bernie sanders assad hussein
NBC/YouTube Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C on January 17. Photo: Mic Smith/AP/NPR

During the fourth Democratic Debate Sunday night, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, while pledging his support for the proposed overthrow of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Sanders, a self-declared socialist, has been adamant in the past about the fact that he opposes—and did not vote for—the war in Iraq. During the latest debate, he said he believes the disastrous war in Iraq” was responsible for creating a political vacuum that led to the rise of “groups like ISIS.”

I think the vacuum was created by the disastrous war in Iraq, which I vigorously opposed. Not only did I vote against it, I helped lead the opposition. And what happened there is yes, it’s easy to get rid of a two-bit dictator like Saddam Hussein, but there wasn’t the kind of thought as to what happens the day after you get him and what kind of political vacuum occurs. And who rises up? Groups like ISIS.

Sanders went on to say that he supported President Obama’s plan to “bring American troops home,” and that he believes the United States’ job is to “train and provide military support for Muslim countries in the area who are prepared to take on ISIS.”

[RELATED: Obama Administration Ends $500 Million Syrian Rebel Training Program]

Democratic rival and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton said she believes that if there is anyone to blame for the rise of ISIS, “it starts with the prime minister of Iraq,” and is only intensified by Syrian President Assad.

“It is amplified by Assad, who has waged one of the bloodiest, most terrible attacks on his own people: 250,000-plus dead, millions fleeing,” Clinton said. “Causing this vacuum that has been filled unfortunately, by terrorist groups, including ISIS.” 

[RELATED: Reality Check: Proof U.S. Government Wanted ISIS To Emerge In Syria]

In response, Sanders said he agrees with “most of what she said,” and went on to add that he believes there is an “incredible quagmire of Syria, where it’s hard to know who’s fighting who and if you give arms to this guy, it may end up in ISIS’ hand the next day.”

Sanders said Clinton is “absolutely right” when saying, “Assad is a butcher of his own people.” However, he said that while “getting rid of Assad” is a priority, it comes second to “the destruction of ISIS.”

I think in terms of our priorities in the region, our first priority must be the destruction of ISIS. Our second priority must be getting rid of Assad, through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia.

Sanders has made similar comments about his support for overthrowing Assad in the past. In Oct. 2015, he said he supports President Obama’s effort to “combat the Islamic State in Syria while at the same time supporting those in Syria trying to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.”

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