Democratic presidential candidates attacked President Trump on Friday for ordering the killing of Iran’s top general, saying his recklessness risked dragging the United States into another war in the Middle East.
Campaigning in Dubuque, Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden warned that militants could soon mount violent assaults on American diplomats and civilians. U.S. military bases and oil assets are also potential targets, he said, and Iran is likely to ramp up efforts to build nuclear weapons.
“Unfortunately, nothing we have seen from this administration over the past three years suggests that they are prepared to deal with the very real risk that we now confront,” Biden said.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recalled Trump’s campaign pledge to extract America from “endless wars.”
“Tragically, his actions now put us on the path to another war, potentially one that could be even worse than before,” Sanders told a crowd in Anamosa, Iowa.
At his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said Friday that he ordered the deadly drone strike against Gen. Qassem Suleimani because the Iranian was plotting to kill many Americans.
Trump’s sudden escalation of U.S. tensions with Iran played to the different strengths and weaknesses of the Democratic candidates.
For Sanders, a staunch anti-interventionist, the attack provided a moment to remind voters he opposed the Iraq war because he believed it would lead to greater destabilization. For Biden, it was a chance to highlight his foreign-policy expertise.
Several of the Democrats vying to challenge Trump’s reelection in November acknowledged Suleimani was a threat to U.S. interests, but cast the president nonetheless as impulsive and unreliable in his dealings with Iran and other foreign adversaries.
On Thursday night, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called Suleimani a “murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.” She went on to warn Friday morning on Twitter that the U.S. was “on the brink of yet another war in the Middle East — one that would be devastating in terms of lives lost and resources wasted.
“We’re not here by accident,” she wrote. “We’re here because a reckless president, his allies, and his administration have spent years pushing us here.”
At a town hall in North Conway, N.H., Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., conceded Suleimani was “not a good guy.” But America’s recent experience in the Middle East, he said, has shown that “taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you’re ready for what comes next.”
“This must not be the beginning of another endless war,” said Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran.
Another Democratic candidate, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Trump’s history of making reckless and impulsive decisions that undercut U.S. strategic goals and harm allies in places such as Syria left him “deeply concerned” ab
out the president’s decision.
“I think it is imperative that this administration now tries to de-escalate this crisis because we don’t want to provoke a wider conflict and we want to make sure we protect American lives around the world,” Bloomberg told supporters at a campaign stop in North Carolina.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker echoed the concerns of his Democratic rivals.
“We have a president who has had really a failure in his Iranian policy who’s had no larger strategic plan and has made that region less stable and less safe,” he told CNN.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another Democratic contender, told a crowd in Waterloo, Iowa, that she was concerned about Trump not consulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders in advance of the attack.
“We need to restore sanity to our foreign policy,” she said.
Times staff writers Janet Hook, Melissa Gomez, Seema Mehta and Eli Stokols contributed to this report.