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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 John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump 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 BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on struggling economy Louisville mayor declares racism a public health crisis MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.) and Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegJuan Williams: Clyburn is my choice as politician of the year 'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' 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.