Des Moines, Iowa (CNN)The Democratic presidentialCandidates tangled in Tuesday night’s debateover who was best positioned to keep the country safe as they face voters who are anxious about another conflict in the Middle East after President Donald Trump ordered the targeted killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
During the first few moments of the debate,
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders faulted former Vice President Joe Bidenfor voting in 2018 to authorize the use of force in Iraq while he was a senator for Delaware. Sanders noted that he and Biden listened to the same intelligence from the administration of former President George W. Bush claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but they voted differently on the Iraq War Resolution.
“The war in Iraq turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said.
He added, “Joe and I listened to what (former Vice President) Dick Cheney and George Bush and (Secretary of Defense Donald) 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. “
Biden immediately noted that he made a mistake in voting for the Iraq War Resolution, but he emphasized the fact President Barack Obama tasked him as vice president with withdrawing the US from that conflict.
“I said (******” ************************************ years ago it was a mistake to give the President the authority to go to war if, in fact, he couldn’t get inspectors into Iraq to stop what was thought to be the attempt to get a nuclear weapon. It was a mistake, “Biden said Tuesday night. But once Obama was elected, he said, “he turned to me and asked me to end that war.”
“We should not send anyone anywhere except the overwhelming Vital interests of the United States are at stake. They were not at stake there, they were not at stake in Iraq. And it was a mistaken vote, “Biden continued. “But I think my record overall on everything we’ve done has been — I’m prepared to compare it to anybody’s on this stage.”
The Iraq War has created a bind for the former vice president because, at a time of heightened tensions with Iran, he has argued that his decades of foreign policy experience in the Senate and as vice president have made him the most prepared candidate to handle crises abroad.
Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg are tightly clustered at the top of the Democratic field in recent polling. In interviews, Iowa voters have expressed a profound sense of indecision – driven largely by the size of the field and what they perceive as the complexity of defeating Trump in November.
Many Iowa voters who are leaning toward Biden have noted his strength in the foreign policy arena, particularly his long-standing relationships with foreign leaders. The former vice president sought to highlight that quality on Tuesday night by touting that he was tasked with bringing the troops from the Iraq War home.
But his rivals, including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have rejected that argument as he has batted away questions about his own relative inexperience in government. As a veteran in the US Navy Reserve who served one tour in Afghanistan in (******************************, buttigieg has called Biden’s vote authorizing military force in Iraq “the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime.”
On Tuesday night, Buttigieg highlighted his military experience but did not immediately attack Biden. instead he pivoted instead to an attack on President Donald Trump.
“The very President who said he was going to end endless war, who pretended to have been against the war in Iraq all along – although we know that’s not true – now has more troops going to the Middle East, “Buttigieg said.
He recalled how one of his fellow lieutenants had to gather the strength to leave his one-and-a-half-year-old son, who had no idea that his father was leaving for war.
“That is happening by the thousands right now, as we see so many more troops sent into harm’s way. And my perspective is to ensure that that will never happen when there is an alternative as commander in chief, “Buttigieg said.
At the same time Buttigieg insisted that he would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon: “Our security depends on ensuring that Iran does not become nuclear.” He added that the Trump administration “made it much harder for the next president to achieve that goal by gutting the Iran nuclear deal.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power by starting negotiations again.
“Because of the actions of Donald Trump, we are in a situation where … Iran is starting to enrich uranium again, in violation of the original agreement. So what I would do is negotiate, “Klobuchar said.
CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren how she would deal with the fact that a third of her supporters say her ability to lead the military is more of a weakness than a strength, according to a new CNN / Des Moines Register poll. She noted her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee and her visits to troops around the world.
“I fight for our troops, to make sure they get their pay and the housing and medical benefits that they’ve been promised, that they don’t get cheated by giant financial institutions, “she said, noting that she has three brothers who served in the military.
The debate here Tuesday night came at a time of rising tensions with Iran, which have overshadowed much of the news on the campaign trail.
The Massachusetts and Vermont senators, who have been longtime ideological allies and personal friends, are meeting on stage Tuesday for the CNN / Des Moines Register debate just a day after Warren affirmed what four sources said to CNN about a private conversation she had with Sanders in 2018, when she says he told her a woman could not win the presidency. Sanders has strenuously denied the claim, calling it ludicrous. His campaign later suggested Warren misconstrued the conversation.
The CNN report came after a weekend in which
- Politico reportedthat Sanders volunteers were workingoff a call script that portrayedWarren as a candidate of the elite who could not build a broad enough coalition to vanquish President Donald Trump in November.
Sanders said he did not know about the script until he read about it and insisted that no one would be attacking Elizabeth Warren.
But the sudden turn from the unspoken non-engagement pact of the two candidates to the aggressive jousting of the past few days reflected the deadlock in a race that is essentially a four-way tie in Iowa
However, the debate started off without the fireworks most would have anticipated given the news stories leading up to Tuesday night.
The candidates followed up a long foreign policy debate with a discussio n on trade, which served as another moment for Sanders to jab at Biden for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement during the s. Sanders did not support the trade agreement.
“Joe and I have a fundamental disagreement here. In case you haven’t noticed,” Sanders said. “And that is NAFTA, PNTR with China, other trade agreements – were written for one reason alone. And that is to increase the profits of large multi-national corporations.”
Biden responded by saying that it was important for the US to play an important role in international trade and that is why he is supporting the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is Trump’s updated version of NAFTA.
*** We also need to have enforcement mechanisms in the agreements we make. Enforceable agreements, “Biden said. “That’s one of the things that has been improved with the trade agreement with Mexico and that’s what we should be doing in any agreement we have.”