Phyllis Bennis on Dem Debate: Support for Combat Troop Withdrawal Is Not Enough to Stop Endless Wars

NPP Pressroom

Democracy Now!
Amy Goodman

Six Democratic presidential candidates sparred on Tuesday night in Des Moines, the last debate before the crucial Iowa caucuses. The debate, hosted by CNN and The Des Moines Register, focused heavily on foreign policy and rising tensions with Iran following the U.S. assassination of that country’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani. 

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Phyllis Bennis, fellow the Institute for Policy Studies, written a number of books, including Understanding the US-Iran Crisis.

Phyllis, your overall response, as basically they opened up on the issue of foreign policy last night in the final debate before the Iowa caucus?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thanks, Amy. You know, I think one of the things that was important to see last night was that all of the Democratic candidates, including the right wing of the group, as well as the progressives, as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were vying with each other essentially to see who could be more critical of the Iraq War. They all have said that at various points, but last night it was very overt that this was a critical point of unity for these candidates. Now, whether that says much about the prospects for the Democratic Party is not so clear, but I thought that was an important advance, that there’s a recognition of where the entire base of half this country is, which is strongly against wars.

And those two clips that you just used, from Elizabeth Warren and from Bernie Sanders, I think, spoke to where there are those differences between the progressive side and the others, where you have from Sanders and Warren a clear sense that it’s not only about what are we going to do specifically right now about Afghanistan, what are we going to do specifically around Iran, those questions — they address those, as well — but the broader questions. When Elizabeth Warren spoke about recognizing that there are not military solutions for every problem, that’s been the tendency of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for the last 20-plus years. When Bernie Sanders said that the focus is on the cost of these wars and it’s not the right use of our money, that was important.

Now, of course, in both cases, they could have gone further. They could have made a specific reference to using half the military budget, for example, $350 billion, which is half the military budget, using that to pay for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college education, all of the various social programs that there was debate about where is the money going to come from. All of them, in the past — it’s interesting. You know, one of the things that was not pushed by the moderators is the fact that back in June all of the Democratic candidates who were asked the question, in a forum that was sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign — were asked, “Would you cut the military budget, specifically?” Every one of them said yes. And yet none of the journalists are pushing them to say, “OK, we’ve established you will cut the military budget. Let’s talk specifics. How much would you cut? Would you use the decision about which programs to cut as something you would tell us now? Where would the money go?” Nobody’s pushing them to remind them that that was a commitment that they made. So there are some problems, but I think that it was important that we saw these very clear and strong positions.

Watch the whole interview and read the transcript on Democracy Now!