In Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City—in the one and only vice-presidential debate for the 2020 election cycle—U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran was touched upon between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, the Republican nominee, and California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee.

Most of the talk, however, focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has had on the health of Americans and the U.S. economy. Also discussed were relations with China, climate change and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As part of her response to a question from the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, of what defines American leadership in 2020, Harris lamented that U.S. President Donald Trump has “walked away from agreements. Look at the [2015] Iran nuclear deal, which now has put us in a position where we are less safe because they are building up what might end up being a significant nuclear arsenal.”

“We were in that deal, guys; we were in the Iran nuclear deal with friends, with allies around the [world], and because of Donald Trump’s unilateral approach to foreign policy, coupled with his isolationism, he pulled us out and has made America less safe,” she said.

In response to Harris, Pence said Trump “kept his word when we moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel. When [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden was vice president, they promised to do that and never did.”

The United States made the embassy move in May 2018, five months after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Iran deal, Islamic State, Qassem Soleimani and white supremacism

Pence went on to tout the Trump administration eliminating the Islamic State caliphate and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi led ISIS from 2010 until his death, when U.S. forces raided his compound in Syria, leading to the capture of ISIS members, along with the death of al-Baghdadi and three of his children after he apparently activated his suicide vest.

Pence immediately criticized Harris on the Iran deal.

“You talk about re-entering the Iran nuclear deal … the last administration transferred $1.8 billion to the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” he said. “President Donald Trump got us out of the deal and when [Iranian Maj. Gen.] Qassem Soleimani was traveling to Baghdad to harm … Americans, President Donald Trump took him out. And America is safer. Our allies are safer.”

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was eliminated in a U.S. airstrike in January at Baghdad International Airport.

Contrary to part of what Pence said, Biden, while he has called for a different approach than the current one when it comes to dealing with the Iranian threat, has pledged the United States would re-enter the accord if and when Iran returns to compliance.

In response to Pence, Harris noted the Iranian ballistic-missile attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq following Soleimani’s elimination and remarked that U.S. troops “suffered serious brain injuries, and do you know what Donald Trump dismissed them as? Headaches.”

In response to a question on Barrett, Pence instead began by stating that Soleimani “was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members. When the opportunity came, we saw him headed to Baghdad to kill more Americans, President Trump didn’t hesitate and Qassem Soleimani is gone.”

“But you deserve to know Joe Biden and Kamala Harris actually criticized the decision to take out Qassem Soleimani. It’s really inexplicable, but with Joe Biden, it’s explainable,” he continued. “Because history records that Joe Biden opposed the [2011 U.S.] raid on Osama bin Laden. It’s absolutely essential that we have a commander-in-chief who will not hesitate to protect American lives and to protect American service members. And that’s what you have in President Donald Trump.”

In the immediate aftermath of Soleimani’s elimination, Harris tweeted, “Soleimani was an enemy of the U.S., but President Trump’s actions put more American lives at risk and could lead to a new war in the Middle East—with no plan for what happens next. The administration must fully brief and make its case to Congress ASAP.”

In a statement, Biden said that “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”

“The administration’s statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action will almost certainly have the opposite effect,” he said in a statement. “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”

Finally, Pence and Harris sparred over Trump last week, during the first presidential debate, declining to condemn white supremacists and the Proud Boys, telling the far-right group to “stand back and stand by.”

“We are talking about an election in 27 days where last week, the president of the United States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists,” said Harris. “And it wasn’t like he didn’t have a chance. He didn’t do it and then he doubled down, and then he said, when pressed, ‘Stand back, stand by.’ ”

Days later on Fox News, Trump said, “I’ve said it many times, and let me be clear again: I condemn the [Ku Klux Klan]. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing. But I condemn that.”

Pence rejected Harris’s accusations and cited that Trump has a Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“President Trump has Jewish grandchildren,” said Pence. “His daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.”

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