By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.
SAN DIEGO — This just in: The U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani — and the reflexive criticism it sparked from the liberal media and the Democratic Party — has effectively claimed another casualty: the presidential bid of Bernie Sanders.
The potentially mortal blow occurred when Sanders recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to discuss events in the Middle East.
Host Rachel Martin tried to pin down Sanders on what he, as president, would do differently from Donald Trump in relation to Iran. She asked if he would keep a force of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq to maintain pressure on the Islamic State and ward off further aggression from Iran. Martin also wanted to know how the Vermont senator sees America’s role in the world. She tried valiantly to get Sanders to talk specifics. But it was like trying to catch a greased pig that had just downed an espresso.
All Sanders wanted to do was bad-mouth Trump and advance the Democratic narrative that the country’s foreign policy is in the hands of a madman who is going to start World War III. Sanders ducked, hedged and evaded most of the questions about what his approach would be. When he did answer a question, he left himself an escape hatch.
No surprise. Many politicians will exploit a foreign policy crisis for their own benefit. And evading tough questions is practically part of the job description. Nor is it surprising that Sanders remains wedded to the pre-1940s isolationist fantasy that, if Americans leave the world alone, the world will leave us alone.
What really bothered me was the second objective that Sanders tried to pursue in this interview, which became evident when he turned questions about Iran into a conversation about its neighbor. As Sanders sees it, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States was “a disaster.” Referring to a recent vote by a portion of the Iraqi parliament to expel all foreign powers, Sanders sniped: “Here you have a situation where the United States has lost 4,500 troops, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, we have spent trillions of dollars, and now we’re being booted out of the country we came to, so-called, liberate.”
But what does the Iraq War have to do with Trump? Nothing. When Sanders talks about the Iraq War, you should be hearing one name over and over again: Joe Biden. It was the former vice president — who is locked in a three way battle for front-runner in Iowa with Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — who voted for the Iraq War as a senator from Delaware in 2002. Later, as part of the Obama administration in 2014, Biden stood by as the president doubled the U.S. troop level in Iraq.
Of course, Biden doesn’t seem to remember any of this. It’s true that, beginning in 2005, Biden started calling his war vote a mistake. But, on the campaign trail, he is now pushing the false narrative that he opposed the Iraq War “from the very moment” it started. He first said that in September, and his campaign claimed he “misspoke.” Yet, Biden did it again just a few days ago, after a voter in Des Moines, Iowa, questioned his judgment because, the voter reminded him, “you were for the second Gulf War, which was a mess.” Biden corrected the voter, insisting that he opposed President George W. Bush’s military offensive against Iraq from the start.
But, as CNN factchecker Daniel Dale noted, this isn’t true.
If Sanders wants to go at Biden head-on, and accuse of him of lying about opposing the Iraq War, he ought to do so. But that’s not what Sanders did during the NPR interview. There, he tried to sneak in a dig at Biden, disguised as a dig at Trump. So Sanders isn’t just cravenly political, but also dishonest. Just the sort of qualities you want in a president.
The powder keg in Iran reminds Americans that the world is a dangerous place requiring the attention of serious people.
Sanders is not serious. And when you’re applying for the job of commander in chief, that’s a disqualifier.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.