Soleimani's assassination set to redefine Democratic candidates' strategies a month ahead of Iowa caucuses
It is yet unknown which way the aftereffects of the escalation would go as Iran launched missile attacks against US bases in Iraq as revenge
Democratic presidential candidates, so far have mostly focused on domestic issues like healthcare and corruption in their bid to bag the nomination for the November 3 election. But the upcoming debates in the party could now see a big change after President Donald Trump made the foreign policy a major issue of discussion with the elimination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an air attack on January 3, exactly a month ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
It is yet to be known which way the aftereffects of the escalation would go as Iran launched missile attacks against US bases in Iraq as revenge. Even though the possibility of a full-blown war seems bleak, de-escalation seems far away from reality as well.
With the Iowa caucuses -- the first major test ahead of the elections -- not too far away, the Iran crisis will certainly shape the way the Democratic hopefuls rethink their strategies to corner Trump.
Assessing the political implications of a volatile week, the Democratic candidates are trying to go ahead of their in-party rivals and take on Trump’s aggressive foreign policy as the most suitable opponent.
Top Democratic candidates need to rethink strategies around national security
Former vice president Joe Biden is the one who has tried to seize the opportunity. As a veteran who has seen international affairs from close quarters, the 77-year-old veteran has tried to give the impression that he is the best man to take on Trump. As someone experienced in international affairs, it is not surprising that the former Delaware senator will try to edge his Democratic rivals out to bag the nomination. Trump has also attacked Biden in recent times over external affairs related to Ukraine and Biden is now placed suitably close to avenge with this opportunity.
“People are looking for the person who can help navigate us out of the mess that President Trump has created,” Tony Blinken, Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
But Biden’s experience doesn’t make him a leader in the race to corner Trump on foreign-policy counts.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another top Democratic hopeful, has reminded the voters that Biden was among those who had supported the war in Iraq in 2003 while he had opposed it. Moreover, since Biden was part of the Barack Obama administration that is accused of failing to contain the threat from Iran, Trump is not likely to let Biden go and allege that he would revive Iranian threat if he becomes the Democratic nominee.
Another top candidate ahead of Iowa caucuses -- Pete Buttigieg -- has also served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan in the past and he is doing his best to market the experience of having served in the war-torn country for seven months in 2014. Last week, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, gave an interview to AP in which he shared his experience as an officer and mayor that put him closer to the day-to-day impact of national security moves that impact the service members.
Elizabeth Warren, the other frontrunner, has based her campaign more on domestic issues but now it would be interesting to see how she makes national security an important part of her campaign in these charged-up times.
Among other candidates, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who also has military experience, is doing her best to thrive on the national security issue to take on Trump’s controversial foreign policy moves in order to score brownie points.
Iraq War had a role to play in 2004, 2008 Dems' Iowa caucuses
It is not the first time that the Democratic candidates have been decisively affected by foreign policy issues ahead of a presidential election. Twice in the 21st century so far, similar circumstances had prevailed. In 2004, former Massachusetts senator John Kerry turned the tables after American forces caught hold of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was leading the former secretary of state but after Saddam’s capture, the equation changed and Kerry, who had served in the military in the 1960s, went on to beat Dean and others who had lesser experience in foreign policy matters than him. Kerry even mocked his in-party rivals saying "there are those in my own party who threaten to take us down a road of confusion and retreat.” Taking a militaristic stand, Kerry said that anyone who had a doubt that Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam "didn’t have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be an elected president.” He ended up winning Iowa and even the Democratic nomination for the 2004 election, though he eventually lost to incumbent George W Bush.
Four years later, the Iraq war continued to have a say on the Democratic primary. This time, American psychology was so exhausted that anti-war voices made a mark. Democratic candidate Barack Obama presented an anti-war narrative to beat his rival Hillary Clinton, who had backed the war as a New York senator, in Iowa. “I was opposed to Iraq from the start. And I say that not just to look backward, but also to look forward because I think what the next president has to show is the kind of judgment that will ensure that we are using our military power wisely,” Obama said in a debate in January 2008.
Just like war had an influence on the Iowa caucuses in 2004 and 2008, the scenario in 2020 might not be too different. Kerry, for instance, has endorsed Biden this time and feels somebody with the experience in handling international affairs on the establishment’s behalf could be a handy alternative to President Trump’s way of functioning.