Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren seemed to be arguing about the finer points of troop levels in the Middle East, but what was really in dispute was a much bigger question: whether the world’s most powerful military actually provides stability abroad and security at home when intervening in international conflicts.
In calling for maintaining a small number of U.S. forces in the Middle East during last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, Biden insisted that there are some problems for which the military might of the United States and its allies is the only solution. “There’s no way you negotiate … with terrorists,” the former vice president stated, in reference to the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and if America were to “walk away and not have any troops anywhere,” the terrorists would “come to us.”
It’s a case U.S. leaders have long made: We fight our enemies over there so that we don’t have to fight them here. But if Biden’s point seemed routine, Warren’s rebuttal was subtly radical. She implied that even the effort to eradicate Islamic State terrorists was not a job for the American armed forces.
“We should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily,” she asserted. Practically, that means withdrawing from the Middle East all U.S. combat troops, who Warren said “are not helping create more safety for the United States or the region,” and instead using economic and diplomatic tools together with allies to counter enemies. The senator from Massachusetts then went even further, declaring that the entire U.S. defense industry and defense budget should be overhauled to root out endemic corruption. (Warren offered few specifics on how she would implement either of those policies.)