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Bernie and Hillary in New Hampshire debate

Thursday night featured the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire on CNBC, which compared to many of the Republican debates the way the badminton club compares to pro wrestling. Using the transcript, generously provided by the Federal News Service, let’s dig in, at the part about ISIS and the US role in the Middle East. We seriously redacted the text so your eyes won’t glaze over staring at too much horse manure, but we kept the good parts in, so take it away, Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

Maddow: …Secretary Clinton, we’re going to start with you. There are more than 4,000 American troops back in Iraq right now as part of the fight against ISIS. It has been 15 straight years of wars and multiple deployments for America’s military families, who have borne such a disproportionate burden.


Is President Obama right to keep escalating the number of US troops that’s fighting ISIS right now?

Clinton: Well, I think what the president understands, and what he’s trying to do, is that we have to support the Arab and Kurdish fighters on the ground who are actually doing the fighting. I agree with the president. I’ve said myself, we will not send American combat troops back to either Syria or Iraq — that is off the table.

But we do have special forces, we do have trainers, we do have the military personnel who are helping with the airstrikes that the United States is leading so that we can try to take out ISIS infrastructure, take out their leadership.

And I think that, given the threat that ISIS poses to the region and beyond, as we have sadly seen in our own country, it is important to keep the Iraqi army on a path where they can actually take back territory, to work with the Sunni tribes in Anbar province and elsewhere so that their fighters can be also deployed, to work with the Kurds to provide them the support, but they’re doing the fighting. We’re doing the support and enabling.

And I also think we’ve got to do more to stop foreign fighters, foreign funding and take ISIS on online, as well as doing everything necessary to keep us safe at home.

So as I look at what the president it doing, it adds up to me. We just have to keep — try to get more support for those people on the ground in Syria and Iraq who have to actually physically take the territory back.

Sanders: … Let me just mention what King Abdullah of Jordan said. I think he hit the nail on the head. And what he said is essentially the war against ISIS is a war for the soul of Islam.

Todd: Go ahead, Senator Sanders — 30 seconds, your response.

Sanders: OK. Let me agree with much of what the secretary said, but where we have a different background on this issue is we differ on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS.

Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition, and if you go to my website,, you will see the statement that I made in 2002. And it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen.

Todd: All right. Senator, I want to stay, though…

Clinton: If I could … respectfully add — look, we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now… and we have to be prepared to take them on and defeat them.

Todd: Obviously you’ve been emphasizing this difference on the Iraq war, but one place where you do agree, and one place where you voted to authorize the use of force, was in favor of the war in Afghanistan.

Right now, it is possible President Obama is going to be leaving the next president, perhaps President Sanders, at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. How long will those troops be in Afghanistan under President Sanders?

Sanders: Well, I think our great task is to make certain that our young men and women in the military do not get sucked into never- ending, perpetual warfare within the quagmire of Syria and Iraq. And I will do my very best to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

I agree with the secretary that I think what has to happen — and let me just mention what King Abdullah of Jordan said. I think he hit the nail on the head. And what he said is essentially the war against ISIS is a war for the soul of Islam. And it must be Muslim troops on the ground that will destroy ISIS, with the support of a coalition of major powers — US, UK, France, Germany and Russia.

So our job is to provide them the military equipment that they need; the air support they need; special forces when appropriate. But at the end of the day for a dozen different reasons, not the least of which is that ISIS would like American combat troops on the ground so they could reach out to the Muslim world and say, “Look, we’re taking on those terrible Americans.”

The combat on the ground must be done by Muslim troops with our support. We must not get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

Todd: How long are [the troops in Afghanistan] going to be there? If President Obama leaves you 10,000 troops, how long do you think they’re going to be there?

Sanders: Well, you can’t simply withdraw tomorrow. Wish we could, and allow, you know, the Taliban or anybody else to reclaim that country. But what we must do, and what we have seen in recent months, is some progress in Iraq, where finally the Iraqi army, which has not been a particularly effective fighting force, retook Ramadi. ISIS has lost I think 40 percent of the territory that it held in the last year.

Hopefully, and you know, one can’t predict the future, that maybe our training and their fighting capabilities are improving and we are going to make some progress in destroying ISIS.

Todd: Secretary Clinton, 30 seconds: How long are these troops going to be in Afghanistan? We have more American troops in Afghanistan than what we were talking about with Iraq.

Clinton: Oh, absolutely. The president decided to leave more troops than he had originally planned in Afghanistan. We have a very cooperative government there, with Ashraf Ghani and his top — his top partner, Abdullah. And they are doing their very best. And the Afghan army is actually fighting. The Afghan army is taking heavy losses defending Afghan territory.

And I would have to make an evaluation based on the circumstances at the time I took office as to how much help they continue to need. Because it’s not just the Taliban. We now are seeing outposts of, you know, fighters claiming to be affiliated with ISIS.

So, we’ve got this arc of instability from North Africa to South Asia, and we have to pay close attention to it. And we have to build coalitions, something that I did to take on the Iranian nuclear program, and what I will do as president to make sure that we defeat these terrorist networks.

Clinton: A group of national security experts, military intelligence experts, issued a very concerning statement about Senator Sanders’s views on foreign policy and national security

Todd: You know, Senator Sanders, … you have not proactively laid out a foreign policy doctrine yet. Why?

Sanders: Well, that’s not quite accurate. … So, let me take this opportunity to give you a very short speech here on the issue. I think, while it is true that the secretary and I voted differently on the war in Iraq, what is important is that we learn the lesson of the war in Iraq. And that lesson is intrinsic to my foreign policy if elected president, is the United States cannot do it alone. We cannot be the policeman of the world. We are now spending more I believe than the next eight countries on defense. We have got to work in strong coalition with the major powers of the world and with those Muslim countries that are prepared to stand up and take on terrorism.

So I would say that the key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be no, we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition.

Clinton: A group of national security experts, military intelligence experts, issued a very concerning statement about Senator Sanders’s views on foreign policy and national security, pointing out some of the comments he has made on these issues, such as inviting Iranian troops into Syria to try to resolve the conflict there; putting them right at the doorstep of Israel. Asking Saudi Arabia and Iran to work together, when they can’t stand each other and are engaged in a proxy battle right at this moment.

So I do think questions have been raised and questions have to be answered because when New Hampshire voters go on Tuesday to cast your vote, you are voting both for a president and a commander in chief. And there is no way to predict what comes in the door of that White House from day to day that can pose a threat to the United States or one of our friends and allies, and I think this is a big part of the job interview that we are all conducting with the voters here.

Sanders: I fully, fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was secretary of State for four years, has more experience — that is not arguable — in foreign affairs. But experience is not the only point, judgment is. And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way and one of us didn’t.

In terms of Iran and in terms of Saudi Arabia, of course they hate each other. That’s no great secret. But John Kerry, who is I think doing a very good job, has tried to at least get these people in the room together because both of them are being threatened by ISIS.

Clinton: Well, let me just add that, you know, I’ve said this before and I’m very proud of it, that when it comes to judgment, having run a hard race against Senator Obama at the time, he turned to me to be secretary of State. And when it comes to the biggest counter-terrorism issues that we faced in this administration, namely whether or not to go after bin Laden, I was at that table, I was exercising my judgment to advise the president on what to do, on that, on Iran, on Russia on China, on a whole raft of issues.

Because I know from my own experience that you’ve got to be ready on day one. There is just too much unpredictable threat and danger in the world today, you know, to try to just say wait, I’ll get to that when I can. That is just not an acceptable approach.

Sanders: Who said that I think we should normalize relations with Iran tomorrow? I never said that. I think we should move forward as quickly as we can.

Maddow: Secretary Clinton, … Senator Sanders called for moving as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran. Your campaign has criticized him for saying that. Now that he’s standing next to you here on this stage, can you explain why the US shouldn’t try to normalize relations in Iran in your view?

Clinton: Absolutely. You know, I did put together the coalition to impose sanctions. I actually started the negotiations that led to the nuclear agreement, sending some much my closest aides to begin the conversations with the Iranians.

I’m very pleased we got that nuclear agreement. It puts a lid on the nuclear weapons program. We have to enforce it, there have to be consequences attached to it. But that is not our only problem with Iran. We have to figure out how to deal with Iran as the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

They are destabilizing governments in the region. They continue to support Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon against Israel. A lot of work that we have do is going to be incredibly hard. I’m prepared to do that work, but I believe, just as I did with imposing the sanctions, you have to get action for action.

If we were to normalize relations right now, we would remove one of the biggest pieces of leverage we have to try to influence and change Iranian behavior. The president doesn’t think we should. I certainly don’t think we should. I believe we have to take this step by step to try to reign in Iranian aggression, their support for terrorism and the other bad behavior that can come back and haunt us.

Sanders: Who said that I think we should normalize relations with Iran tomorrow? I never said that. I think we should move forward as quickly as we can.

And you’re right. They are a sponsor of terrorism around the world and we have to address that. But you know, a number of years ago, people were saying normal relationship with Cuba, what a bad and silly idea. They’re Communists, they are our enemy. Well guess what? Change has come.

So please don’t suggest that I think we normalize relations with Tehran tomorrow. We don’t. But I would like to see us move forward, and hopefully some day that will happen. And I would say if I might, Madam Secretary — and you can correct me if I’m wrong. When you ran against Senator Obama you thought him naive because he thought it was a good idea to talk to our enemies. I think those are exactly the people you have to talk to and you have to negotiate with. …

Clinton: Part of diplomacy, the hard work of diplomacy is trying to extract whatever concessions you can get, and giving something the other side wants. Of course you’ve got to try to make peace with, and work with those who are your adversaries, but you don’t just rush in, open the door, and say, “Here I am. Let’s talk and make a deal.” That’s not the way it works.

Sanders: I think President Obama had the right idea, and the bottom line is that of course there have to be conditions. But, of course it doesn’t do us any good to not talk with our adversaries…

Click here for the complete debate in several parts.


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