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Sanders Criticizes Clinton Iraq Vote: 2003 Invasion Unraveled Region & Led to Rise of ISIS

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At Saturday’s debate, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over the U.S. role in the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. “I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of al-Qaeda and to ISIS,” Sanders said. Clinton admitted her vote for the Iraq War was a mistake but rejected the U.S. role in the rise of ISIS. “I think that there are many other reasons why it has, in addition to what happened in the region, but I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility,” Clinton said. “I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the presidential debate, the Democratic presidential debate Saturday night. Yes, it was held. The presidential candidates in the Democratic Party met for their second debate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders sparred over the U.S. role in handling the self-proclaimed Islamic State. This is the debate moderator John Dickerson of CBS.

JOHN DICKERSON: Secretary Clinton, the question was about, was ISIS underestimated? And I’ll just add, the president referred to ISIS as the JVU in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in June of 2014, said, “I could not have predicted the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq.” So, you’ve got prescriptions for the future, but how do we know if those prescriptions are any good if you missed it in the past?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, John, look, I think that what happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011 is that an Iraqi army was left, that had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it. And then, with the revolution against Assad—and I did, early on, say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates very early so that we would have a better idea of how to deal with Assad, because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum. So, yes, this has developed. I think that there are many other reasons why it has, in addition to what happened in the region, but I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.

JOHN DICKERSON: Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think she said something like the bulk of the responsibility is not ours. Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq—something that I strongly opposed—has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of al-Qaeda and to ISIS.

JOHN DICKERSON: Quickly, just let me ask you a follow-up on that, Senator Sanders. When you say the disastrous vote on Iraq, let’s just be clear about what you’re saying. You’re saying Secretary Clinton, who was then Senator Clinton, voted for the Iraq War. And are you making a direct link between her vote for that or—and what’s happening now for ISIS? Just so everybody can be clear at home.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I don’t think there’s any—I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States.

HILLARY CLINTON: I have said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but I think if we’re ever going to really tackle the problems posed by jihadi extreme terrorism, we need to understand it and realize that it has antecedents to what happened in Iraq, and we have to continue to be vigilant about it.

JOHN DICKERSON: Senator Sanders, let me just follow this line of thinking. You’ve criticized then-Senator Clinton’s vote. Do you have anything to criticize in the way she performed as secretary of state?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think we have a disagreement, and the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq—if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change, whether it was in the early '50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile, whether it is overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when, these invasions, these—these toppling of governments, regime changes, have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue, I'm a little bit more conservative than the secretary—

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Senator.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: —and that I am not a great fan of regime change.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Saturday night Democratic presidential debate that took place in Iowa. It was between Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, also Martin O’Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate. Vijay Prashad, your response to what Clinton and Sanders were saying?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, to start with, I mean, I completely agree with Bernie Sanders that regime change as a policy, as a sanctified policy by the American establishment, is a great mistake. And I was happy to hear him draw the line from the overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954 all the way out to Iraq in 2003. I mean, you know, let’s take the case of Iran, which he didn’t mention, where there was a regime change in 1953 against the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, which had repercussions that continue to today. So, I think Sanders is correct there.

I was puzzled by Hillary Clinton’s use of the word “mistake” with her vote in Iraq and the overthrowing of the state in Iraq in 2003. You know, this was an illegal action as far as the United Nations was concerned. The effect of that illegal action has been so great, to characterize it as a mistake seems, I think, rather precious to me. It’s far more than a mistake. And until U.S. foreign policy planners begin to seriously consider their culpability in producing the kind of social forces that erupt, you know, to attack people in Ankara, in Beirut, in Paris, I don’t think there will be a real shift in policymaking. And so I think that this is a historical opportunity, with the Russians and the Americans starting to discuss what to do with ISIS, to reconsider the question of regime change, to reconsider the question of evangelical foreign policy that seems to have brought far more grief to the world than peace and security for people.

AMY GOODMAN: Vijay Prashad, we’re going to break and then come back to you and go to Paris to speak with a Muslim leader in Paris. As this broadcast is taking place, there is a Muslim rally taking place in Paris. Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College and columnist for the Indian magazine Frontline. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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