Bernie Sanders Speaks Out Against Interventionism And The War On Terror At Westminster College

On of my disappointments about the 2016 election (besides the nominees and the winner) was that there was relatively little talk of foreign policy. The general election had Hillary Clinton, one of the most hawkish candidates in history, running against Donald Trump, who was (and remains) totally incoherent on the topic. Bernie Sanders had a far better record, but preferred to run on economic policy as opposed to foreign policy. While he did criticize Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war and her support for regime change in Libya, these were not the main topics of the campaign. This week Sanders did deliver a foreign policy speech in Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri.

The Intercept says, This Is What  A Radical Foreign Policy Looks Like, and had the opportunity to interview him prior to the speech:

I ask him how such rhetoric differs from past statements in defense of the U.N. and of international cooperation offered by leading Democrats, such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.

“Excuse me.” Sanders doesn’t like to be interrupted. “Let me just talk a little bit about where I want to go.”

The senator makes clear that “unilateralism, the belief that we can simply overthrow governments that we don’t want, that has got to be re-examined.” After referencing the Iraq War — “one of the great foreign policy blunders in the history of this country” — the senator touches on another historic blunder which, to his credit, few of his fellow senators would be willing to discuss, let alone critique. “In 1953, the United States, with the British, overthrew [Mohammed] Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran – and this was to benefit British oil interests,” he reminds me. “The result was the shah came into power, who was a very ruthless man, and the result of that was that we had the Iranian Revolution, which takes us to where we are right now.”

Does he regret not speaking with such passion, bluntness, and insight on international affairs during his failed primary campaign against Clinton? He shakes his head. “No, I think we ran the kind of campaign that we wanted to run.” There’s a pause. “But I think that foreign policy is clearly very, very important.”

Video above and the full text of the speech can be found here. After thanking Westminster College, Sanders began:

One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to speak here is that I strongly believe that not only do we need to begin a more vigorous debate about foreign policy, we also need to broaden our understanding of what foreign policy is.

So let me be clear: Foreign policy is directly related to military policy and has everything to do with almost seven thousand young Americans being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands coming home wounded in body and spirit from a war we should never have started. That’s foreign policy. And foreign policy is about hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying in that same war.

Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities. At a time when we already spend more on defense than the next 12 nations combined, foreign policy is about authorizing a defense budget of some $700 billion, including a $50 billion increase passed just last week.

Meanwhile, at the exact same time as the President and many of my Republican colleagues want to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit. While greatly increasing military spending they also want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of children and seniors.

Sanders tied foreign policy to his economic views, and to climate change:

Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs, it is directly connected to economics. Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country. This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little – and when we advance day after day into an oligarchic form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful special interests exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of the world.

There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. There is no justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street, giant multi-national corporations and international financial institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout the world.

At a time when climate change is causing devastating problems here in America and around the world, foreign policy is about whether we work with the international community – with China, Russia, India and countries around the world – to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sensible foreign policy understands that climate change is a real threat to every country on earth, that it is not a hoax, and that no country alone can effectively combat it. It is an issue for the entire international community, and an issue that the United States should be leading in, not ignoring or denying.

Sanders expressed views which were far from isolationist, but which recognized the damage done by recent interventionism:

Some in Washington continue to argue that “benevolent global hegemony” should be the goal of our foreign policy, that the US, by virtue of its extraordinary military power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the disastrous Iraq war and the instability and destruction it has brought to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.

The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of “America First.” Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability, and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges.

Here’s a truth that you don’t often hear about too often in the newspapers, on the television, or in the halls of Congress. But it’s a truth we must face. Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government. It is far harder, however, to know the long term impact that that action will have. Let me give you some examples:

In 1953 the United States, on behalf of Western oil interests, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and the re-installation of the Shah of Iran, who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created. What would Iran look like today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What consequences are we still living with today?

In 1973, the United States supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Chile Salvador Allende which was led by General Augusto Pinochet. The result was almost 20 years of authoritarian military rule and the disappearance and torture of thousands of Chileans – and the intensification of anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the logic of the Cold War led the United States to support murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, which resulted in brutal and long-lasting civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

In Vietnam, based on a discredited “domino theory,” the United States replaced the French in intervening in a civil war, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese in support of a corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government. We must never forget that over 58,000 thousand Americans also died in that war.

More recently, in Iraq, based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we upended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we’ll be dealing with for decades to come.

He later described the global war on terror as a disaster:

But, I also want to be clear about something else: As an organizing framework, the Global War on Terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership. Orienting US national security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate policy for the most powerful nation on earth. It responds to terrorists by giving them exactly what they want.

In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards regarding torture, indefinite detention, and the use of force around the world, using drone strikes and other airstrikes that often result in high civilian casualties.

A heavy-handed military approach, with little transparency or accountability, doesn’t enhance our security. It makes the problem worse.

While highly critical of the policies of the Democratic Party establishment, as well as the policies of Donald Trump, the speech received very favorable coverage at The Nation. John Nichols wrote, Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of His Career: Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace and justice, the senator shredded Trump’s brutish foreign policies. Stephen Miles wrote, Bernie Sanders Just Gave the Progressive Foreign-Policy Speech We’ve Been Waiting For: The senator powerfully linked domestic and foreign policy in the context of massive global inequality.

Contrast this with what we are hearing from Hillary Clinton. As I recently wrote, reading Hillary Clinton’s memoirWhat Happened, is like reading a memoir from Jesse James which makes no admission that he ever robbed a bank. There was no mention of the wars she supported, her influence peddling, or her frequent support for policies which violate our First Amendment rights. Glenn Greenwald similarly wrote, The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result. Greenwald also noted “the broader Democratic Party desire to pretend that the foreign wars it has repeatedly prosecuted, and the endless killing of innocent people for which it is responsible, do not exist.” Both Greenwald and I have noted the recent study suggesting that this support for endless war has cost Democrats the support of many voters, contributing to their loss in 2016.

Reversing their support for perpetual warfare, as Sanders also advocates, is both the right thing to do, and would be a more sensible path towards reversing the serious losses faced by the Democratic Party over the past decade.

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