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Here’s what Democrat presidential candidates said about the US military at last night’s debate

From left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), left, former Vice President Joe Biden, second from left, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, right, listen as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) makes a point during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)
January 15, 2020

The many candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 had said relatively little about national security and military issues until their most recent debate on Tuesday night.

With recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran on the rise, the six remaining Democratic candidates took turns criticizing President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and answering questions about their own views on the subject during the CNN debate.

“I know what it’s like to send a son or daughter, like our colleague has gone to war in Afghanistan, my son for a year in Iraq,” Former Vice President and consistent Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden said, appearing to reference fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg. “And that’s why I do it very, very reluctantly.”

Biden said he led efforts against a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan and said the U.S. should not deploy troops unless “vital interests of the United States are at stake.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another leading contender in the race, tagged Biden for his vote in support of war in Iraq.

“I thought they were lying. I didn’t believe them for a moment. I took to the floor. I did everything I could to prevent that war,” Sanders said. “Joe saw it differently.”

Biden responded by touting efforts during President Barack Obama’s administration to return some 156,000 troops from deployment in Iraq.m

All of the candidates agreed on the need to reduce troop levels in the Middle East.

Biden said he would still keep some troops in the region, warning of a potential ISIS resurgence as a result of Trump’s recent decision to pull many U.S. troops from Syria.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also agreed with the idea of keeping some troops in the region. She said she would not leave as many troops in the region as Trump has, but said it was a “mistake” for Trump to pull some 150 troops from the Turkey-Syria border region.

By contrast, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said she would remove all troops from the region.

“I think we need to get our combat troops out,” Warren said. “You know, we have to stop this mindset that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth and they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”

Asked to weigh in on the two stances, Buttigieg said “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops.”

Buttigieg went on to criticize Trump for decisions to send more troops to the region. He proposed a three year sunset automatically forcing Congress to vote on whether to maintain troop levels deployed to a war zone.

When asked of his military stance, Tom Steyer said “I would take military action to protect the lives and safety of American citizens. But what we can see in the Middle East and what this conversation shows is that there is no real strategy that we’re trying to accomplish in what we’re doing in the Middle East.”

Steyer said Trump has no strategy for dealing with foreign policy issues and said, “He is going from crisis to crisis, from escalation to escalation.”

As the debate continued, the candidates turned their focus specifically to the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement prepared under the Obama administration, but whose U.S. commitments Trump ended in 2018.

“That is so important, because we have a situation where he got us out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, something I worked on for a significant period of time. As president, I will get us back into that agreement,” Klobuchar said.

Biden lamented that Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear agreement had cost support among other participating nations but said that he would “insist that Iran go back into the agreement,” through a combined pressure campaign with a re-established set alliance.

In the wake of recent escalations, Iran has already said it would no longer abide by the nuclear deal. Iran first warned it would exceed uranium enrichment limits within a month of Trump’s decision to leave the nuclear deal.