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Sen. Tom Cotton in conversation with Axios' Mike Allen. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

The big picture: Tuesday morning, Axios' Executive Editor Mike Allen hosted a 4-part conversation on foreign affairs, exploring current tensions with Iran, the expanding influence of the Chinese technology company Huawei, and the role of automation in global trade.

Senator Tom Cotton, Arkansas

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ak.) discussed his view of American foreign policy, focusing on recent actions by Iran, economic sanctions, and the growing dangers of the multi-national Chinese technology company, Huawei.

  • On current tensions with Iran: "I don’t want to see Iran to continue up the escalatory ladder to the point where they are attacking a manned US aircraft or ship."
  • Regarding economic sanctions: “Every dollar we deny the Ayatollah is a dollar we’re denying Hezbollah.”

Sen. Cotton compared the growing influence of Huawei in developing economies as being "like a drug dealer," and discussed his recent bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to limit Huawei's capacity to operate unilaterally in the United States.

  • On the bipartisan bill: "It would codify what the president has done...and it would allow congress a say in whether waivers are granted to Huawei."
  • On his view of Huawei: "Huawei is an arm of the Chinese Communist party and is a genuine threat."

Sen. Cotton declined to respond to a question about President Trump's tweets attacking four congresswomen of color:

  • "I think what [President Trump] sees is a lot of extremism from the House Democrats...The president is gonna tweet what he's gonna tweet."
Michèle Flournoy, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
Michèle Flournoy on the Axios stage. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Michèle Flournoy, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration focused on the importance of coherent foreign policy strategy and discussed the risks posed by unfilled leadership positions in security and foreign policy.

  • On the dangers of a leadership vacuum: "The people who would likely serve in a Republican administration have signed anti-Trump letters. The administration is going to have a hard time filling out its national security ranks in the next two years — I don’t know what they would do with a second term."
  • On the country's biggest foreign policy challenge: "I think competition with China is the biggest strategic challenge we will face over the next many years. I think the administration is throwing a lot of tactics against the wall without a clear strategy."

Flournoy emphasized the three things the U.S. needs to do to compete with China:

  • Invest at home.
  • Work with our allies — who all have the same issues with China.
  • Focus on shoring up deterrents without driving China to accelerate its thinking that it’s an enemy to the U.S.
Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative to Iran, Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State
Brian Hook discussing Iranian foreign policy on Tuesday morning. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative to Iran, and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State unpacked his views on current tensions with Iran, and the risks that Iran poses to the balance of power in the Middle East.

  • On Iranian foreign policy: "[Iran] has a foreign policy that seeks to shape the Middle East in its image. That image is a government that has clerical and revolutionary oversight. It’s the opposite of separation of church and state."
  • "There’s a great deal of anxiety about Iran’s violence and they’ve been very successful with deniable attacks. The hand of Iran is often invisible. But this is a regime that has mastered the art of gray zone warfare."
Susan Lund, Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute
Susan Lund responding to a question from Axios' Mike Allen. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Susan Lund, Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute discussed automation, the future of work, and its impact on global trade.

  • How automation will impact young workers: "There are almost 15 million jobs under age of 34 that could be phrased out or disappear over the next decade. About one third are actually white collar jobs."
  • On the importance of post-secondary education: "I think the bar is really going to go up for educational institutions and young people to enter the workforce at a higher performing, more sophisticated level than in the past."

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Biden signs racial equity executive orders

Joe Biden prays at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 3, 2020, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. PHOTO: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed executive orders on housing and ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons as part of what the White House is calling his “racial equity agenda.”

The big picture: Biden needs the support of Congress to push through police reform or new voting rights legislation. The executive orders serve as his down payment to immediately address systemic racism while he focuses on the pandemic.

Senate confirms Antony Blinken as secretary of state

Antony Blinken. Photo: Alex Edelman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate voted 78-22 on Tuesday to confirm Antony Blinken as secretary of state.

Why it matters: Blinken, a longtime adviser to President Biden, will lead the administration's diplomatic efforts to re-engage with the world after four years of former President Trump's "America first" policy.

2 hours ago - World

Former Google CEO and others call for U.S.-China tech "bifurcation"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new set of proposals by a group of influential D.C. insiders and tech industry practitioners calling for a degree of "bifurcation" in the U.S. and Chinese tech sectors is circulating in the Biden administration. Axios has obtained a copy.

Why it matters: The idea of "decoupling" certain sectors of the U.S. and Chinese economies felt radical three years ago, when Trump's trade war brought the term into common parlance. But now the strategy has growing bipartisan and even industry support.