Last night six Democrats seeking the party nomination for President in 2020, with former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer present on stage.
With recent developments from Iran, foreign policy was a major focus for the first hour. The first few questions focused on what each candidate would to do end current wars in the Middle East, with American troops having a combat presence in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the Bush Administration. As expected, each candidate noted that they would pursue a policy that ends the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Biden noted that he would ensure Special Forces troops remained in the region to combat terror groups like ISIS. Biden was then criticized by Senator Sanders for voting in favor of the Iraq War while he was in the Senate.
During this exchange, the candidates took their time to criticize President Trump for not ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pete Buttigieg, the only Veteran on the stage, shared his own personal experiences and noted that President Trump has not fulfilled his own campaign promises.
As expected, the candidates were also asked about the Iran deal and President Trump’s strike on Soleimani. Each candidate agreed that if they were President they would return the United States to the Iran deal and that President Trump should have come to Congress for authorization before launching any sort of strike against Iran and Soleimani.
The candidates were also asked about North Korea, with the candidates criticizing President Trump’s negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The candidates noted they would not meet with Kim without significant concessions from the Hermit Kingdom and criticized President Trump’s former meetings.
A topic where the candidates found themselves in at least a bit of agreement with President Trump was over USMCA (US, Mexico, Canada Agreement). When asked, Senators Klobuchar and Warren and Mayor Buttigieg each stated that they supported USMCA (they did not give President Trump credit) while slamming President Trump’s trade wars with major trade partners like China. Sanders however stated that he plans to oppose the agreement, noting that he didn’t believe that the agreement did enough to combat climate change.
Climate change was another topic that the candidates agreed on. Billionaire Tom Steyer noted that he was the only candidate on stage who was making climate change his number one priority, while the other candidates committed to acts such as returning the US to the Paris Climate Accord that President Trump pulled out from at the start of his Presidency. The candidates however remain split on their exact proposals, with Sanders and Warren backing the progressive Green New Deal, while Biden and Klobuchar remain skeptical of the extreme steps that it takes.
While the criticisms leveled at President Trump’s actions are expected, they are not as black and white as the candidates make them out to be. With the Iraq War for example, Presidents Bush and Obama each campaigned on pulling American troops back from the Middle East, but were unable to do so in each of their 8 year Presidencies due to a number of complications. President Trump so far has faced similar challenges with the fight against ISIS and Iran’s increasing aggression in the region.
Iran’s aggression has also made it difficult for the United States to support the Iran deal. The rogue nation continues to put American lives at risk by attacking our Embassies and backing dangerous militias in the region at the very least, and in some cases even engaging in direct conflict with our forces in Iraq and Syria. The United States does not belong in an agreement that rewards Iran or even loosens restrictions while they are pursuing actions that place Americans at risk.
The situation in North Korea is also an ongoing and complex issue. By all appearances, President Trump has actually made more progress with North Korea than past Presidents. Both President Bush and President Obama made their efforts to denuclearize the North, but were unable to do so. While the situation remains fluid, President Trump has at least made historic strides (literally) by meeting with Kim and stepping into North Korean territory. Despite these gestures of goodwill by Trump, we have also kept up sanctions to show the Korean regime that the United States will not back down until the regime abandons its nuclear ambitions. If a Democrat were to win in 2020, they would need to pursue a similar strategy.
The Democratic support of USMCA shows the Democrats have some common ground with the President. At the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans want international agreements that work best for the American people. Sometimes it can be so cut and dry where the two parties can actually agree. That appears to be the case with USMCA, as it is set to benefit a number of struggling farmers across the United States.
While the 2020 candidates will continue to hammer President Trump on his foreign policy, the truth of the matter is it will always be more complex than a candidate makes it seem. There will always be difficult decisions that a President will have to make that will transcend party politics and lines, and issues that do not care about those lines. North Korea hasn’t cared if there is a Democrat or Republican in the White House, they care about pressure.
Whoever takes the oath of office in January of 2021 must be ready on Day 1 to tackle any challenge, regardless of what they talked about on the campaign trail. We will be watching in the coming weeks and months to see which Democratic candidate is set to come out on top of the primary, and how they believe they will be able to handle the pressures of foreign policy in the White House.
*The first in the nation caucus will be held in Iowa on February 3, 2020.
For more analysis on foreign policy and the 2020 election, check out my book “America 2020: The Grand American Political Landscape.” Available today on Amazon!