“So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way,” Warren said at Tuesday’s Democratic debate. “We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.”
Realizing their candidate had made a gaffe, the Warren campaign sent out a mid-debate tweet in which “Warren” declared that we need to get our troops out of “Syria,” not the entire Middle East. Campaign spokesperson Alexis Krieg told me in an email Warren “was referring to ‘combat troops’ since we have multiple non-combat bases, in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, etc and she did not mean those.”
“She believes we need to end the endless wars. That means getting all U.S. troops out of combat in the Middle East and using diplomacy to work with allies and partners to end conflicts and suffering in the region and around the world,” Krieg said.
The spin was worse than the gaffe. Does Warren (or the Warren campaign) not know that the United States’ Al Udeid base in Qatar flies “combat” missions fighting terrorists, including in Iraq and Syria, all the time? What is a “non-combat base” anyway? Are the U.S. bases in Iraq, to which our troops in Syria are now withdrawing, combat bases? Does Warren want to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq? The campaign declined to answer any of these questions.
What about the larger questions begged by Warren’s position on the Middle East? How is the United States supposed to leave the Middle East “the right way, the smart way,” without increasing the security risks at home? Since diplomacy and negotiations are not going to work with terrorists, how does Warren propose to deal with that, absent troop deployments? Again, the campaign declined to answer.
Former vice president Joe Biden was quick to pounce on Warren’s mistake, telling reporters Wednesday that U.S. military deployments around the world serve as a crucial part of the international security architecture that the United States and its partners still depend on.
“I have never heard anyone say, with any serious background in foreign policy, that we pull all troops out of the Middle East. And I’m not sure exactly what she meant by it,” Biden said. “And I hope she didn’t mean in a literal sense because it would be, I think, a disaster for American security and American foreign policy.”
It’s not as if Warren is unthoughtful or inexperienced on foreign policy. She’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She has traveled to the war zones. Last November, she gave a foreign policy speech that sought to define her worldview. It called for a new foreign policy based on progressive trade and economic policies, cutting the defense budget and ending “reckless, endless wars in the Middle East.”
But now that President Trump is ending the United States’ military involvement in one of those wars, the “endless war” crowd seems incapable of saying exactly how they would have done it different. They are the dog that caught the car. Warren can’t connect the foreign policy she envisions on paper with the events that are unfolding before our eyes.
Pete Buttigieg put his finger on the larger problem with Warren’s stance Tuesday night. He was responding to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who, like Warren, want to end the “endless wars,” but without a practical plan for how to combat the ongoing threats.
“When we abandon the international stage, when we think our only choices are between endless war or total isolation, the consequence is the disappearance of U.S. leadership,” he said.
In fairness, none of the Democratic candidates has clearly articulated what they would do in Syria, except for Biden. He said Tuesday he would keep the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, give them air support and work back to a position of defending the Kurds and using our leverage to achieve our greater goals.
Trump said Wednesday that the fighting in Syria “has nothing to do with us,” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran can have Syria if they want it and that the United States is far away from Syria, so we need not care about the Islamic State resurging there.
The next president will have to clean up that mess, and they might require troops to do it. If Warren can’t explain how her “end the endless wars” concept can credibly address the emergency that’s raging right now, she’s not ready to be in charge of U.S. national security.