One perhaps unintended consequence of the assassination of Iranian military supremo Qassem Soleimani by the US is that it fundamentally alters the nature of the US presidential election this November.
Conventional wisdom is that by all but declaring war on Iran through his actions, that US President Donald Trump will have greatly enhanced his chances of re-election. Military adventurism and adopting a bellicose posture on the global stage are a tried and tested method of boosting the chances of a sitting president in election year, and the gambit is typically a successful one.
There is no reason to think that this will not be the case this year as well, and it is going to be difficult for the Democratic nominee to oppose President Trump’s actions without opening himself or herself up to the charge of weakness in the international arena.
However, there is one additional consequence of the Soleimani assassination, and that is that it greatly increases the chances of former vice president Joe Biden gaining the Democratic nomination. Now Biden is already a prohibitive front-runner, but his lack-lustre performance on the stump and the debate stage coupled with his lack of any concrete policy or vision for the country beyond taking it back to 2016 have made him look increasingly vulnerable as a candidate.
The candidate who had been surging of late was the old war horse Bernie Sanders, who has been running a disciplined and well-planned out campaign and has set out a bold and far-reaching policy agenda for his presidency. The new year saw his poll numbers improve across the board as voters start to pay more attention to the minutia of the race and start to make up their minds. The contrast between Sanders and his energetic campaign and the unfocused and generally uninspiring Biden campaign has been striking.
What does Biden stand for other than a return to the Obama years? The problem with campaigning to turn the clock back to before Donald Trump was president is that it was the conditions then that paved the way for him to be elected president in the first place, and if a majority of Americans were happy with the direction of the country in 2016, Trump would never have been elected to begin with. This is the foundational weakness at the heart of Biden’s candidacy.
But the assassination of Soleimani and the consequent transformation of the presidential race into a foreign policy/national security election changes the equation.
The one area where Biden will likely decisively appeal to voters more than Sanders is in the arena of foreign policy, where his years as vice president as well as on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee make him look like the safer bet.
When it comes to domestic policy, Sanders outshines Biden, who has barely articulated one. But when it comes to foreign policy, it is Biden who has the advantage, thanks to his decades of experience in the arena, capped by his eight years as vice president.
If the US presidential contest has been transformed into a question of who would be the most credible commander in chief, then Biden is the big winner. He is the most credible commander in chief the Democratic field has to offer and will offer a reassuring face to voters for whom US national security is the foremost concern.
If this November the election is a national security election, then by far the best candidate the Democrats can field against President Trump would appear to be Biden.
Indeed, given Biden’s foreign policy chops, Trump may have not only given him a life-line in the Democratic nomination race, but also handed him a winning issue in November: that of the two of them, it is only Biden who has the stature and experience to be commander in chief in such troubled times.