It’s About Time We Had a Foreign Policy Debate

From left: Democratic presidential hopefuls New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer participate in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.

Source SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

Why you should care

The impeachment case playing out during the day showed the importance of foreign affairs on the debate stage.

Jennifer Psaki is a former White House communications director who served under President Barack Obama.

Watching the Democratic presidential debate Wednesday night, after spending the last two weeks glued to the endless hours of impeachment hearings, was a jolting and welcome contrast. For a few hours, these candidates brought a little joy back to politics.   

There were moments of earnest advocacy for substantive policy issues and there were even flashes of humor.

Andrew Yang’s quip that he would tell President Vladimir Putin in their first conversation, “I’m sorry I beat your guy … or not sorry,” was the line of the night.

Sen. Cory Booker’s quip that he thought former Vice President Joe Biden “might have been high” when he said he opposed the legalization of marijuana gracefully led him to a discussion about racial discrimination.

We should know exactly how the next President of the United States views our role in the world …

And there were thoughtful and substantive exchanges on some of the many issues that are driving the town hall meetings, local television interviews and house parties that are consuming most of their days on the campaign trail. 

Health care, reproductive rights and economic growth will always be vital issues that should be endlessly discussed and debated. Those are the issues that families living and working in America today care deeply about because of their personal impact.

But like moments when our country has been at war or under threat, the time we are living in is deadly serious.

We should know exactly how the next president of the United States views our role in the world, the role of American power and how it is used on the international stage.

That doesn’t require a Ph.D. in international relations or decades of experience on the foreign relations committee. But it does require intellectual curiosity and it does require judgment. Wednesday’s debate went further than most in illuminating those issues among the Democratic candidates.

Biden had some painful stumbles on race, but he felt comfortable during the questioning about foreign policy, leaning heavily on his time in the Senate and of course as vice president.

Sen. Kamala Harris effectively delivered an attack on Trump, saying he “got punked” by North Korea. When she was pressed by moderator Andrea Mitchell about whether she would make concessions, she had a clear answer. It’s a good start.

While Sen. Elizabeth Warren wasn’t asked a national security question, she gave an honest and heartfelt answer on whether there should be more women serving in the military. 

But there were also moments that were a reminder of what should give us pause.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard proactively launched an attack on Mayor Pete Buttigieg about his idea of sending troops to Mexico to fight drug cartels, suggesting it was a sign of his inexperience. 

After shutting her down with a rhetorical question about whether she thought anyone on the stage would suggest invading Mexico, he clapped back at her with an attack on her decision to meet with the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad: “If your question is about experience, let’s also talk about judgment … I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”

At a time when we are on the verge of impeaching a president for his lack of understanding of right and wrong and for his judgment, we should pay close attention to how all of the candidates would approach their role as commander in chief.

Some make me far more nervous than others. Let’s hope the next debate in December — which will take place at a time when we will likely be headed for a Senate impeachment trial — will dig even further into the national security issues that will be some of the hardest the next president of the United States will have to face.

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