Neither the moderators nor the candidates at Wednesday’s Democrat Party debate took the time to discuss national security or foreign policy issues in-depth, instead spending significant portions of the broadcast discussing former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (D) history of racist and sexist comments.
The two-hour debate, hosted by NBC News, spanned topics ranging from climate change to health care to quality of life in Denmark, but topics such as the nearly two-decade-old war in Afghanistan, China’s attempts to colonize the South China Sea, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela went unmentioned.
China as a country was referenced only in the context of a larger discussion on climate change. Bloomberg falsely claimed that China had improved its record on emissions and that “India is an even bigger problem.” Bloomberg used this allegation to argue that the United States should not seek to cut ties with the repressive communist regime in Beijing because its cooperation will be necessary to fight climate change. Bloomberg has in the past refused to describe China’s totalitarian Communist Party as a dictatorship and has praised its tyrant, Xi Jinping — for allegedly reducing carbon emissions by moving coal plants from cities to less populated areas, where they still emit the same amount of pollution.
During the discussion of climate change, former Vice President Joe Biden (D) mentioned China’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its plan to dominate the world’s most important transportation infrastructure, but not in response to any questions about the BRI or its implications for world peace and American national security. The BRI has committed vulnerable nations like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya, Greece, and Cuba to onerous debt trap agreements that have resulted in Beijing seizing control of ports. In Kenya, the Chinese have imposed an apartheid system at worksites for a multinational railway, banning native Kenyans from eating at the same facilities as imported Chinese workers, using the same vans to get to work sites as the Chinese, or having access to skilled labor.
President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy has identified China as one of America’s top strategic rivals and outlined threats to the United States in Chinese theft of intellectual property, colonialism through the BRI, and manipulation of trade imbalances with America.
The other named strategic rival, Russia, also surfaced only in a passing reference from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders mentioned Russia in an attempted defense of his zealous supporters online, which other candidates, most prominently former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), described as toxic and violent.
“All of us remember 2016 and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our election and divide us up,” Sanders said, referring to online memes shared by alleged Russian government agents during that year’s presidential election. Time magazine described the efforts as “low-budget graphics and videos.”
The continent of Africa did not make any appearances during the debate. Nor did the Middle East, despite escalating global crises in both Syria and Iraq, the persistence of the Yemeni civil war, and the tenuous state of the Iranian regime, now crippled by years of President Trump’s sanctions and the loss, at the American military’s hand, of its terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani. Other key parts of western Asia to American foreign policy, like Pakistan and Afghanistan, also went unmentioned.
Latin America fared better, but only Mexico was directly referenced. A moderate asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) about her inability to name Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a recent interview, which triggered an extended spat between Klobuchar and Buttigieg in which the senator angrily asked, “Are you trying to say that I’m dumb?”
Neither discussed American foreign policy as it relates to Mexico.
Klobuchar to Buttigieg:
“Are you trying to say that I'm dumb?"
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) February 20, 2020
Later in the debate, Buttigieg also attempted to speak Spanish while attacking Klobuchar, repeating his common campaign trail line to illegal immigrants, “This country is your country, too.”
The candidates discussed western Europe perhaps more than any other region, but only to compare America poorly to nations like Denmark. Key Trump foreign policy initiatives like encouraging other NATO member nations to live up to their defense spending commitments did not come up.
“The number one place to live out the American dream right now is Denmark,” Buttigieg alleged. In a rare moment of agreement, Sanders also claimed that people in Denmark “have a much higher quality of life in many respects” than Americans.
The moderators also offered no substantive questions on the nation’s military, defense spending, military preparedness, troop movements, or any other topic relevant to national security.