There is less than a month to go until the Iowa Caucus. Yesterday’s strike by Donald Trump on a high ranking Iranian military official has led to widespread condemnation from every major Democratic candidate, but it is interesting to note the nuances and predict how voters might react. It shifts the field in a way we have not seen since the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein stalled Howard Dean and jumpstarted John Kerry.
Biden in his answers shows his expertise about this issues and his own role, bolstered by the Kerry endorsement, of brokering the JCPOA and defending the Obama administrations approach to Iran. He takes the more centrist tack that this action may have been morally just, but a dangerous provocation with a decision making process that was neither bipartisan nor multilateral making it far less effective. He also attacked the Trump administration for showing no concern about the potential blowback in the region.
Buttigieg echoes all of those concerns but links them to his own military experience in Afghanistan and reminds audiences that the Iraq War was the first foreign policy decision in his lifetime. A clear dig at Biden’s vote and a reminder that Pete is the only candidate in the race born after the Vietnam War. Unfortunately voters cannot help but be reminded that small city mayors make few foreign policy decisions.
Warren simply tweeted no more middle eastern wars and no war in Iran while Bernie gave a lengthier response that also highlighted his consistent opposition to most controversial military action overseas during his own 30 years in Congress.
Who does this benefit? I think we will continue to see the field polarize between its extremes. Bernie consolidating the left of center vote while Biden consolidated the center left vote. Buttigieg could be helped because of his military experience or hurt because a mayor of south bend never makes a 3am phone call. I suspect it stalls his momentum to Biden’s benefit. Warren will continue to lose out since foreign policy is the area she struggles with the most and Bernie’s own views offer a more comprehensive shift in American strategy abroad. The question “who do you want in the situation room?” is finally relevant for the first time since the 2004 and 2008 primaries.