Iran general's killing adds new tension to 2020 field

Iran general's killing adds new tension to 2020 field

The fallout over the killing of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani has brought foreign policy to the forefront of the Democratic presidential primary, throwing a new uncertainty into an unpredictable race.

All 2020 candidates have forcefully condemned the attack as having imperiled U.S. national security by threatening to drag the country into a war with Iran, while also attacking President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE for his subsequent threat to target Iranian cultural sites.

But the issue also threatens to revive memories of the Iraq War, which split Democrats in 2008 and 2016 when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Sekulow vows Bidens, Ukraine will be part of Trump impeachment defense Elizabeth Warren: More 'Hillary' than Hillary MORE sustained strong attacks, first by then-candidate Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFormer NYT correspondent rips Democrats' 'selective use' of constitutional violations Obama portraits leaving National Portrait Gallery to tour museums across the country Tulsi Gabbard explains decision to sue Hillary Clinton: 'They can do it to anybody' MORE and then by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.) and other progressives over her 2002 vote to authorize the war.


Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE is seen as the most potentially vulnerable after he similarly voted to authorize the war in 2002, even as strategists note that at face value the developments should give him a boost, reminding voters of his vast foreign policy background, which spans his work helping manage foreign relations under President Obama back to his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Despite Biden’s foreign policy rolodex, Sanders has already revived his attacks on Biden’s Iraq vote, saying it ensnared the U.S. in an “endless war.”

“I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the kind energy we need to defeat Trump,” Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday. 

Sanders’s revival of the Iraq War as an attack line comes as progressives like the Vermont senator are fighting hard for the direction of the party against centrists like Biden.

Biden backed the resolution giving then-President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq, and he also praised the president in a Senate floor speech at the time for his handling of the case for war.

The former vice president has since said he regrets his vote, though he has put much of the blame on Bush for his handling of the war. 


“Every time you hear people like Joe Biden go out and opine on these issues, you’re going to hear people like Pete [Buttigieg] and people like Bernie say, ‘Yes, but,’ ” a former Obama administration foreign policy adviser told The Hill.

But Biden’s defenders call attacks against the former vice president unfair, pointing to the faulty information released by the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion.

“Anybody who voted for that war, and there were many people including Hillary Clinton and many others, were misled by the administration,” Moe Vela, former senior adviser to Biden and member of the Transparent Business board of directors, said.

“I don’t even know why Bernie Sanders continues to bring it up when he knows that that is not a fair assessment at all,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Michael Gordon said the war has since faded from voters’ memories.

“The Iraq War vote is a distant memory and Biden has vast international experience that far outweighs any single vote,” Gordon, who is also the principal chief executive at Group Gordon, said. 

Biden is doubling down on his foreign policy credentials when attacking Trump over the killing of the Iranian general, seeking to make electability — and his promise to beat the president
in a general election — at the center of his campaign, as he did at a speech
on Tuesday.

“All we’ve heard from this administration is shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion,” Biden said in New York. “The only way out of this crisis is through diplomacy.”

“I served in the executive branch of our government for eight years, but I served in the legislative branch for 36 prior to that — and I understand better than anyone that the system will not hold unless we find ways to work together to advance our national interests — not the political interests of one person or one party,” Biden said.

Other top Democratic contenders also face potential attacks over the escalating tensions in the Middle East even as they seek to draw a contrast against a president they call reckless and irresponsible.

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: 68 percent of Democrats say it 'makes no difference' if a candidate is a billionaire CNN to host two straight nights of Democratic town halls before NH primary Poll shows tight general election battle between Trump and top Democrats MORE (D) has also pushed back hard against Biden’s vote to authorize the war and has made his military experience as a veteran with a 2014 tour of Afghanistan in the Navy Reserve a core part of his campaign.

Last month, Buttigieg hit Biden for supporting the “worst foreign policy decision” of his lifetime.

“This is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment,” Buttigieg said during an appearance on “Iowa Press.”

“He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq,” he said.

But he could also face questions about his youth and lack of foreign policy experience as a 37-year-old former two-term mayor at a time when voters are concerned about instability in the world.

Sanders and his chief progressive rival, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected MORE (D-Mass.), also face risks. Both have used their anti-war credentials to bolster their support among progressives, but doing so could alienate more conservative Democratic voters while reinforcing doubts about their general election chances.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is seen as particularly vulnerable given his previous stances on foreign policy, including refusing to call Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro
a “dictator.”

Trump and Republicans have already started attacking Democrats since
Soleimani’s killing, with the president telling conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Monday that “elements” of the Democratic Party “are openly supporting Iran, an enemy of the United States.”


Warren, for example, came under progressive attack for her initial statement calling Soleimani “a murderer,” which was seen as not focusing sufficiently on attacking Trump and addressing the escalating tensions in the region.

She later shifted the focus of her attacks, calling the U.S. airstrike that killed the Iranian general an “assassination” while warning the U.S. should not be dragged into yet another foreign conflict.

“People are not thinking about this as an interventionist abstract philosophy versus a non-interventionist abstract philosophy,” Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said. “This isn’t a classroom discussion to people. This is are we going to be safe or not.” 

How Iran affects the 2020 race will ultimately depend on developments in a Democratic primary that has so far focused mainly on domestic issues like “Medicare for All.”

On Tuesday evening Iran claimed responsibility for the launch of unspecified projectiles at a military base housing U.S. troops in Iraq, a marked escalation in the conflict between the two countries.

Recent history suggests that foreign policy is often not top-of-mind for voters when they enter the voting booth. Instead, domestic issues like health care and the economy have had greater influence.

While former President George W. Bush faced widespread criticism for his administration’s decision to enter Iraq in 2003, he was still elected to a second term in 2004.

“It’s still heavily domestic,” a Democratic strategist said in an interview. “However, that could change rapidly if this escalates.”