Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday called for de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East after Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house US forces.
“We have to start on a very sober note,” Warren said at the beginning of a town hall in Brooklyn. “At this moment, my heart and my prayers are with our military and with their families in Iraq, and all around the world. But this is a reminder why we need to de-escalate tension in the Middle East.”
She added that “the American people do not want a war with Iran,” a comment that was received by a standing ovation.
Iran fired a series of missiles at two US-Iraqi airbases early Wednesday morning Baghdad time, the Pentagon said, in the first Iranian response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike last week.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Tuesday that Trump’s escalation of tensions with Iran proves him to be “dangerously incompetent” and puts the United States on the brink of war.
Speaking in New York before the missile strike, Biden said Trump used a “haphazard” decision-making process to order the killing of Soleimani and has failed to communicate the rationale to Congress or US allies around the world.
After news broke Tuesday night of the Iranian missile strike, Biden turned somber at a campaign fund-raiser near Philadelphia.
“I just pray to God as (Trump) goes through what’s happening, as we speak, that he’s listening to his military commanders for the first time because so far that has not been the case,” Biden said of the president.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, has used the killing of Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, as a cudgel against the president’s Democratic political rivals and to divert attention from his impending impeachment trial in the Senate.
“Americans want to see their President acting decisively and defending the nation’s interests and that’s exactly what President Trump did,’’ Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
“Republicans are good at killing terrorists and this is a reminder of that,” added Michael Ahrens, communications director of the Republican National Committee.
The president was expected to amplify those messages on Thursday in Toledo, Ohio, during his first campaign rally since the drone strike last week. Trump’s campaign purchased ads on Facebook highlighting the Soleimani killing.
The Pentagon said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.’’
But the Trump administration has refused to provide any specific information about the nature or timing of the alleged plots, leaving Trump open to suspicions that the attack was driven, at least in part, by a belief that it might help him in the polls.
Several years ago, Trump once warned Barack Obama against “playing the Iran card” to boost his political prospects by starting a war.
With Mideast tensions now rising the president himself told one confidant that he wanted to deliver a warning to Iran not to mess with American assets. And he was eager to project an image of strength and replicate the message he delivered late last year after approving the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: The United States will hunt down its enemies anywhere in the world.
The al-Baghdadi killing has become a staple in Trump’s campaign ads and at his rallies, and Soleimani’s death was expected to receive similar treatment.
“ANOTHER dead terrorist,’’ declared the subject line of a Sunday campaign e-mail blast, which described Soleimani as a “monster responsible for THOUSANDS of American deaths.’’
For Biden, the moment presents challenges for the 77-year-old candidate with nearly five decades in Washington. While his resume is longer than any Democratic presidential rival's, it comes with complications.
Progressives hoping to make the world less militaristic point to Biden’s 2002 vote authorizing the US invasion of Iraq, suggesting that muddies his warnings about another Middle Eastern war. Alternately, Trump and Republicans cast Biden as indecisive or weak, seizing on his opposition to the 1991 US mission that drove Iraq out of Kuwait and his reluctance about the raid that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in 2011, when Biden was President Obama’s number two.
Biden himself has been inconsistent in his pitch to voters, seemingly confident that searing criticism of Trump and implicit contrasts with less-seasoned Democrats are enough.
Biden told reporters last month that foreign policy isn’t in his Democratic opponents’ “wheelhouse,” even if they ‘‘can learn.” Demonstrating his knowledge, Biden veered into explaining the chemistry and physics of “SS-18 silos,” old Soviet missiles. “It’s just what I’ve done my whole life,” he said.
He’s since touted endorsements from former Secretary of State John Kerry and members of Congress with experience in military combat and intelligence.
Yet Biden doesn’t always connect the dots with an explicit appeal to voters.
In Iowa last weekend, Biden called the Iran crisis “totally of Donald Trump’s making,” tracing Soleimani’s killing back to Trump withdrawing from a multilateral deal in which Iran had agreed to curtail its nuclear program. As he said again Tuesday in New York, the pact “was working, serving America’s interests and the region’s interests.’’
Material from the Associated Press and Bloomberg was used in this report.