The first debate showed the ten Democratic candidates were divided on key domestic issue but united on Iran, now the biggest foreign policy story in the headlines. With an aborted U.S. attack, tankers in flames, a downed U.S. drone shot down, and a volley of insults between top officials in Tehran and Washington, the two countries are on the brink of war.
“How do you dial it back?” asked moderator Lester Holt. He requested a show of hands. “Who as president would sign on to the 2015 nuclear deal as it was originally negotiated?“
All the candidates except Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar raised their hands. When asked to explain, both Booker and Klobuchar said it was a mistake for Trump to pull out of the agreement. They said they would use renegotiations as an opportunity to get a better agreement. They did not endorse or echo Trump’s belligerence or even result to the Iran-baiting that has been common in American politics for decades.
“We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say unilaterally I’m going to rejoin that deal. Because when I’m president of the United States, I’m going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I’m going to do it.“
All right, Senator Klobuchar, I’d like to ask you to answer that question, because you’ve said — you’ve said you would negotiate yourself back into the Iranian agreement. Can you argue that that nuclear pact as it was ratified was a good deal?
But the point is, Donald Trump told us when he got out of it that he was going to give us a better deal. Those were his words. And now we are a month away from the Iranians, who claim now that they’re going blow the caps on enriching uranium. And the Iranians have told us this.
“And so that’s where we are now. He has made us less safe than we were when he became president. So what I would do is negotiate us back into that agreement, is stand with our allies, and not give unlimited leverage to China and Russia, which is what he has done.
And then, finally, I would make sure that if there is any possibility of a conflict — and we’re having this debate in Congress right now — that he comes to Congress for an authorization of military force. I would do that.
“And this president is literally every single day 10 minutes away from going to war, one tweet away from going to war. And I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5:00 in the morning, which is what he does.
Holt then turned to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the most anti-interventionist candidate in the race.
“I served in the war in Iraq at the height of the war in 2005, a war that took over 4,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniforms’ lives. The American people need to understand that this war with Iran would be far more devastating, far more costly than anything that we ever saw in Iraq. It would take many more lives. It would exacerbate the refugee crisis.
“And it wouldn’t be just contained within Iran. This would turn into a regional war. This is why it’s so important that every one of us, every single American, stand up and say no war with Iran. We need to get back into the Iran nuclear agreement, and we need to negotiate how we can improve it.
“It was an imperfect deal. There are issues, like their missile development, that needs to be addressed. We can do both simultaneously to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and preventing us from going to war.“
Booker and Gabbard are probably the farthest apart on the issue. But their positions are far closer to each other than to Trump. in this first debate, the candidates’ message on Iran was clear and fairly consistent.