an aggressive deterrence posture, and multilateral NATO engagement or attempt to resolve the conflict through diplomatic channels and direct negotiation. The decision rests squarely with the electorate.


Michael Chamberlin, on Mexico in the Debate

Regarding the issue of fentanyl crossing the border, neither candidate focuses on addressing the root causes. They fail to discuss how to collaborate with Mexico to strengthen its justice and anti-corruption institutions or how to stop Mexican criminal groups from obtaining guns in U.S. stores. Nothing was said about gun control in the United States or the movement of guns south through the same border, which arms the cartels that later send fentanyl north. Additionally, they overlook the importance of preventive measures from a health service perspective. Approaching the problem from a prohibition standpoint alone will never stop drug abuse.


Negar Mortazavi, on Iran in the Debate

Neither Trump nor Biden offered a coherent policy on Iran and the broader Middle East. Trump claimed that Iran had no money under his administration which is false. It’s true that he imposed broad sanctions against Iran that hurt the economy. But the impact of sanctions is mainly felt by average Iranian citizens and it does not really influence or change Iran’s foreign policy and regional spending. In fact, during Trump’s term tensions were high between Iran and its network of allies, the Axis of Resistance, and the U.S. and its regional allies.

Trump’s assassination of the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani brought the two countries to the brink of a dangerous war, with Iran retaliating against the U.S. by shooting missiles from its soil targeting U.S. forces in Iraq. Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran was not only dangerous but failed to achieve its stated goal of bringing Iran to the negotiating table for a better deal.

Biden’s policy towards Iran in general has not been very different or successful either. Candidate Biden had promised to prioritize diplomacy with Iran and revive the nuclear deal, but he couldn’t deliver on that promise.


Van Jackson, on China in the Debate

Biden has accepted Trump’s premise about China and economic statecraft. He now thinks reducing the trade deficit with China is a mark of progress. He imagines political economy as a zero-sum terrain where their gain is not just our loss; it’s a threat to us. This is the kind of economic nationalism that ultimately serves defense-industrial interests and reactionary political projects.Trump, for his part, openly accused the sitting American president of treason and corruption–he called him a “Manchurian candidate.” This is actual red-baiting; literally John Birch Society stuff. The notable thing, which is of pattern, is that Trump is using China as the wedge to attack his political opponent. The fascistic, corrupt politician is using the China bogeyman to advance his politics against his democratic opponent. The GOP did much the same in 2020 and 2022.

It’s true that politicians from both parties try to play the “China card” to their advantage…but it’s false that the “China card” is some value-neutral object that anyone can use for their purposes with equal effectiveness. China-threat rhetoric systematically biases toward reactionary, demagogic political outcomes; it’s unfavorable terrain for democratic politics. That’s why Democrats who tried to out-hawk their opponents on China in 2022 fared poorly in the general election.

Trump is not wrong that Biden’s foreign policy is pushing us toward World War III—we’re still insisting on a strategy of primacy in a world where power realities simply make it impossible. And by pursuing primacy anyway, the national security state naturalizes the necessity of the most dangerous kinds of policies: containment, arms-racing, and economic nationalism. This will not end well for anyone. The falsity in Trump’s rant though is that he is any better. Indeed, Biden’s China policy is Trump’s China policy. Worse, Trump’s implied theory of war prevention appears to be a form of extortion. Cultivating personal relationships with dictators, he insists, is the way to prevent World War III. That means that Trump puts himself in the position of telling the public, “Look, you want me to be friends with Xi and Putin and Kim. That’s how I’m preventing Armageddon.”

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2024 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting

The Center for International Policy is proud to participate in 2024 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting on Friday, June 7, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. 

This year’s conference will delve into some of the most pressing arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament challenges facing the nation and the world today.

CIP experts will speak on two separate panels, with Security Assistance Monitor director Ari Tolany presenting more effective U.S. arms transfer policy and senior non-resident fellow Negar Mortazavi on preventing further proliferation in the Middle East.

PANEL: Achieving More Effective Implementation of U.S. Arms Transfer Policy

  • John Ramming Chappell, Center for Civilians in Conflict
  • Ari Tolany, Center for International Policy
  • Mira K. Resnick, State Department
  • Moderator: Rachel Stohl, Stimson Center and member of the ACA Board

PANEL: Preventing Further Proliferation in the Middle East

  • Sharon Squassoni, Elliot School, George Washington University
  • Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Association
  • Negar Mortazavi, Center for International Policy
  • Moderator: Arshad Mohammed, Reuters

You can find more information, including the full agenda, here.

Tensions in the Middle East: The War in Gaza, Iran, and the Houthis

As Israel’s war in Gaza approaches its fifth month, fears of regional escalation are mounting as multiple nations target each other’s territories in a series of escalatory strikes. Israeli forces have clashed with Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border since the start of the war, and have continued to strike targets in Syria as well. These have been joined by the Houthi’s attacks on shipping in the Red Sea in an effort to disrupt Israel’s war, prompting retaliatory strikes from the US and UK, while Saudi Arabia has remained reluctant to restart military operations against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Iran has struck targets in Iraq and Syria, and engaged in tit-for-tat attacks against Pakistan.



  • Jonathan Lord is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security program at CNAS. Prior to joining CNAS, Lord served as a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee, serving the full committee and managing the U.S. Central Command/Middle East defense policy portfolio, as well as issues related to security assistance.


  • Sina Azodi is a PhD candidate in international affairs at University of South Florida, where he is completing a dissertation on Iran’s nuclear program. His research interests include international security, nuclear nonproliferation, and U.S.-Iranian relations. He previously worked as a research assistant at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Sina is also visiting scholar and a lecturer of international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he teaches a graduate course on Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East.


  • Barbara Slavin is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington and a lecturer in international affairs at George Washington University. Prior to joining Stimson, she founded and directed the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council and led a bi-partisan task force on Iran. The author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation (2007), she is a regular commentator on US foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS and C-Span.


  • Negar Mortazavi is an award-winning journalist and commentator, editor and host of the Iran Podcast, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), based in Washington DC. She has been covering Iranian and Middle Eastern affairs as well as US foreign policy towards the Middle East for over a decade. Mortazavi is a frequent media commentator and has appeared on CNN, NBC, NPR, BBC, France24, Aljazeera, and other global outlets. She has written for Foreign Policy magazine, Politico, The Intercept, The Independent, and other publications, and is regularly invited to speak at panels and conferences around the world about Iranian affairs and US foreign policy.