- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sen. Bernard Sanders is welcoming the opportunity to weigh in on President Trump’s airstrike against Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, using it as a chance to remind Democratic primary voters what makes him different from some of his top rivals for the presidential nomination.

The Vermont socialist is highlighting his votes against the invasion of Iraq and opposing all of Mr. Trump’s military budgets.

It is a way to draw a clear distinction with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, whose vote for the Iraq War as a senator undercuts his argument of experience and judgment, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose vote for Mr. Trump’s first defense policy bill could hurt her attempts to wrestle the far-left mantle away from Mr. Sanders in the primary battle.

SEE ALSO: ‘This is not checkers’: Buttigieg questions Trump’s airstrike on Soleimani

“We must invest in the needs of the American people, not spend trillions more on endless wars,” Mr. Sanders said at a recent campaign stop.

The Trump-ordered airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week near Baghdad International Airport has escalated tensions with Iran and thrust issues of foreign policy and national security, which have been overshadowed by domestic issues, onto the front burner in the Democratic presidential race.

With Iranian leaders vowing to retaliate against the U.S. for the death of Soleimani, voters are seeking more insight into where the candidates stand on global issues and military adventurism.

SEE ALSO: Poll: Sanders surging, Warren lagging in Iowa, New Hampshire

Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist in Iowa, said the candidates will be tested because a major foreign policy conflict is playing out in real time during the race.

“It will be a big part of the conversation,” Mr. Link said. “Obviously in 2008, military interventionism was a big debate between Obama and Clinton. It has been in other caucuses and probably will be elevated in the next four weeks.”

Indeed, Mr. Sanders consistently knocked Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 primary race over her vote for the “disastrous” war in Iraq. He has deployed a similar attack against Mr. Biden’s judgment this election cycle while subtly hitting Ms. Warren over her 2017 vote for $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

Still, Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the conflict could bolster Mr. Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before serving as a sounding board for President Obama on issues at home and abroad.

“The escalation of violence also plays into Biden’s argument that we need a calm hand on the tiller in times of crisis,” Mr. Bannon said. “But he will have to prepare for attacks from Bernie Sanders, who will charge that Biden bears responsibility for the mess in the Middle East since he voted for the authorization that George W. Bush used to invade Iraq back in 2003.

“Democrats and independents have no appetite for another fight in the Middle East, and the senator from Vermont will try to capitalize on public distaste for endless wars in the region,” he said.

New Hampshire state Rep. Skip Cleaver said the episode gives Mr. Sanders a good chance to differentiate himself.

“He is very, very anti-war and anti-intervention when it comes to the Middle East — in particular going back to the original Iraq War,” Mr. Cleaver said. “I think his standing on that is very, very consistent. The others need to step up to the plate and issue their own views on the matter. But I think everyone is likely in agreement that this is a diversion for Trump rather than a strategic move.”

Indeed, the contenders have agreed that Soleimani was a dangerous man with American blood on his hands, but all have refused to fully embrace Mr. Trump’s airstrike that killed him. Instead, they have expressed concerns about the timing of the attack and whether the administration fully understood the possible repercussions.

Mr. Biden quickly responded by saying Mr. Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”

Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has played up his stint as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said Sunday that he is concerned about backlash in the volatile Middle East.

“Just because he deserved it doesn’t mean it was the right strategic move,” Mr. Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We need answers on how this decision was reached.”

Mr. Buttigieg said he hopes the administration has gamed out the decision.

“You need to think about the next and next and next move,” he said. “This is not checkers.”

Ms. Warren said Sunday that it is a “reasonable question to ask” whether Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani is connected to the looming Senate impeachment trial over his interactions with Ukraine.

“The question is why now? Why not a month ago? Why not a month from now? And the administration simply can’t keep its story straight. It points in all different directions,” she told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The administration can’t keep its story straight, and in the case of Ukraine, it was all about protecting Donald Trump’s skin,” she said. “We know that Donald Trump was very upset about this upcoming impeachment trial, but look what he’s doing now. He is taking us to the edge of war.”

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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