The Democratic presidential candidates have split into an anti-war camp, led by Bernie Sanders, and a set of more nuanced responses to the killing of a key Iranian official, a rare and sharp contrast inside the party that begins to choose its nominee in a month.
All the leading Democrats, in varying degrees, criticized President Trump for the potential his drone strike has to destabilize the Middle East. But while Elizabeth Warren made the point of calling Qassem Soleimani a “murderer,” Mike Bloomberg called him “a murderer with the blood of Americans on his hands,” and Joe Biden began his statement denouncing Soleimani’s “crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents,” Sanders took a different tone, one drawn from a wing of the party that has opposed American wars since Vietnam.
“Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars,” Sanders said in a statement, after noting his opposition to the Iraq war and without mentioning Soleimani by name. “Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one.”
The campaign’s press statement referred to the attack as an “assassination.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has cast herself as the party’s leading anti-war voice, spoke about the strike on Fox News’ “Fox And Friends” on Friday morning, calling it “very clearly an act of war by this president, without any kind of authorization or declaration of war from Congress, clearly violating the Constitution.”
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, has not yet commented on the killing.
Andrew Yang, like Sanders, immediately denounced the attack and later said he would as president “restore the historical balance between Congress and the Executive branch concerning military action.”
Most of the Democratic elected officials running for president took more cautious and traditional stands, beginning with condemnations of Soleimani, who has directed Iranian proxy and terror operations around the world for decades, and who the US blames for a recent attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad by a militia allied with Iran. They also warned that Trump could be making a mistake.
“This reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war,” Warren tweeted.
“The timing, manner, and potential consequences of the Administration’s actions raise serious questions and concerns about an escalating conflict,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. “Our immediate focus needs to be on ensuring necessary security measures are taken to protect U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in Iraq and throughout the region.”
“Without more information, we can only hope that the president has carefully thought through the national security implications of this attack for our country and the grave risks involved,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “Given his track record and his history of making reckless and impulsive decisions that undermine U.S. strategic objectives and weaken our allies — most recently in Syria — there is every reason to be deeply concerned.”
During an appearance on MSNBC on Thursday night, Sen. Cory Booker said it was clear that Soleimani had blood on his hands but the approach of the attack lacked a strategic plan. “We have a president who has had, really, a failure in his Iranian policy and who’s had no larger strategic plan, and who’s made that region less stable and less safe not only for Americans but for other countries,” Booker said.
“What is important at this moment in time is full coordination between the Administration and Congress to ensure the safety of all Americans in Iraq and throughout the region,” former Rep. John Delaney said in a statement. “The Administration’s failure to brief Congressional leadership on this action is troubling and raises the risk of reckless actions that could lead to a dangerous escalation.”
BuzzFeed News has reached out to all of the presidential campaigns on the developing situation and will update as candidates respond.