The Democratic presidential contenders on stage Tuesday night agreed generally on the need to end “endless war” in the Middle East, but their answers on strategy in the region revealed some differences in approach. Still, most on stage said they’d want at least some presence in the region.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, spelled out the debate.
“Everyone on this stage talks about ‘nobody wants endless war,’ but the question is, when and how do you plan to get out of it?” she said.”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.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Pete Buttigieg said they’d maintain a footprint in the region.
“There’s a difference between combat troops and leaving special forces in a position,” Biden said at one point, arguing for the latter.
He later made a more direct case for America’s heavy presence in the region: “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.”
Klobuchar said she would leave forces in the region “but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now,” and Buttigieg similarly said “we can continue to remain engaged” but criticized Trump’s new deployments.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for his part, mostly pointed at his vote against the Iraq war. Looking forward, he articulated views broadly shared by the Democratic field: “We have got to undo what Trump did, bring that [international] coalition together, and make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”
And Tom Steyer didn’t say directly where he stood on America’s involvement in the region. But he did outline potentially broad grounds for the justification of force: “I would take military action to protect the lives and safety of American citizens,” he said.