Constant Engagement: John Hickenlooper’s Foreign Policy

CHICAGO, IL: Former Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper is one of the 24 Democrats vying for the party’s nomination for president of the United States in 2020. On May 20, he delivered an introduction to what a President Hickenlooper’s foreign policy would look like and in a phrase: it would be constant engagement.

Hickenlooper argued to an audience at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that the country needs a dramatically different direction from the Trump regime, “to tackle global challenges; Climate Change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, pandemics, human trafficking.” The governor said that these global issues cannot be dealt with by the United States alone.

“They will require constant engagement,” said Hickenlooper. “The Trump doctrine gives us shriveled security. His mantra of America First means America Alone. An isolated America is a weaker America.” The governor argued that the damage of four years under Donald Trump left the U.S. at a point of no return. A new president would be tasked not with bringing the United States back to the Obama era, but they will need to chart a new course from where we are.

Hickenlooper promises to embrace the perceived leadership role of the United States on the world stage. “I will modernize our military, not slash it. I will be an activist, not a pacifist. I will rely heavily on our most experienced intelligence, military and diplomatic advisers. I will work to expand trade, not restrict it. I will support and speak out for democracy abroad rather than pretend we have no stake in its global success.” Hickenlooper sees his strategy of constant engagement as the path to full security.

To enact this strategy, Hickenlooper prescribes 5 elements:

  • Strengthened relationships with strategic allies. “Our alliances aren’t charities to other countries. They are something we do for our own security. They are early warning systems, force multipliers, cost savers. By reviving our leadership we are not only making our country safer but we’re making our country more prosperous.” From reinforcing the U.S. position that an attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all, to promising U.S. participation in negotiating a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, to rejoining a modified version of the Iran nuclear agreement, Hickenlooper promised to be engaged on all fronts and demonstrated a healthy awareness of the issues we face.
  • Preparedness for evolving threats. “It would be a tragic and costly mistake to cut short our military presence in the Middle East…I will wind down our involvement in these conflicts deliberately but not prematurely, always based on conditions and only in close consultation with America’s military leadership and all of the countries who have borne these difficult and deadly battles by our side.” Hickenlooper vowed to pay special attention to cyber attacks. “A low grade cyber war is already raging today,” he said. “We remain shockingly unprepared to face these new dangers.” He promised to create a new position of Director of National Cyber Security to co-ordinate the national defense against these modern methods of war. “Our adversaries must know that there will be a price to be paid for their cyber behavior.”
  • Tie economic security to national security. Hickenlooper prescribed a plan to: “rescue and reboot capitalism.” He said, “Belligerence toward trade is self destructive. It undermines our diplomatic leverage at a time where 95% of the world’s consumers* live outside our borders, we cannot have economic growth, economic justice or full security without expanding trade.” Hickenlooper said, “I will require new trade agreements to enforce labor and safety rules, environmental standards and Climate Change goals, protection of U.S. intellectual property rights and equitable access for all of our investors.” For displaced workers, Hickenlooper prescribes, “a new system of investment security accounts so workers can afford new skills or when needed, relocation.”
  • Ensure American military and diplomatic superiority. “Full security begins with having the best equipped, best trained, best respected military and intelligence forces in the world. It is our shield. It is the muscle behind our diplomacy.” Hickenlooper indicated a desire to invest in tech to allow military responses to cyber attacks, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. He argued against slashing military budgets but shifting resources to face modern threats. He touted his command of the state National Guard forces that he denied Trump during his election year deployment to the borders calling it a political stunt and his interactions with the six military complexes in Colorado.
  • A foreign policy that pushes back against authoritarianism. “The people I’ll celebrate in the Oval Office will be the activists and journalists speaking out against abuse,” he said, as a not-so-veiled rebuke of Trump’s handling of the Saudi sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “It’s common sense that our security and prosperity are shaped by the kinds of governments that surround us.” Hickenlooper may have taken a risk by advocating support of insurgencies in countries under authoritarian rule.

Hickenlooper’s ability to set out a solid foreign policy view sets him apart from many in the field who are currently focused on domestic issues, and it might be one of the most realistic pictures painted by a candidate of their potential presidency given that much of what he discussed falls squarely within the determinations of the executive branch. It’s clear that Hickenlooper is aiming to restore a global order that has been disrupted by China’s expansion and Russia’s subterfuge.  

*FACT CHECK: Only 16% of the world’s consumers outside of the U.S. make more than the equivalent of $20 per day according to Pew Research.   

Adam James is the editor in chief of, a political scientist and believer in the American Dream. He was an Obama For America fellow in 2012. Follow him at @AdamJamesM60