While most of Tuesday’s debate focused on domestic issues, Democratic candidates were briefly asked about nuclear weapons policy and the war in Afghanistan. Senator Elizabeth Warren defended her “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons, despite criticism from Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Meanwhile, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper sparred on whether the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan after 18 years of war.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to go to another clip from Tuesday’s Democratic debate. This is moderator Jake Tapper questioning former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
JAKE TAPPER: Governor Hickenlooper, you ran a Facebook ad that warned, quote, “Socialism is not the answer.” The ad also said, quote, “Don’t let extremes give Trump four more years.” Are you saying that Senator Sanders is too extreme to beat President Trump?
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I’m saying the policies of this notion that you’re going to take private insurance away from 180 million Americans, who many of them don’t want to give it — many of them do want to get rid of it, but some don’t. Many don’t. Or you’re going to — the Green New Deal — make sure that every American is guaranteed a government job, if they want. That is a disaster at the ballot box. You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump.
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Senator Sanders, you are a proud Democratic Socialist. How do you respond to Governor Hickenlooper?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, the truth is that every credible poll that I have seen has me beating Donald Trump, including — including the battleground states of Michigan, where I won the Democratic primary, Wisconsin, where I won the Democratic primary, and Pennsylvania. And the reason we are going to defeat Trump, and beat him badly, is that he is a fraud and a phony, and we’re going to expose him for what he is. The American people want to have a minimum wage which is a living wage, 15 bucks an hour. I’ve helped lead that effort. The American people want to pay reasonable prices for prescription drugs, not the highest prices —
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: — in the world. I’ve helped lead the effort for that, as well.
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator. Governor Hickenlooper, I want to bring you back to respond.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: So, again, I think if we’re going to force Americans to make these radical changes, they’re not going to go along. You may throw your hands up.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I will.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: But you haven’t — oh-ho! I can do it! But you haven’t implemented the plans. Us governors and mayors are the ones who — we have to pick up all the pieces, when suddenly the government is supposed to take over all these responsibilities, and there’s no preparation. The details aren’t worked. You can’t just spring a plan on the world and expect it to succeed.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: John —
JAKE TAPPER: Senator Sanders?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: John, I was a mayor, and I helped transform my city.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: That’s true. Fair.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I have some practical experience. Second of all, interestingly enough, today is the anniversary of Medicare. Fifty-four years ago, under Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress, they started a new program — after one year, 19 million elderly people in it. Please don’t tell me that in a four-year period we cannot go from 65 down to 55 to 45 to 35. This is not radical. This is what virtually every other country on Earth does.
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We are the odd guy out.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was an exchange from last night’s debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Mehdi Hasan, I’d like to bring you into the conversation. React to their exchange and to the reality that Donald Trump is trying to run against the — what he appears to believe is a tide of socialism sweeping across America.
MEHDI HASAN: Well, on that line about what they want to run on, Pete Buttigieg had a good line last night about how, whether you run as a socialist, Democrat or as a conservative Democrat, the Republicans are going to call you crazy, left-wing, radical, socialist. So, run on what you believe in; don’t just run on what Republicans are going to say. And I thought that was a very good line from Pete Buttigieg.
Just on Hickenlooper, though, let’s take a step back. What is the point of John Hickenlooper? What is the point of John Delaney? What is the point of Tim Ryan? Why are they there on stage? It’s irrelevant. I mean, let’s be clear. It’s a complete waste of time. They were there to act as kind of right-wing foils for Sanders and Warren on this kind of CNN entertainment debate. Delaney is polling at something like 0.7%. He’s 14th in the race. And yet he got to speak more last night probably than he gets to speak at home on an average Tuesday night. It was absurd.
And I just find this whole framing of the debate, where you have, you know, people asking Hickenlooper, “Is Bernie Sanders too extreme?” — we have people — even here on this show, we’ve all internalized the rhetoric. We refer to them as “moderate.” Sorry, what is moderate about an out-of-touch multimillionaire like John Delaney? There’s nothing moderate about him, because the implication, therefore, is that Warren and Sanders are extreme, when, in fact, when you look at the polling, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are more in line with mainstream American opinion on healthcare, on tax cuts for the rich, on climate change, on immigration reform, than any of those candidates who are basically polling at 1% and represent the 1% on stage.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you’re right. The first question was framed, to Bernie Sanders, referencing John Delaney, which meant he would go second.
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the issue of nuclear weapons policy. This is the debate moderator, Jake Tapper.
JAKE TAPPER: Senator Warren, you want to make it U.S. policy that the U.S. will never use a nuclear weapon unless another country uses one first. Now, President Obama reportedly considered that policy but ultimately decided against it. Why should the U.S. tie its own hands with that policy?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Because it makes the world safer. The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively, and we need to say so to the entire world. It reduces the likelihood that someone miscalculates, someone misunderstands. Our first responsibility is to keep ourselves safe. And what’s happening right now with Donald Trump, as they keep expanding the different ways that we have nuclear weapons, the different ways that they could be used, puts us all at risk.
JAKE TAPPER: Governor Bullock, your response to Senator Warren’s proposal to the U.S. never use a nuclear weapon first?
GOV. STEVE BULLOCK: I wouldn’t want to take that off the table. I think America’s strength, we have to be able to say that.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Mehdi Hasan?
MEHDI HASAN: I mean, Steve Bullock went on to talk about “nucular weapons,” which reminded me of George W. Bush in his kind of folksy ways.
Look, I’m glad Elizabeth Warren has moved to the left on foreign policy. Foreign policy — I wish we could have had a whole debate on foreign policy. I find the format of these debates so frustrating, because you have a ludicrous number of candidates on stage, 10 candidates, and you’re trying to touch on all these different issues across the course of the night. And I wish we could actually drill down into some of these issues in more depth. Like Abdul said, I’d love to have a healthcare debate, where we could talk about that issue as a whole; a foreign policy debate, where we can get into some of this stuff. We touched on Afghanistan last night and then moved on. We didn’t even talk about Israel-Palestine. And on nuclear weapons, Elizabeth Warren is completely right to talk about not having this ridiculous preemptive policy.
Bernie Sanders has been the most progressive candidate on foreign policy by a mile. What’s interesting about foreign policy in this Democratic election year, in these primary debates, is that in 2016 Bernie dominated on domestic policy. Now everyone else has kind of pulled his direction. Last night’s debate was a reflection of how Bernie Sanders has dragged the Democratic Party leftwards over the last three years. But what’s interesting is he hasn’t dragged them leftwards on foreign policy yet. But he’s moved out there. He’s saying things about foreign policy. I’d love to have heard the candidates respond to Bernie’s proposal last week that you use U.S. aid as leverage to force Benjamin Netanyahu to end the occupation. I’d love to have heard what the other nine candidates, including Senator Warren, would have said about that. But we didn’t get to Israel-Palestine. I guess lack of time, lack of interest. Who knows?
AMY GOODMAN: And very interestingly, this is Detroit. This is where Rashida Tlaib comes from. I don’t know if that’s what President Trump —
MEHDI HASAN: Indeed.
AMY GOODMAN: — meant when he said she should go back to where she came from. But we’re going to turn to this issue of foreign policy now, when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg about the war in Afghanistan.
JAKE TAPPER: Will you withdraw all U.S. servicemembers by the end of your first year in office?
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: We will withdraw. We have to.
JAKE TAPPER: In your first year?
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: Yes. Look, around the world, we will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. But I thought I was one of the last troops leaving Afghanistan, when I thought I was turning out the lights years ago. Every time I see news about somebody being killed in Afghanistan, I think about what it was like to hear an explosion over there and wonder whether it was somebody that I served with, somebody that I knew, a friend, roommate, colleague. We’re pretty close to the day when we will wake up to the news of a casualty in Afghanistan who was not born on 9/11.
JAKE TAPPER: Governor Hickenlooper, you disagree. You’ve said that you’re open to keeping some servicemembers in Afghanistan beyond your first term.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I look at it as a —
JAKE TAPPER: Please respond.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: — humanitarian issue. And with all due respect, you’re looking at the condition of women. If we completely pull our troops out of there, you’re going to see a humanitarian disaster that will startle and frighten every man, woman and child in this country. And I don’t think — I mean, we have troops in over 400 different locations around the world. Most of them are small. They’re peacekeeping. They’re not greatly at risk. We’re going to have to be in Afghanistan. Look at the progress that’s happened in that country. We’re going to turn our backs and walk away from people that have risked their lives to help us and build a different future for Afghanistan and that part of the world?
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, their exchange over Afghanistan. I wanted to ask Mehdi Hasan — react to their exchange. And also that they talked about the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but not much mention of all of the carnage and the deaths that have resulted from this disastrous, long-term U.S. occupation there.
MEHDI HASAN: Indeed. And, you know, just to go back to my earlier point, John Hickenlooper, why do we care what John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, thinks about Afghanistan? What does he actually know about Afghanistan? It’s interesting, Pete Buttigieg speaking there as a former veteran, talking — rightly — about people the fact that there are now people serving in Afghanistan who weren’t born on 9/11, and we’re going to have the first casualty at some stage, which will be deeply tragic and deeply frustrating. He said he would get troops out —
AMY GOODMAN: Although there have been a countless number of Afghan children who have died there, who were born after 9/11.
MEHDI HASAN: Very good point, Amy, and we never talk about the victims of American wars, even at a Democratic primary debate, because those people are unpeople. They just don’t get covered, unfortunately, in the mainstream U.S. media or by Democratic presidential candidates, with some rare exceptions. And that’s part of the problem. You know, there wasn’t a proper discussion about endless wars. That was my problem with the debate format. We dipped in and out of subjects. We didn’t take a big-picture approach, which is, you know: What is U.S. foreign policy? What is it for? What is the next — when is the next president going to use force? Under what circumstances? Which wars are we going to end? Hopefully most of them, if not all of them. We kind of jumped in and out — nuclear war, Afghanistan — you know, here and there, and, you know, asking people like Steve Bullock and John Hickenlooper what they’re going to do, when they’re never going to be president, and they know nothing about foreign policy. So, yes.
And Pete Buttigieg had a good line, by the way. I don’t know if you heard him when he said, you know, “I want to be on the debate with Donald Trump, because I want to be able to stand there as a veteran and stand next to a guy who pretended to be disabled to get out of fighting in Vietnam.” You know, Donald Trump and his famous bone spurs, which I thought was a good line. But then I remembered, sadly, 2004, the Democrats put up John Kerry, the great veteran, against George Bush, the chicken hawk, and it didn’t work.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Senator Sanders last night, when he praised rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Now, Elizabeth is absolutely right. If anybody here thinks that corporate America gives one damn about the average American worker, you’re mistaken. If they can save five cents by going to China, Mexico or Vietnam or any place else, that’s exactly what they will do. And as president, let me tell you what I will do. These guys line up at the federal trough. They want military contracts. They want all kinds of contracts. Well, under my administration, you ain’t gonna get those contracts if you throw American workers out on the street.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, if you could respond to this? And then we’re going to go around the roundtable to find out what you want to see tonight in the next of the 10 candidates that are running in the Democratic presidential primary.
DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: Yeah. I want to make a point about what Mehdi was saying. We make this differentiation between foreign policy and domestic policy, when our foreign policy has dominated so much of our budget. We are involved in nearly 80 countries in the world, 14 of which our troops are seeing active combat. That costs a lot of money. And beyond that, we are shipping weapons abroad. We are subsidizing foreign military. That is all money that’s being used, like you said, Amy, to kill children abroad, when we could be using that same money to save children’s lives at home. And we’re not doing that. And that’s the point we have to be making.
But on that broader point, the dominance of corporations, in the ways that they have lobbied our government to make policy that is fundamentally about moving American materiel into countries where it doesn’t need to be, into selling our healthcare system to the highest bidder, these corporations who have dominated it, into making decisions about who can and can’t have prescription drugs, basic things that people need in their lives. This question of whether or not we’re willing to deal with the system of inequality and the ways that corporations have created that, that really is the differentiator between people like Senator Sanders and Warren and the other folks. Are we willing to deal with that system?
AMY GOODMAN: Erika Andiola, what you want to see tonight, the questions put to Biden and Harris and Booker and Castro?
ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, I mean, I really hope, again, that they can continue to speak to racism. And I am particularly interested also in, you know, hearing from Biden and a few others — hopefully from Biden — that they are not going to repeat Obama’s mistakes on immigration. And I also hope that, you know, we can hear some — or at least a question on Puerto Rico, given what just happened in the island, that — I was completely shocked that there was absolutely no mention of what just happened in Puerto Rico and what we should be doing as the U.S. to continue to support the island.
AMY GOODMAN: Mehdi Hasan? You have 10 seconds.
MEHDI HASAN: I hope that Kamala Harris takes down Joe Biden again, because it’s ridiculous that Joe Biden is still the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race, as the year is 2019. He’s out of touch on everything.
AMY GOODMAN: Mehdi Hasan, columnist for The Intercept; Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate; and Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES.
And that does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.