At the fourth round of presidential debates for the Democratic Party, held on October 15th, candidates finally weighed in on some foreign policy issues. Recently, as President Trump announced the withdrawal of military personnel from Syria, debate, or rather a unification of positions, occurred around this development. Russian election interference was also touched upon, although little time was given to this subject.
When asked about withdrawing from Syria, Former Vice President Joe Biden denounced Trump’s decision as “shameful”, and as undermining the United States. Biden, amongst others on the stage, stated that he would send troops back in to prevent Turkey decimating the Kurds. Senator Elizabeth Warren argued, among others, that this was another indication of Trump’s impulsive and incoherent ability to conduct foreign policy. Similarly, many of the candidates expressed their belief that Trump is continuing to weaken the country by pursuing unilateralism, allowing ISIS and other enemies to gain power from the situation, and that allies would begin to disappear over these ‘erratic’ policy decisions. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, while condemning the rush to leave, was the only candidate (and veteran) to highlight that the present situation was a consequence of the regime change and fighting the United States had pursued in Syria. While being criticised by fellow veteran Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who only seemed concerned about the nation’s credibility loss, she also highlighted how policy has armed terrorist organisations in Syria. When Russia was brought up in a question, candidates who answered largely agreed Russian assets should be targeted as punishment for meddling in their elections. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who was criticised by another senator, was the only candidate willing to acknowledge American interference in foreign elections and to offer Russia an agreement to mutually stop doing so.
Disappointingly, with the focus of the political race not being on foreign policy, many of the Democratic presidential candidates seemingly lack a good understanding of these issues. While many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions have their own critics, most candidates seemed content to ignore the fact that involvement in Syria is constitutionally illegal. Whether it was to fight ISIS or to pursue Obama’s ‘Assad must go’ policy, the wars must be voted for and declared by Congress. Moreover, candidates wishing to go back into Syria ignore the irony that the United States and allies have made themselves less safe by getting involved in a now embarrassing situation. Biden and the other Democratic interventionists, who made the argument that permanent troops are needed in the Middle East to prevent terrorists from coming to America, have clearly learnt nothing from the Iraq War and the subsequent growth of ISIS from toppling Saddam Hussein. Ironically, Russia is given credibility as it again seeks to help draw down the war in Syria (as it has previously tried before) while America needlessly berates it for acting as a legitimate power in the region.
Maybe, instead of fearing Russia and bemoaning the situation in Syria, these candidates and the United States should recognise that these policies and attitudes should be changed before a worse reality exerts itself. Borrowing money, while the government is in debt, to pay for policies which make America and the world less safe, can only end in failure. Truly, the current president should be better at correcting these policy mistakes. However, in the context of an election, a strong Democratic Party challenger is less likely to succeed against Trump while running as a more hawkish candidate. Hillary Clinton is living proof of this and interestingly has attacked the only candidate to openly question foreign interventionism.
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