On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Democratic presidential contenders will square off for their seventh debate at 9PM EST on CNN. Looming over the debates is President Donald Trump’s assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, which took the U.S. to the brink of war with Iran. Candidate positions have ranged from disagreeing with how Trump carried out the strike, to principled opposition to the killing of foreign leaders, considered a war crime under international law. It will also be the final debate before voting begins at the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3rd.

Six candidates qualified: former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former VP Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and billionaire Tom Steyer, who surged in recent polls after spending $116 million on television ads.

There will be no people of color on the stage after Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang failed to qualify, and former HUD secretary Julian Castro dropped out (and endorsed Warren). On Monday, Booker suspended his presidential campaign. Billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also failed to qualify despite spending over $100 million on advertising.

The assassination of Soleimani gave the Democratic contenders, who have all criticized Trump’s actions, their greatest opportunity to articulate their vision of U.S. foreign policy, as well as their fundamental priorities for the nation. Previous debates have included questions on funding programs like Medicare for All, but the corporate media rarely raises the costs of war.

Sanders, who surged ahead in key polls in Iowa, took a lead role in the opposition to further escalation of tensions, introducing the No War with Iran Act with California Congressman Ro Khanna (D) to block additional military spending on conflict with Iran.


Sanders continued to hammer Biden’s support for the 2003 war in Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers, and created the destabilization from which ISIS was able to secure a stronghold in the region. Post-9/11 wars have cost taxpayers over $6.4 trillion, according to a recent analysis.

Warren, who has fallen in the polls, also voiced opposition to war with Iran. “The job of the president of the United States is to keep America safer, and having killed Soleimani does not make America safer,” Warren told The View.

Warren pointed to the timing of the assassination, saying it could have been used to distract from Trump’s impeachment. The Wall Street Journal reported Trump felt pressured to act by Republican Senators whose support he needs for his upcoming impeachment trial.

Polls show voters want investment in healthcare and social services rather than in war and the Pentagon. Warren and Sanders, who have called on taxing the rich to fund social services, will likely seek to capitalize on this. Both joined a conference call with anti-war groups like MoveOn and Indivisible last week to help support grassroots protests against a move to war.

Former VP Biden, who remains the front runner in national polls, attacked Trump, tweeting “Donald Trump brought us dangerously close to starting a new war with Iran without any semblance of a plan.” He’s also highlighted Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear deal, a key accomplishment of the Obama administration, of which he was part. Biden also recently falsely claimed he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.

Buttigieg, who has been rising in the polls, used the incident to highlight his experience as a former naval intelligence officer, and to attack Trump’s handling of the situation. But he has not expressed principled opposition to war in Iran. He also said rising tensions with Iran contributed to what Tehran now says was the unintentional downing of a Ukranian flight, killing all 176 on board.

Sen. Klobachar said the president must obtain congressional authorization:

“We can only hope that the president has carefully thought through the national security implications of this attack,” Bloomberg said in a statement, ”and urged Trump to de-escalate tensions with Iran. He also attacked Sanders for calling Solemani’s killing an assassination.

The debate is hosted in partnership with the Des Moines Register and will be held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where The Real News covered a rally for Sanders headlined by freshmen Congressmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in November.


Jaisal Noor

Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.