Editor’s note: Six Democrats qualified for the final debate before the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3. The Conversation asked three scholars to watch the Jan. 14 debate, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and pick a quote from one of the candidates to highlight and analyze.

Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University

“I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren’t friendly to us. And it was working.” — Joe Biden

The Iran nuclear deal took two years to negotiate and runs to over 20,000 words.

Joe Biden no doubt had a part in selling the agreement, as it was one of the Obama administration’s top foreign policy objectives. The agreement placed strict and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and even President Trump, during his first year in office, certified Iran was complying before he came up with additional demands. He then withdrew from the deal.

That move convinced American allies that U.S. leadership had become as erratic as it was unreliable. It also removed the incentive for Iran to limit its ability to develop nuclear weapons and relied on sanctions to force Iran to capitulate.

Since the U.S. withdrew, Iran has responded by continuing to develop its nuclear capability, making the time it would need to construct a bomb increasingly shorter. The recent killing of senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by U.S. drone strike will only encourage Iran to reconsider the steps it must take to defend itself. That may prompt Israel to again contemplate a preemptive strike.

In his Jan. 8 speech, Trump explained his rationale for killing Soleimani — a speech that included several dubious claims. I predict that his effort to force Iran to its knees will have no more success than his attempt to negotiate with North Korea to get it to give up its weapons.

If Trump then resorts to military action against Iran, he will likely find it impossible to convince anyone that his justification for acting is either credible or legitimate.

And if Biden — or any of the others on the stage — becomes president a year from now, putting the deal back together again will be difficult, if not impossible.

Amy K. Dacey, American University

“We should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.” — Elizabeth Warren

The final debate before the Iowa caucus is a challenging one for candidates. The strategic question at hand is: Do they fight with other primary candidates — or deescalate the differences that exist between them, even if small?

While the first six debates focused on domestic policy, the recent conflict between the U.S. and Iran was at the forefront of voters’ and candidates’ minds Jan. 14.

This debate shined a light on the candidates’ foreign policy experience, in contrast with the policies of the sitting president. Most recently, Biden has been seen by Democratic primary voters as the candidate most trustworthy on foreign policy.

President Donald Trump’s administration has expanded U.S. military commitments abroad. Even after declaring “I got elected on bringing our soldiers back home,” Trump has kept 174,000 active military deployed overseas.

The focus on foreign policy in the early minutes of the debate opened a door for candidates to remind voters that their positions reinforce the Obama administration’s commitment to only send troops into harm’s way when it was necessary and with a strategy and defined goals, while at the same time openly questioning the military decisions of the Trump administration, especially in recent days.

Warren’s comments sent a clear message that diplomacy and other means, such as international alliances and negotiation, are to be considered.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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