Who Won Democratic Debate on ISIS? John Kerry and the UN Security Council

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In the salad days of my youth, you could count on liberal Democrats to be steadfast supporters of action by the UN Security Council on matters of war and peace. Liberal Democrats were once so reliable on UN-defense that young leftist scold Phil Ochs could make fun of us by singing: “I vote for the Democratic Party/They want the UN to be strong.” Those were the days!

When Republicans threatened to commit war crimes, liberal Democrats used to try to protect humanity by chanting, “United Nations! United Nations!” But more recently, defending action by the United Nations has seemed to have fallen out of favor among liberal Democrats. Phil Ochs wouldn’t have recognized us.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been going on about total war against ISIS in Syria. Some of them want to send US combat troops for a US ground war against ISIS. The Republican on track to win the Iowa caucus proposed to “carpet bomb” ISIS, a dogwhistle for “kill them all and let God sort them out.” But until recently, there has not been much of an audible Democratic “United Nations” pushback on the Republican war crime cheerleaders.

Then came Saturday’s #DemDebate, in which Democrats were suddenly talking about the United Nations again as the right address for talking about war and peace.

Sanders: … And in my view, what we need to do is put together broad coalitions to understand that we’re not going to have a political vacuum filled by terrorists, that, in fact, we are going to move steadily – and maybe slowly – toward democratic societies, in terms of Assad, a terrible dictator. But I think in Syria the primary focus now must be on destroying ISIS and working over the years to get rid of Assad. That’s the secondary issue.

Clinton: That is exactly what I just said and what I just described… And that is important, because now we have a UN Security Council that will enable us to do that… we will not get the support on the ground in Syria to dislodge ISIS if the fighters there who are not associated with ISIS, but whose principal goal is getting rid of Assad, don’t believe there is a political, diplomatic channel that is ongoing. We now have that. We have the UN Security Council adopting a resolution that lays out a transition path.

O’Malley: I believe that we need to focus on destroying ISIL. That is the clear and present danger. And I believe that we can springboard off of this new UN resolution, and we should create, as Secretary Clinton indicated, and I agree with that, that there should be a political process.

Who flew around the world, badgered, wheedled and cajoled, went to endless boring meetings, was patient with obnoxious people and even spoke French, in order to get that UN agreement? US Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Obama has rightly said that when presidential candidates are pressed to say exactly what their plan is to confront ISIS, it sounds a lot like Obama’s plan. This is certainly true of Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley. They’re all saying pretty much the same thing as each other, and they’re all saying pretty much the same thing as Obama, and the basic reason for that is that really there isn’t any plausible alternative to what John Kerry has been trying to do. There’s no long-term solution to the problem of ISIS in Syria without restoring “legitimate government” to the territory currently controlled by ISIS. There’s no prospect of restoring “legitimate government” to the area territory controlled by ISIS without implementing a diplomatic deal with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. That’s maybe not as emotionally satisfying for some people as “carpet bombing” and “making the sand glow,” but then those people are largely the same crowd who don’t believe in the necessity of vaccines to prevent contagious disease or in the necessity of government action to address global warming.

You can show your support for Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to implement the UN Security Council agreements to confront ISIS here.