Sanders criticizes Biden’s record on the Mideast
Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, is stepping up his criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden's Middle East policy record, particularly his vote in favor of the Iraq War. | AP

The Trump-ordered killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s second in command, has made its way into the 2020 presidential campaign, with Bernie Sanders, on national television yesterday, stepping up his sharp criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sanders singled out Biden’s record on foreign policy for special condemnation, saying Biden was not the person to lead the U.S. out of the mess in the Middle East. His sharp criticism of Biden comes less than a month before the Iowa caucuses. In recent polling, both Sanders and Biden have been playing tag for first place in Iowa, with both former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren close behind.

Sanders blasted Biden last night for having voted in 2002 to authorize military action against Iraq. Sanders voted against that measure. “Joe Biden voted for and helped lead the effort for the war in Iraq, the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country,” declared Sanders.

The situation in the Mideast was front and center in the minds of Democratic primary voters across the country this week after Trump ordered the missile strike that killed Iran’s top military commander.

Polls show that Biden’s 2002 vote is a major problem for him with young Democratic voters in particular, with some 40% of them saying that because of his foreign policy record they will not vote for him.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to pour fuel on the fires of its Mideast policy by sending out provocative and contradictory messages. At least twice in the last two days, Trump said that if Iran retaliates he will order the destruction of as many as 52 cultural sites in that country, a move that constitutes an internationally recognized war crime.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged, however, that such a move would be a war crime and said such attacks were not being planned. The U.S. has signed a 1954 international agreement that protects cultural sites in wartime. Iran has some 20 sites that are designated by the UN as culturally important, significant among them the ruins of Persopolis which was a major city in the ancient Persian empire.

Sounding much more reasonable than Trump, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said retaliation for the killing of Soleimani would be proportional. Trump, by contrast, has specifically said any further U.S. action would be “disproportionate.”

U.S. officials say they are bracing, nevertheless, for just about anything to happen, confirming charges by many Democratic lawmakers that the assassination has made the world much less safe than it was before Trump ordered the killing. Ominously, the U.S. is shifting and adding to its forces in the Mideast in the way it would be expected to if it was preparing for major conflict.

On Monday, there was another indication of the contradictory and dangerous aspects of Trump foreign policy. The Iraqis received a letter from the U.S. Defense Department saying that the U.S. was, in response to the vote of that country’s parliament, pulling out of the country completely. Later, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said no decision had been made about withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Another development yesterday put the Trump administration’s bellicose intentions on display. There have been reports of talks between high officials at the UN and the foreign ministry of Iran about the possibility of mediation of some of the disputes between the two countries, making it particularly outrageous that the U.S. yesterday denied a visa to Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. He was on his way to attend a U.N. meeting this week. The move is actually also illegal under policy agreed to by the U.S. and is seen as one more in a series of Trump provocations begun when he cancelled the nuclear arms deal with Iran.

Another indicator of the warlike intentions of this administration was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s provocative statements on the Sunday news shows that the U.S. was targeting Iran’s “actual decision-makers” rather than its network of proxy allies.

Trump’s former national security chief, the war hawk John Bolton, openly said this weekend that he hoped the assassination was the opening shot in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government itself. All of this flies in the face of Trump’s recent claims that he is not seeking “regime change.”

Democrats prepared resolutions to curb the president’s military actions against Iran. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the airstrike on Soleimani “provocative and disproportionate” and said it had “endangered our service members, diplomats, and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.”

Trump is in violation of the War Powers Act by not notifying Congress in advance. He also did not meet the 48-hour deadline required by the Act to notify Congress after the deadly strike. He has claimed he is not required to tell Congress anything but that a tweet announcing he may strike again served as sufficient notice “nevertheless.”

Senators will supposedly receive a ‘briefing’ Wednesday.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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