A clear divide in the Democratic Party presidential debate last night was between mainstream candidates who see American troops performing a vital role in the Middle East and the two progressive candidates who don’t. The talking point for the mainstream candidates was fighting “terrorism.” Amy Klobuchar went so far as to call Iran a “terrorist regime.”
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did not use that word, while offering eloquent statements about the failures of U.S. foreign policy.
All the leading candidates said they would restore the Iran deal that Trump has sought to destroy. But they differed over withdrawing troops from the region.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said that Trump was headed “pell-mell toward another war” and he must be stopped but she said she would have kept troops in Syria.
Some would remain for counterterrorism and training… In Syria, I would not have removed the 150 troops from the border with Turkey. I think that was a mistake. I think it made our allies and many others much more vulnerable to ISIS. And then when it comes to Iraq, right now, I would leave our troops there, despite the mess that has been created by Donald Trump.
Upending the Iran deal, she said, had made Iran “the biggest threat to our world.” We need to bring back the deal, “understanding this is a terrorist regime that we cannot allow to have a nuclear weapon.”
Pete Buttigieg sounded a hawkish note by warning of “national security challenges” on the fronts of cybersecurity, “climate security,” and “foreign interference in our elections.” And he twice referred to “stateless potential terrorist actors.” Though he also deplored “endless war” and said he would always seek an “alternative” to sending in ground troops.
Former Vice President Biden (who served an administration that bombed five Arab countries) said the U.S. has to keep troops in the Middle East because of terrorists.
[W]ith regard to this idea that we can walk away and not have any troops anywhere, including special forces, we — there’s no way you negotiate or have been able to negotiate with terrorists. You have to be able to form coalitions to be able to defeat them or contain them. If you don’t, we end up being the world’s policeman again.
They’re going to come to us [evidently referring to terrorists]. They’ve come to us before. They’ll come to us again. So it’s a fundamental difference than negotiating with other countries. It’s fundamentally the requirement that we use our special forces in small numbers to coordinate with other countries to bring together coalitions.
By contrast, Warren and Sanders seem to acknowledge that U.S. militarism in the region has only fostered terrorism.
Warren was asked if the U.S. should leave some combat troops in the Middle East. She was emphatic.
No, I think we need to get our combat troops out. You know, we have to stop this mindset that we can do everything with combat troops…
Our keeping combat troops there is not helping. We need to work with our allies. We need to use our economic tools. We need to use our diplomatic tools… We need to get our combat troops out. They are not helping create more safety for the United States or the region….
You know, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, we have one general after another in Afghanistan who comes in and says, you know, we’ve just turned the corner and now it’s all going to be different. And then what happens? It’s all the same for another year. Someone new comes in and we’ve just turned the corner.
We’ve turned the corner so many times, we’re going in circles in these regions. This has got to stop. It’s not enough to say some day we’re going to get out. No one on the ground, none of our military can describe what the conditions are for getting out. It’s time to get our combat troops home.
Sanders spoke of American lies killing “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.”
[T]he war in Iraq turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. As Joe well knows, we lost 4,500 brave troops. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. We have spent trillions of dollars on that endless war, money which should go into health care and education and infrastructure in this country.
Joe [Biden] and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. I didn’t believe them for a moment. I took to the floor. I did everything I could to prevent that war. Joe saw it differently….
What I fear very much is we have a president who is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq.
Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders how he would prevent “terror” from spreading “across the Middle East and, indeed, around the world.” Sanders urged diplomacy, getting back into the Iran deal. And several times mentioned the cost to Americans of war.
Wolf, in America today, our infrastructure is crumbling. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Eighty-seven million people have no health care or are uninsured or underinsured. We got 500,000 people sleeping out on the streets tonight.
The American people are sick and tired of endless wars which have cost us trillions of dollars. Our job is to rebuild the United Nations, rebuild the State Department, make sure that we have the capability of bringing the world together to resolve international conflict diplomatically and stop the endless wars that we have experienced.
Libby Watson in the New Republic points out that the “How will you pay for it?” question is only asked of leftwingers.
It is essentially a cliché now to point out that the turgid question, “How will you pay for it?” seems to only get applied to left-wing priorities—never to endless war, or to the cost of maintaining the status quo. But Tuesday night’s debate presented a particularly stark example. The affair began with repeated questions on Iran, including asking candidates point-blank if they would promise not to let Iran get a nuclear weapon. The question, which implied that a full range of force could and should be marshaled to prevent this outcome, was accompanied helpfully by a chyron asking if the candidates would promise Iran would never have a bomb, “as Trump did?”