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In South Carolina Debate, Democrats Spar Over US Troops In Mideast, Embassy in Israel

(Jackson Richman/JNS) During the Democratic presidential debate this week ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary, some of the candidates defended their positions on Israel and other issues pertaining to the Middle East.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) reiterated that she would bring U.S. combat troops back from areas of the Middle East, after walking back her stance that she would bring home all U.S. troops from the region.

She said that “a president’s job, first job, is to keep America safe, and an important part of that is to have a strong military,” adding that her three brothers served in the U.S. military.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said while “you want to cut it back as much as you can,” he would not withdraw all U.S. combat troops from the Mideast.

“If we learned something from 9/11, people plan things overseas and execute them here. We have to be able to stop terrorism,” he said. “And there’s no guarantees that you’re going to be able to do it, but we have to have some troops in places where terrorists congregate, and to not do so is just irresponsible.”

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who served in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan, disagreed with Bloomberg.

“I don’t think we need to have ground troops anywhere terrorists can gather because terrorists can gather anywhere in the world,” he said. “But we do need intelligence capabilities and specialists on the ground.”

The debate included the question of whether the candidates would undo U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 2018 move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Also discussed was Democratic frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accusing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of expressing “bigotry,” in which he announced that he was not going to attend next week’s AIPAC Policy Conference.

Sanders answered that moving the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv is “something that we would take into consideration.”

At another point in the debate, he said, “I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months,” he said, referring to living on a kibbutz in the 1960s. “But what I happen to believe is that, right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”

“And I happen to believe—I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he continued. “We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and the Americans. And in answer to your question, that will come within the context of bringing nations together in the Mideast.”

Bloomberg said that “the battle has been going on for a long time in the Middle East, whether it’s the Arabs versus the Persians, the Shias versus the Sunnis, the Jews in Israel and the Palestinians.” He went on to say that while the U.S. embassy shouldn’t have been relocated to Jerusalem, it should stay there.

“You can’t move the embassy back,” he said. “We should not have done it without getting something from the Israeli government. But it was done, and you’re going to have to leave it there.”

Bloomberg stated that the “only solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is a two-state solution.”

Warren said, “Israelis have a right to security, and the Palestinians have a right to be treated with dignity and to have self-determination. That is a two-state solution.”

“But it’s not up to us to determine what the terms of a two-state solution are. We want to be a good ally to everyone in the region. The best way to do that is to encourage the parties to get to the negotiating table themselves,” she continued. “Donald Trump’s big mistake is he keeps putting a thumb on the scale on just one side, and that moves the parties further away from working out their own solution here. We need to be an ally by supporting them to come to negotiate to find a lasting peace.”

Regarding whether she would undo Trump’s embassy move, Warren reiterated that it should be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to “determine the capitals themselves.”

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