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It's time for Democrats to demonstrate their foreign policy edge to voters

It's time for Democrats to demonstrate their foreign policy edge to voters

Next Tuesday in Iowa, Democrats will hold the last debate of the 2020 presidential primary season before voters caucus in Iowa. It also will be the debate in which foreign policy and national security will most likely be front and center.

Historically, Democrats have not fared well when competing on the national stage with Republicans on international affairs and national security. Foreign policy issues helped Ronald Reagan win his first term and George W. Bush win his second. Democrats were portrayed by their opponents as weak on national security, and it worked. 

But now Democrats have a terrific opportunity to turn the tables on Republicans by depicting President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE as a grave threat to our national security. Even before Trump became president, 50 Republican national security experts declared that he would be “dangerous” if elected. 

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They were right.

Since then, critiques of Trump’s ineptness and unfitness to be commander-in-chief have only grown louder and have come from diverse members of the national security, intelligence and foreign relations communities.

In February, 58 former senior national security personnel blasted Trump’s call for a national emergency at the Southern border. They stated that Trump’s made-up national emergency would subvert the country’s national security interests, exacerbate the humanitarian crisis of the administration’s own making and make us less safe.

They were right.

In September 300 national security professionals signed a letter condemning Trump’s actions towards Ukraine and supporting an impeachment inquiry. Their central argument was that by putting his political interests first, Trump had abused his power and in the process side-lined America’s national interests.

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They were right.

Then in October, 90 national security experts signed a letter supporting the intelligence community whistleblower, whose identity Trump continues to threaten to disclose, even going so far as to call him/her a traitor. The experts declared the whistleblower’s right and responsibility to expose wrongdoing in the government.

They are right.

In short, Trump’s national security shortcomings have been proven in the last three years of Trump’s presidency. These warnings and declarations do not come from die-hard Democrats. They come from hardened national security experts, many of them Republican, who have worked as civil servants in both Republican and Democratic administrations. 

Most Americans agree. According to a USA Today/Ipsos poll, Americans by more than 2-1 said the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani has made the United States less safe.

On Tuesday, we can and should see dire declarations, critiques and, frankly, outrage, coming from the five Democratic candidates who have made it onto the debate stage. They are former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders opposes Biden Interior nominee in procedural vote Briahna Joy Gray on how Sanders changed the healthcare conversation Sanders 'delighted' DeSantis asked White House to import Canadian prescription drugs MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks NYC progressives anxiously watch Maya Wiley's ascent MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC Senate confirms Lina Khan to the FTC MORE (D-Minn.) and Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Buttigieg: Bipartisan deal on infrastructure 'strongly preferred' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE

Biden has the most national security experience of the group, and he should tout it to differentiate himself from the rest of the field. He will come under fire for his Iraq war vote. He can turn the tables by saying that he was wrong on that vote, and that he has learned exactly how badly trumped up intelligence can hurt a country.

Importantly, Biden can use his knowledge of world affairs and his relationships with world leaders to reassure the American people that he understands the nuances of diplomacy and can avoid the pitfalls that come with navigating an incredibly complicated global theater that the leader of the free world must comprehend.

Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar can tout their foreign policy work in the Senate and their appreciation and understanding of how the world works.

Buttigieg has been able to effectively use his time on the battlefield and his perspective as a veteran of war as a strength against Donald Trump, who lied about bone spurs to avoid putting himself in the line of fire for his country. 

There is no contest between these Democrats and Donald Trump in terms of who can be a better commander-in-chief.

Trump tweets from the hip. He has shunned, even insulted, our intelligence community, then used “intelligence,” which he hasn’t shared, as the excuse to bring us to the brink of war with Iran. His chaotic manner is the furthest thing from the steady hand and even-keeled mind that the country and the world so desperately need right now.

We also need a commander-in-chief we can trust. But the public simply cannot trust a word Trump or his administration utters, especially on matters of foreign policy.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.