(Bloomberg) – The drone attack that killed Iran's top military commander has given the 2020 presidential campaign a new focus on foreign policy, a moment that could play out Joe Biden's strengths in the primary democratic race.
Biden seized the opportunity to kill Iranian Qassem Soleimani to remind democratic voters why he thinks he is best placed to face President Donald Trump in the general election on foreign policy.
Biden told voters in Dubuque, Iowa on Friday, that the US could "be on the brink of a new conflict in the Middle East."
Biden called Soleimani "the architect behind the slaughter of countless lives" and doubted that the Trump administration had "a strategy for the next steps", suggesting that he would not act as president without a longer-term plan.
Iran options seem tight when it comes to avenging the general
"Unfortunately, we haven't seen anything from this government to propose such a plan," said Biden.
Pete Buttigieg repeated Biden's statement. "Killing a villain is not a good idea unless you are ready for what's next, so Americans are asking a lot of questions today," Buttigieg said at a town hall meeting in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders reminded voters at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, that Trump has repeatedly "promised to end endless wars."
On the war path
"Tragically, his actions are now starting a new war for us," said Sanders, recalling that he voted against the US invasion of Iraq in 2002. "Again we have to worry about unintended consequences." Sanders criticized Biden – and the democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 – for voting for it.
Trump ordered the drone attack that killed Soleimani, one of Iran's most powerful generals, who led the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards. The Iranian proxy militias have expanded Iran's power in the Middle East and are said to be responsible for the deaths of US troops in Iraq.
In a speech in Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club, Trump said Friday that the US is responding to a threat posed by US diplomats and service members and is not seeking "regime change" in Tehran. "We took measures last night to end a war. We have done nothing to start a war, ”he said.
US say airstrike thwarted Iranian "impending attack"
Biden was among the first to respond to the news of the murder on Thursday night and made a longer statement than that of his opponents. He warned that Trump may not have considered the “second and third order consequences” of the attack.
"The government's statement states that its goal is to ward off future attacks by Iran, but this action will almost certainly have the opposite effect," said Biden in his original statement. "President Trump has just thrown an explosive into a tinderbox and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy."
How Qassem Soleimani helped shape the modern Middle East: QuickTake
Democrats rate 77-year-old Biden as the most suitable for foreign policy due to his eight years as Vice President and his decades of experience in the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations.
However, he rarely focuses on these credentials, as foreign policy is usually not the top priority for democratic primary voters who focus more on social and paperback issues. Trump's escalation with Iran at least briefly addressed the problem.
Biden's advisers said they felt voters were less concerned about Trump's foreign policy problem than the general feeling that he was a dangerous driver behind the wheel should a real crisis break out. Iran could turn out to be this crisis.
According to many Democrats, including Biden, Iran was a crisis that Trump had been responsible for long before the murder of Soleimani. This is due to his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which the Obama administration has negotiated for more than a year. The deal was President Barack Obama's endeavor to ease tensions with the Islamic Republic.
"Suleimani's success will create the first major real-time foreign policy crisis for the Trump administration against the background of impeachment and campaigning," said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow of the Carnegie Endowment Think Tank and former state analyst for the Middle East Department said on Twitter. "It's a potentially fearsome combination that requires smart, prudent decision-making and a steady hand."
A CNN poll at the end of October found that Biden had a huge foreign policy advantage with the Democrats: 56% said he was the best at tackling the problem, compared with 13% at Sanders and 11% at Elizabeth Warren. Next came Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at 3%.
Sanders and Warren, who put economic issues before foreign policy in their respective campaigns, criticized the president's decision.
"Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another devastating Middle East war that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars," Sanders said in his statement. "Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another."
Warren, who sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said Soleimani was responsible for "the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans". She also called for an end to "endless wars" and said Trump's "ruthless move escalates the situation with Iran and." increases the likelihood of further deaths and new conflicts in the Middle East. "
"Our priority must be to avoid another costly war," said Warren.
Buttigieg also tried to call him the best candidate for foreign policy, drawing on his background as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
"I am not here to say that my qualifications are a prerequisite, but I will say that they make me very aware of the consequences of decisions in the White House situation room," said Buttigieg on Friday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was asked if his non-veteran competitors could understand the seriousness of the situation.
Last week Buttigieg again criticized Biden for supporting the Iraq war and said it was "the worst foreign policy decision the United States has made in my life". In December, the Buttigieg campaign announced a list of more than 200 memos from foreign and national security officials.
Michael Bloomberg, who is also seeking nomination for the Democrats, said Soleimani "has the blood of the Americans in hand." He expressed the hope that Trump "carefully considered the impact of this attack on national security." Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
In 2011 and 2012, Trump repeatedly predicted that Obama would attack Iran to be re-elected, signaling that a president would be of domestic benefit if he engaged in a military confrontation with the country.
While it is too early to see if the recent U.S.-Iran conflict will escalate, tensions or military action going into the legislature could benefit Trump, even if he has high levels of disapproval in foreign policy recorded. Historically, American voters hesitate to change presidents during a military engagement.
"If things escalate quickly with Iran or if oil prices rise significantly, it could harm Trump's re-election opportunities." But Trump looks strong right now, ”said Dan Eberhart, a Republican financier and oil and gas manager. "He killed a terrorist. This is generally a good thing. It plays well with Conservatives and Trump's grassroots tired of rogue peoples ignoring American power. "
Even as the rising approval ratings that George W. Bush saw immediately after September 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks on the United States fell from 2004 onwards, he still beat Democrat John Kerry, a respected US senator and Vietnam veteran. when the country was newly involved in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Updates with Trump, Buttigieg comments from the 10th paragraph.)
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