Throughout the 2016 Democratic primary, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders used his proximity to the former First Lady, Democratic Senator from New York, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to portray himself as somehow different from establishment Democrats.
For the most part, it worked. Sanders’ independence was always nominal, of course—he has historically voted with the Democrats more than most of his colleagues and recently accepted a position as head of outreach for a party he apparently doesn’t belong to. On issue after issue Sanders was easily able to set himself apart from Clinton as the progressive choice.
Yet when it comes to foreign policy, the Vermont Senator’s record is firmly in line with the establishment. Sanders was able to coast on his vote against the Iraq War as an indication of his status as the peace candidate, but the reality is quite different—and the proof of that has been more and more apparent as we make our way through the first months of 2017.
Exactly how out of touch Sanders is with the left on foreign policy was made crystal clear on April 27 when he joined the entire Senate in signing a letter accusing the United Nations of being too mean to Israel and condemning the peaceful protest movement known as BDS—for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
”[C]ontinued targeting of Israel by the U.N. Human Rights Council and other U.N. entities is unacceptable,” the letter read.
Written by Senator Marco Rubio, the missive sent a clear message to the U.N.: the U.S. demands that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories be effectively sanctioned through inaction by the world’s deliberative body. Sanders’ signature, alongside the rest of his fellow Democrats, was a disappointment to those who had not been paying attention to his career. But it was just the cherry on top of a Sundae of bad international priorities that we saw Sanders endorse during the month of April.
On April 9, shortly after President Donald Trump launched missiles at a Syrian airfield, Sanders appeared on the NBC Sunday show Meet the Press. Trump's missile attack was apparently in response to an alleged chemical attack on civilians by the Assad military. While Sanders didn't explicitly endorse the attack, he did endorse regime change and used stronger language than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was using towards Syria at roughly the same time over at CBS' Face the Nation.
When you're more hawkish and ready for regime change than the Secretary of State in the administration of the man who dropped the MOAB, it might be time to rethink your position.
“We've got to work with countries around the world for a political solution to get rid of this guy,” said Sanders, flatly calling for intervention.
“I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad's leadership is sustained or how he departs is something that we will be working with allies and others in the coalition,” Tillerson said, hedging his bets.
But Trump shouldn't worry that he isn't being sufficiently bellicose for Bernie. Though Sanders is more direct in his desire for regime change in Syria, the Vermont Senator believes the president is on the right track with the tiny Asian nation of North Korea.
“North Korea is a real danger to this world,” Sanders told CNN's Chris Cuomo on April 26.
The fact that North Korea is a small and isolated nation that is only, at most, a threat to its immediate neighbors South Korea and Japan didn't appear to matter to Sanders. He continued to fan the flames of fear while hiding his reasoning behind classified briefings. The Senator claimed that the only way to prevent a nuclear war is to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has between 10 and 16 weapons. By contrast, the U.S. claims 6,800.
Sanders didn't make mention of the U.S. stockpile during his interview. Instead, the nominal democratic socialist told Cuomo that Trump's actions to challenge North Korea and convince China to become involved in the dispute were evidence the president was “doing the right thing.” As long as regime change is on the table, it appears, Sanders is on board.
But though the remarks on Syria and North Korea didn't make much of a noticeable stir among his faithful, the U.N. letter was a step over the line. There had to be a reason for Sanders—who had been visited by a bird during a rally in 2016, thus angelically heralding his leadership towards an uninterrupted era of peace and prosperity—to choose the aggressor in such a blatantly unequal power struggle.
So when AJ+ personality Dena Takruri sat the Senator down for an interview Wednesday, she took the opportunity to press Sanders on his reasons for signing on to the message from Rubio and his general feelings on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The results were not encouraging.
Sanders described Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza as “human rights abuses” complete with airquotes. He accused the U.N. of unfairly targeting Israel at the expense of other nations, an allegation that has already been decisively disproven by @Chemzes. And Sanders said that BDS was not worthy of his support.
When Takruri pushed him on the last point, pointing out that no matter what action of resistance Palestinians take they are punished, Sanders retreated into vague and empty platitudes about bringing everyone to the table and peaceful settling of differences. That explanation didn't sit well with Felix Biederman, one of the hosts of the popular podcast Chapo Trap House.
“Sanders is also a great example of a liberal Zionist,” Biederman told Paste. “He will talk about settlements and IDF war crimes, but he won’t address that Israel’s very raison d’être makes it impossible for it to do anything but exist as a racist apartheid state.”
The left is increasingly coming to the understanding that although Sanders has some advantages in his difference over others in his party on domestic policy, he’s always been hawkish on foreign policy. Biederman described Sanders as discarding a progressive worldview in exchange for a better vision at home.
”[Foreign policy is] not a giant priority for him, but because American liberals default to endless war, that’s what he defaults to,” Biederman explained.
That’s a problem. Because for every positive contribution Sanders makes to the left by bringing new blood into the fold and ending the stigma of the term “socialism,” he damages the movement by giving ideological cover to a bellicose foreign policy that is incompatible with any world in which there’s a sense of social justice, equal rights, and peace. And because of the devotion he inspires in his most vocal, star-eyed, gurgling acolytes, a foreign policy that promotes the interests of the powerful at the expense of the weak and aims to enforce American hegemony at all costs will be assimilated into some levels of the movement.
We cannot let that happen. Sanders did some good by exposing the country to left wing politics and positions. But the “Independent” Senator from Vermont is just another Democrat and he’s starting to use his influence to corrupt the movement. It’s time to say goodbye to Bernie—and to his hanger-ons like Tulsi Gabbard and Tim Canova—before it’s too late and the energy of the left is subsumed into the war machine to provide alternative philosophical reasonings for the perpetuation of endless conflict.
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