An Iranian Reacts to the First Democratic Primary Debate

An Iranian Reacts to the First Democratic Primary Debate October 15, 2015

I have watched all the debates in the American presidential debates so far. I saw no use in writing about the Republican debates because all of these people are scary for an Iranian, whether those who want to basically start a war, and they seem beyond any hope. To me as an Iranian the only Republican not scary was Rand Paul, and he has no chance to win anyway. But I’m writing about the Democratic debate because these people are rational, and I think my voice may be heard by more rational people among those who would vote in the democratic primary.

I also grade each of the candidates. I don’t care who “won” or “lost” the debate, the debates are not a sports game. They are an opportunity to show the policies of candidates in comparison with each other, and I will treat it as such. In this post I will grade the Democratic candidates only based on their positions on Iran. I support complete reconciliation between the United States and Iran, and I grade the candidates based on that goal. I believe this will help my American readers to make a more informed decision when casting their ballot in the primary and general elections.

I am an Iranian citizen, and my goal is the goal of the majority of my country people, and I believe this is useful for a discerning American voter. So without further ado, on to my reactions. All quotes are from this Washington Post transcript.

Tl;dr: Sanders and Chafee were excellent, Clinton was flawed but acceptable, O’Malley was bad, and Webb was a disaster.

democratic candidates

Lincoln Chafee: A

I knew absolutely nothing about Chafee before tonight. I knew he had voted against the Iraq invasion and that was a big plus. But tonight I loved him. As an Iranian, I think he did great. Lincoln Chafee is graded A because he supports the nuclear deal with Iran, and supports solving the issues between the two countries using diplomacy, and has lauded President Obama’s efforts.

OK. I just have to answer one thing that Senator Webb said about the Iran deal, because I’m a strong proponent of what President Obama.

Chafee avoids the demonizing rhetoric and he has shown remarkable understanding, showing that he can sympathize with Iranian people and not to see anything through hawkish lenses.

Of course, sadly, Chafee was a disaster as a debater. For god’s sake, when he was asked for reasons for some bad votes, he twice used the “everyone else did it” rationale, which is… bad.

Anyway, Chafee has zero chance of winning nomination, but tonight I found great respect for the man.

Hillary Clinton: B

Clinton supports the deal with Iran and further diplomacy. However I have given Clinton a B instead of an A, because although she supports diplomatic efforts, she is still very antagonistic towards Iran in her tone. She supports diplomacy but she always stresses “preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon”, and she kept bragging about imposing sanctions on Iran, which is seriously not cool.

But her worst moment was when she was asked to name the enemies she’s proud of in the first debate, she said: “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians.” Come on, Hillary. We Iranians like you a lot. We’re not your enemies. Sad face. I give her the benefit of the doubt that assume she meant far-right Iranian theocrats, but it lacked delicacy.

Clinton could improve her tone by stop trying to portray Iran as an enemy, as her rhetoric is not constructive to the goal of reconciliation as it recently happened with Cuba. As a plus, Clinton supported the diplomatic efforts with Russia:

There’s no doubt that when Putin came back in and said he was going to be President, that did change the relationship. We have to stand up to his bullying, and specifically in Syria, it is important — and I applaud the administration because they are engaged in talks right now with the Russians to make it clear that they’ve got to be part of the solution to try to end that bloody conflict.

Yes. President Obama has taken a rational position when it comes to Russia, instead of escalating the situation, he has engaged in diplomacy. Clinton supports her. Middle East should not becomes the battleground between US and Russia.

Of course, you might ask me why I give Clinton a B rather than a C, why I consider her in the acceptable range range. Firstly, she was President Obama’s Secretary of State, and her record in that position is very encouraging. Secondly while she uses the antagonistic tone she avoids exaggeration. Based on everything I believe with President Clinton and President Rouhani there is enough reason to hope and be optimistic.

Martin O’Malley: C

O’Malley supports the deal with Iran, which is a good thing. However, like Clinton, his rhetoric in Iran is very antagonistic. I grade him even lower than Clinton, a C, because his rhetoric is over the top as well as antagonistic. He called Iran the greatest security threat to the United States, saying that it is as dangerous as IS. Once occasion was on the debate:

 I believe that nuclear Iran remains the biggest threat, along with the threat of ISIL; climate change.

Is Iran as bad as IS an climate change? What? Like, the most evil and extremist Islamist group of all time and humanity’s most credible chance at an actual apocalypse are equivalent to Iran? You want someone with such a lack of knowledge of Middle East as commander in chief, America? Not cool, Martin, not cool.

If you consider Iran such a grave threat that it’s comparable to IS, despite your support for the diplomacy, it is very unlikely that you will go further than that and as president try to reconcile with Iran. He also jumped on the dangerous Republican anti-Russia bandwagon:

Secretary Clinton, Russia, they’re challenging the U.S. in Syria. According to U.S. intelligence, they’ve lied about who they’re bombing. You spearheaded the reset with Russia. Did you underestimate the Russians, and as president, what would your response to Vladimir Putin be right now in Syria?

The reset with Russia was a good policy. It should continue. I hate Putin, but I hate him for moving against diplomacy and acting like a Tsar in the 21st century. Let’s not flirt with the idea of World War III. Let’s drop antagonistic rhetoric. A dangerous man is in control in Russia, a dangerous man in USA is not the answer.

That’s why I can’t consider O’Malley’s position in the acceptable range.

Bernie Sanders: A

Sanders is a candidate who mostly focuses on domestic issues, especially economic issues, but I’ll give him an A, because he has consistently supported rational foreign policy positions as congressman and senator, and he has vehemently defended the nuclear deal, and he has avoided any antagonistic rhetoric towards Iran. I can easily imagine that with President Sanders and President Rouhani, things will improve between the two countries.

Now Sanders never mentioned Iran by name. He talked about Syria a lot.  He calls it a “quagmire within a quagmire”. He’s right. He understands Middle East. I see nothing objectionable so I give him the full grade.

Jim Webb: F

Jim Webb opposes the Iran deal:

There are three strategic failings that have allowed this to occur. The first was the invasion of Iraq, which destabilized ethnic elements in Iraq and empowered Iran. The second was the Arab Spring, which created huge vacuums in Libya and in Syria that allowed terrorist movements to move in there. And the third was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward and eventually acquire a nuclear weapon, which sent bad signals, bad body language into the region about whether we are acquiescing in Iran becoming a stronger piece of the formula in that part of the world.

This quote is simply perplexing. Does he think USA is responsible for Arab Spring and it was a “strategic failure”? Way to ignore the autonomy of an entire people, across many countries, Jim. Also preventing war with Iran was not a strategic failure. It was good policy, preventing disaster.

He also went on a strange rant against China.

I can’t see how his foreign policy is different from a Republican’s. I hope this disqualifies him. I’m glad it seems he has no chance. I believe after Obama’s legacy there should be no place for such hawkishness.

Image credits:
Lincoln Chafee: in the public domain, via Wikipedia.
Hillary Clinton: By Hillary for Iowa, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic, via Flickr
Martin O’Malley: by MarylandGovPics,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic, via Flickr

Bernie Sanders: by Nick Solari,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic, via Flickr
Jim Webb: in public domain, via Wikipedia

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