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'We Are In A State Of War': 2020 Dems Address Iran Conflict On The Campaign Trail

Ali Oshinskie/NHPR
Tulsi Gabbard appeared on NHPR's The Exchange in May, 2019

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 in New Hampshire.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard hosted a town hall meeting in a restored railroad depot building in Northfield 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.

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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, 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, Mass., agreed, and said he believes 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 for Trump's decision to order the assassination.

"I am very grateful that a bad guy is dead," said John Griffin, of Norfolk, Mass. "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 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 is alive right now."

The Trump administration has argued 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. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called it "reckless." Sen. 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 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.

Anthony Brooks has more than twenty five years of experience in public radio, working as a producer, editor, reporter, and most recently, as a fill-in host for NPR. For years, Brooks has worked as a Boston-based reporter for NPR, covering regional issues across New England, including politics, criminal justice, and urban affairs. He has also covered higher education for NPR, and during the 2000 presidential election he was one of NPR's lead political reporters, covering the campaign from the early primaries through the Supreme Court's Bush V. Gore ruling. His reports have been heard for many years on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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