Bernie Sanders’ baby steps toward peace

On foreign policy, Democrats in Congress fall into two broad categories.   There is a small group that is anti-war under Republican administrations and pro-war under Democratic administrations.   There is a larger group that is consistently bipartisan and pro-war.

Bernie Sanders was relatively silent on foreign policy during the 2016 election campaign.   He was less militaristic than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but did not question the fundamental assumptions behind U.S. global military intervention.

Recently he made a foreign policy speech and gave an interview to The Intercept criticizing some bad aspects of American foreign policy.

Most importantly, he questioned the long-standing U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, which goes back to Henry Kissinger and the Nixon and Ford administrations.   Kissinger made a deal in which the U.S. would support and protect Saudi Arabia militarily in return for the Saudis assuring the U.S. of an oil supply and recycling its oil profits into purchases of arms made by U.S. companies.

This long-standing policy continues in the form of U.S. support for the Saudi government’s struggle with its rival, Iran, to be the dominant power in the Middle East.

Sanders said he does not regard Saudi Arabia as an ally—in contrast to President Trump, whose praise for Saudi Arabia contrasts with his hostility toward European democratic allies.

He correctly pointed out that the Saudis support jihadist terrorists and the radical jihadist ideology and he opposed U.S. support for the murderous Saudi attack on Yemen.

In contrast, Sanders supports the agreement with negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Iran agreed to stop its uranium enrichment program  in return for listing of international sanctions.

Mostly, though, Sanders criticized Trump administration policies mainly on procedural grounds, much like Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s criticism of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.   The criticism is less of what is being done as the way it is being done.

Sanders favors working through the United Nations and other institutions rather than the U.S. acting on its own.   He says war should be a last resort, not a first resort.   He says world military dominance should not be a goal of U.S

He says the U.S. government was wrong to support coups in Iran in 1953 and Chile in 1970, and to intervene military in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq in 2003.

But he had nothing to say about the Obama administration’s support for coups in Honduras in 2009 and Ukraine in 2014 and the overthrow of the Libyan government.

He thinks North Korea is a threat and said in his Westminster speech he favors starving them out if they don’t unilaterally renounce nuclear weapons.  But he said in the Intercept interview that he would be willing to meet face-to-face with Kim Jong-un to resolve the nuclear crisis.

He thinks the United States is locked a global cold war with Putin’s Russia, with Russia as the aggressor rather than the target of U.S. economic and political warfare.  He accepts the claim, so far unproved, that Russia intervened in the 2016 U.S. election.

I think the U.S. needs to wind down its policy of worldwide military intervention, covert action and economic warfare.  This has not made the world safer or the USA safer.  The responsibility of the U.S. military is to defend the American homeland and American citizens, and to fulfill American treaty obligations to allies.  It isn’t the right or responsibility of Americans to decide what kind of government Venezuela has or Syria has or any other country has.

I think Bernie Sanders’ heart is in the right place.   I don’t think he has a well-thought-out foreign policy.  I think Sanders’ speech and interview were an important first step, although only a step, in the direction of peace.


Text of Bernie Sanders address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on Sept. 21, 2017.

Sanders to Democrats: This Is What a Radical Foreign Policy Looks Like by Mehdi Hasan for The Intercept.

Sanders Speaks on Foreign Policy by Daniel Larison for The American Conservative.

Bernie Sanders Can’t Shake His Imperial Priggishness by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.  [Added 9/28/2017]

Note 9/28/2017I made some last-minute changes to the final paragraph and to the paragraph regarding policy toward North Korea.




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