(September 13, 2019 / JNS) In the third Democratic primary debate on Thursday night, unlike the previous ones where foreign policy was discussed at least somewhat, there were neither questions nor answers on the U.S. policy surrounding the Iranian threat, even given the fact that this past week saw the ousting of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton over disagreements with U.S. President Donald Trump as to whether or not Washington should sit down at the table with Tehran.
The only time Iran was mentioned was when Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said, "There's one point we're really missing on stage right now, which is the fact that Donald Trump's 'America First' policy is actually an 'America Isolated,' an 'America Alone' policy. From trade to battling China to the global crisis of climate change, the challenges in the Middle East, he is pulling us away from our allies. Out of Iran deal, out of the Paris climate accords."
Foreign-policy scholars had much to say about the responses from candidates on issues related to foreign affairs, including whether the United States should keep its troops in Afghanistan, as has been the case for the past 18 years.
"This is the worst discussion on national security and foreign policy in the history of presidential debates. Ramblers; generalizers; one worldism run rampant. Our adversaries watching this would be breaking open the champagne. Our allies muttering Oy Vey," tweeted former U.S. State Department Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller.
"The Democratic debate was light on foreign policy when it comes to the big challenges facing the U.S. overseas," Security Studies senior fellow Matthew Brodsky told JNS. "Iran was only brought up in passing, which is interesting given everything happening in the Middle East today."
"Perhaps that's because they've all pretty much pledged to jump back into the horrifically flawed nuclear deal despite the mounting evidence that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is even more defective than originally thought back in 2015," he continued. "So there would presumably be very little daylight between the candidates, aside from who could beat a faster path to French President [Emmanuel] Macron's doorstep to take him up on his offer to appease Iran with cash and credit."
The candidates on the stage who have already said they would re-enter the United States into the accord include South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Sen. Elizabeth Warren(D-Mass.); Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas); and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
The Trump administration assured on Thursday that its "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran will continue, said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin amid mixed signals that U.S. President Donald Trump could meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions and could even relax some sanctions in exchange for negotiations—both possibilities the secretary rejected.
"There's no question it's working," he said.
Mnuchin also said, "We have cut off their money, and that's the reason why, if they do come back to the negotiation table, they're coming back."
Regarding possible negotiations between Washington and Tehran, "If the president can get the right deal that he's talked about, we'll negotiate with Iran," said Mnuchin. "If not, we'll continue the maximum pressure campaign."
In Israel, Nathan Sales told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that while the administration isn't seeking regime change in Iran, it will maintain its "maximum pressure campaign to get Iran back to the table" for a "better deal" than the 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew in May 2018 reimposing sanctions lifted under it, along with enacting new financial penalties against the regime.
Sales declined to answer if Trump will meet with Rouhani at the United Nations later this month or if the United States would agree to a French $15 million assistance package for Iran in exchange for complying with the nuclear deal.
Mnuchin acknowledged there were "direct conversations" with the French about the matter. "They absolutely understand they would need waivers from the U.S., and that's not something we're contemplating at the moment," he said.
Parts of the debate were in Spanish with one of the moderators being Mexican-American journalist and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.
And on a Jewish note, in a post-debate interview with ABC News, which hosted the debate, Booker said, "Thank God, Baruch Hashem, that we're doing multilingual tonight." Booker has had a long relationship with the Jewish community that included a well-known friendship with prominent rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) September 13, 2019