Warren and Biden Skirmish Over U.S. Troops in Middle East

Erin Banco
Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty

Pull all U.S. combat troops from the Middle East, every last one of them. That was the position Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) staked out on Tuesday night’s Democratic debate. It was a stance that set her apart from several of her rivals, most notably former Vice President Joe Biden.

For the first time in a series of debates for the 2020 presidential election moderators focused the first thirty minutes of Tuesday night’s event on how candidates would fare as commander in chief —specifically how they’d handle the growing threat of Iran in the Middle East and if they would choose to withdraw troops from the region. 

The debate comes just two weeks after President Donald Trump chose to assassinate Iran’s top military General Qassem Soleimani while he was driving near the Baghdad airport in Iraq.

Warren, a candidate often criticized for her lack of experience on foreign policy, said she would be the best fit for commander in chief because she has a clearer view of America’s military engagements abroad that’s kept the U.S. at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for the better part of two decades.

“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,” Warren said. “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.”

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq—Over and Over and Over Again

Biden bragged that, during the Obama administration, he led the effort to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. But that drawdown helped bring about the rise of the so-called Islamic State terror group. But later in the debateTuesday night, Biden said troops should stay in the region to patrol the Gulf, adding that it would be a “mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS.” Biden stumbled in the rest of his answer, quibbling with words on what would happen if troops did withdraw, eventually pointing the blame at Trump for putting America in a position where they now be kicked out of Iraq.

Sen. Sanders (D-VT) avoided the question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer by simply saying that “American people are sick and tired of endless wars which have cost us trillions of dollars.” Sanders instead pivoted his answer to focus on the need for U.S. diplomacy with Middle Eastern weapons. He said the U.S. needs to work more closely with the United Nations and should “rebuild the State Department.”. 

Candidates, including Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, rounded out the foreign policy section by underscoring the need for diplomacy despite the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran under the Trump administration. Buttigieg said “ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons” will be a priority in his administration as did Sanders. Klobuchar said she’d make it a point to get the U.S. back into the nuclear deal with Iran. (President Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal in his first 100 days of taking office).Following the assasination of Soleimani, Tehran announced that it would pull out of its remaining obligations of the nuclear deal but would allow international inspectors to continue to study its activities in its facilities.

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