The only military veteran on the Democratic debate stage tonight declined to say definitively if he would have also ordered the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
"What we saw with President Trump's decision, there is no evidence that made our country safer," said Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, when pressed by debate moderators on whether Soleimani would be alive if Buttigieg had been presented with the same information as Trump. "Taking out a bad guy is not a good idea if you don't know what you are doing."
President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike assassination of Soleimani in early January in response to Iranian-backed demonstrators attacking the U.S. embassy in Bagdad. Iran responded with missile strikes on U.S. bases.
"This is not an episode of 24," said Buttigieg, arguing that the president needs to carefully consider the consequences of the kind of strike that killed Soleimani. Trump's continued escalation of tensions with Iran—starting with his withdrawal from the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration—had only made the Middle East a more volatile and dangerous region, he said.
Other candidates were of the same mind. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) said he wouldn't kill everyone who is a bad guy.
Buttigieg did not go full anti-war with his answer. He stressed presidential competence, not a general rollback of America's disastrous, decades-long wars in the Middle East.
The modicum of restraint he expressed nevertheless earned him a lot of hate from some very online conservatives.
Would they say it to the faces of Kelly & Gage Hake? Their husband & dad was killed because of Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/MUSik4nZun
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) February 8, 2020
Just so we're all on the same page:
Buttigieg WOULD support killing third-trimester disabled babies.
Buttigieg WOULD NOT support killing a gross terrorist.
— Kylee Zempel (@kyleezempel) February 8, 2020
Democrats agree: Killing terrorists is a BAD thing.
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) February 8, 2020
These responses illustrate just how narrow the acceptable bounds of foreign policy debate are in American politics. If you're not in favor of killing all the terrorists, all the time, you might as well be one of them.