At First Democratic Presidential Debate, Mideast Issues Take Backseat to Domestic Concerns

Presidential candidates during the first Democratic primary debate
During the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Miami on June 26, 2019, when asked by moderator and “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt who, if elected, would re-enter the United States in the nuclear accord, all but New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker raised their hand. (Screenshot)

By Jackson Richman

At the first of several expected Democratic primary debates for the 2020 presidential elections, issues pertaining to the Middle East took a backseat to domestic concerns.

The Iran deal was the only issue related to Israel or the U.S.-Israel relationship discussed at Wednesday’s debate. Other such matters, including anti-Semitism and Trump’s pro-Israel policies, such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, were omitted.

Among the 10 Democrats on the debate stage on Wednesday night, when asked what is today’s greatest geopolitical threat, only Sen. Amy Klobuchar mentioned Iran.

“It’s a simple question. What is our … biggest threat … to the geopolitical threat to the United States?” asked moderator and NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked the candidates.

“Two threats, economic threat, China, but our major threat right now is what’s going in the Mideast with Iran,” said Klobuchar, who is one of the candidates that have said, if elected, the United States would re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions lifted under it, in addition to enacting new financial penalties on Tehran.

Among the others on the stage—former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker,  former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—their responses ranged from China and Russia to nuclear proliferation, climate change and even U.S. President Donald Trump.

‘A mistake to pull out of Iran deal’

In addition to discussing the threat of Iran, candidates were also asked on their position regarding the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out in May 2018.

When asked by moderator and “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt who, if elected, would re-enter the United States in the nuclear accord, all but New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker raised their hand.

“First and foremost, it was a mistake to pull out of that deal,” said Booker. “And one of the reasons why we are seeing this hostility now is because Donald Trump is marching us toward a far more dangerous situation. Literally, he took us out of a deal that gave us transparency into their nuclear program and pushed back a nuclear breakout 10-20 years, and now we see Iran threatening to go further and we are being pulled further and further into this crisis.”

He continued, “We need to negotiate and get back into a deal, but I am not going to have a primary platform to say, unilaterally, I am going to rejoin that deal because when I am president of the U.S., I am going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region, and make sure that if I have the opportunity to leverage a better deal, I am going to do it.”

Klobuchar said it was “imperfect, but it was a good deal for that moment. I would have worked to get longer sunset periods, and that’s something we could negotiate, to get back in the deal. But the point is, Donald Trump told us when he got out of it that he was going to give us a better deal.”

She added that “Trump has made us less safe than we were when he became president. So what I would do is negotiate us back into that agreement, is stand with our allies, and not give unlimited leverage to China and Russia, which is what he has done.”

Gabbard remarked that the United States “needs to get back into the Iran nuclear agreement, and we need to negotiate how we can improve it. It was an imperfect deal. There are issues, like their missile development, that need to be addressed. We can do both simultaneously to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and preventing us from going to war.”

The debate on Wednesday was the first round of a two-night debate. Several other Democratic candidates will take the stage on Thursday.

The candidates who will be on the debate stage on Thursday evening who have pledged, if elected, that they would re-enter the United States in the nuclear agreement include Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); and author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson.

Reactions from both sides of the aisle

Predictably, the responses by the Democratic primary candidates were supported by Jewish Democrats and derided by Jewish Republicans.

“The candidates at the #DemDebate are right: Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal made us less safe and he does not have the authority to take us to war,” tweeted the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

However, “Every Democrat who spoke about the Iran deal last night agreed it’s a bad deal Incredibly, they all said it was a mistake to withdraw & almost all said they’d re-enter … even though they just agreed it’s a bad deal Democrats: the party that endorses bad foreign policy,” tweeted the Republican Jewish Coalition.

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