Washington’s escalating conflict and crisis with Iran has become a central focus of the presidential race. Voters are expressing concern, and the Democratic candidates are talking about it on the campaign trail.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard hosted a town hall meeting in a restored railroad depot building in Northfield, New Hampshire, on Tuesday night, just after news broke of the Iranian missile attack on bases that house American troops in Iraq. As she began her talk, the mood in the room was somber.
“We are in a state of war,” Gabbard told a small crowd. “Again.”
Tuesday night’s attack was retaliation for the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, which was ordered by President Trump last week.
As a National Guard major who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, Congresswoman Gabbard has made opposition to what she calls “America’s endless wars” the central issue of her long-shot presidential campaign. With tensions rising with Iran, she said Trump is now starting another war.
“Unilaterally acting to commit an act of war without any constitutionally mandated declaration of war from Congress, this president and his cabinet has decided to push us into war with Iran,” she said.
As president, Gabbard said she would bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and focus on problems at home. Gabbard has been polling in the low single-digits in New Hampshire, but about 100 people came out to hear her Tuesday night — and many of them were impressed.
“She’s the candidate I’ve been waiting for,” said Sue Reusch from Bristol, New Hampshire, who agrees with Gabbard about the need to bring American troops home. Reusch added Trump was wrong to assassinate an Iranian general.
“It’s only going to make things worse,” she said. “Things are going to escalate. [Trump] is not saving our country. The man was a bad man that they took down, but you need to have diplomacy.”
Chris Langlois, of Winchester, Massachusetts, agrees, and believes that President Trump acted recklessly.
“I personally don’t believe that it was a good move on his part. I thought this was a little too aggressive,” he said. “It’s a very important issue to me. I have lot of friends who are serving [in the military] right now, and the thought of them [fighting] in this impending conflict with Iran is kind of concerning to me.”
But there was also support Tuesday night for Trump’s decision to order the assassination.
“I am very grateful that a bad guy is dead,” said John Griffin, of Norfolk, Massachusetts. “Whether it was right or wrong, it’s a bad guy not here anymore, and that makes me feel good.”
Asked if he is concerned that the assassination could pull America into another war, Griffin said, “I don’t like war. I’m not for it. But one less bad guy alive right now.”
The Trump administration argues that it assassinated Soleimani to preempt a planned attack on U.S. interests, but it has yet to offer evidence to back that up. On Tuesday night, Gabbard said the killing will further destabilize a troubled region and endanger America.
“This is something that I’ve been warning about for months,” Gabbard said. “That if we continue to escalate these tensions between the United States and Iran, it would lead to a war with Iran that would prove far more costly and devastating to our country and to people across the region than anything we’ve seen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The other Democratic candidates have also criticized the President’s decision. Elizabeth Warren called it “reckless.” Bernie Sanders said it brings America closer “to another disastrous war.” And speaking in New York City on Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden also took issue with President’s order to kill General Soleimani.
“The haphazard decision making process that led up to it, the failure to consult with our allies or Congress, and the reckless disregard for the consequences that would surely follow were, in my view, dangerously incompetent,” Biden said.
Up until now, the presidential primary campaign has focused almost exclusively on domestic issues: healthcare, immigration, gun violence. But now, the Democrats are talking about the importance of foreign policy experience, war and peace.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.