LAS VEGAS — Channeling Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders bluntly declared at the Democratic debate on Tuesday that the invasion of Iraq was “the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country” — an unmistakable knock at Hillary Clinton.
It’s not clear that Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of authorizing the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein — which she has disavowed as a mistake — packs the same emotional punch that it did when Obama used it to derail his future secretary of state’s White House ambitions.
Still, asked how his approach to Syria differs from hers, the Vermont senator wasted no time in invoking Iraq.
“I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq — the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country,” he declared, to cheers from the crowd.
In Syria, Sanders said, “we should be putting together a coalition of Arab countries who should be leading the effort. We should be supportive, but I do not support American ground troops in Syria.”
“Well, nobody does. Nobody does, Senator Sanders,” replied Clinton.
That was hardly the end of it. Republican-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee picked up where Sanders left off.
“We just heard Senator Sanders say that it’s the worst decision in American history. That’s very significant,” he said. “if you’re looking ahead, and you’re looking at someone who made that poor decision in 2002 to go into Iraq when there was no real evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — I know because I did my homework — and so that’s an indication of how someone will perform in the future. And that’s what’s important.”
Clinton drew applause and cheers in the hall with a rejoinder that left no doubt that she had not forgotten the political wounds of the past.
“I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become secretary of state. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues.”
But Sanders, who voted against the war, had the last word.
“I heard the same evidence from President Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld about why we should overthrow Saddam Hussein,” he said.