Bernie Sanders' Elephant in the Room

Op-Ed by Nick Bernabe
September 21, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) San Diego, CA —America’s new favorite populist has a foreign policy problem one his loyal supporters continually downplay and war-loving Republicans have declined to criticize. Before Bernie Sanders supporters simply dismiss this article as a hit-job on the candidate, however, they should remember that criticizing one’s chosen candidate is not a disservice to him. In fact, it might even help him understand how his followers feel about the issues that matter to them.

Think back to the #BlackLivesMatter interruption of Sanders’ campaign event in Seattle and his subsequent actions to further incorporate racial inequality issues into his platform. Also remember that many Sanders supporters prematurely condemned the action taken by black activists without even knowing the full story. Don’t let reactive feelings scare you into not questioning your candidate. You can improve his platform by criticizing it.

That being said, the self-described “democratic-socialist” tends to backhandedly support the American empire, a seemingly habitual system that is markedly antithetical to socialist political philosophy. “No!” you may say. “Bernie is anti-war!” Unfortunately, his voting record does not align with this assertion.

Bernie supported Clinton’s war in Kosovo

In 1999, Bill Clinton, along with Hillary and a bipartisan coalition of neoliberal humanitarian war mongers and neoconservative war profiteers, decided to overthrow the government of Kosovo. The U.S.-led, NATO-backed regime change resulted in what many would argue is a situation similar to the one we see in modern day Libya (whose government Obama, with Hillary’s help, overthrew in 2011): a failed state, mass civilian casualties, and no improvement in the human experience. What was sold as a humanitarian bombing campaign in Kosovo turned into 5,000 dead civilians at the hands of the U.S. and its allies and an utterly decimated country, which continues to struggle with deep corruption and violence today.

Bernie Sanders voted in favor of this act of military aggression. The war powers resolution in question was so broad that it almost guaranteed war crimes would take place in Kosovo, but Bernie didn’t seem to mind those small details. His support for the resolution caused one of his closest advisers to quit working for him. In a heated resignation letter, Sanders adviser Jeremy Brecher penned the following:

“The House Resolution (S Con Res 21) of 4/29/99 which ‘authorizes the president of the United States to conduct military air operations and missile strikes in cooperation with the United States’ NATO allies against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ supports not only the current air war but also its unlimited escalation. It thereby authorizes the commission of war crimes, even of genocide. Indeed, the very day after that vote, the Pentagon announced that it would begin ‘area bombing,’ which the Washington Post (4/30/99) characterized as ‘dropping unguided weapons from B-52 bombers in an imprecise technique that resulted in large-scale civilian casualties in World War II and the Vietnam War.’

It was your vote in support of this resolution that precipitated my decision that my conscience required me to resign from your staff. I have tried to ask myself questions that I believe each of us must ask ourselves:

Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take?”

If one of Sanders’ advisers knew the resolution was a major problem, then Bernie must have surely known as well — but he voted for it anyway. Sadly, Brecher was proven right in his analysis, and Sanders’ vote proved to be on the side of the Empire.

Many of Sanders’ loyal supporters were as irate over his vote as Brecher was. According to CounterPunch, “when antiwar activists occupied Sanders’ office in 1999 because of that support of Clinton’s war policies, he had them arrested.”

In Tuesday’s first Democratic debate, Sanders was asked if and when he would authorize the use of force by the U.S. military. With somewhat of an Orwellian bent, he said, “Well, obviously, I voted, when President Clinton said, ‘Let’s stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,’ I voted for that.” Sanders apparently does not regret his decision to support this act of war. In fact, he seems rather proud of it. But there’s more.

Bernie Sanders voted in favor of giving George Bush unilateral war powers following 9/11

Following the terror attacks on 9/11/2001, Bernie Sanders jumped on the “bomb anyone who threatens us” bandwagon, setting the stage for the president to invade Afghanistan and overthrow a country simply because several terrorists who resided there claimed responsibility for 9/11. The Taliban regime was overthrown, even though they had nothing to do with the terror attacks, and were, in fact, seen as peace-makers that brought an end to the U.S.-backed bloodshed that has ravaged the country for decades. As we know today with the tragic U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Bernie’s support for the war in Afghanistan helped enable the U.S. war machine to conduct perpetual warfare in the country, despite President Obama’s claims that the war is over. The quixotic mission against the Taliban is now showing itself to be completely in vain, with Taliban fighters easily recapturing lost territories that cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers and countless Afghani civilians. All signs now point to a permanent U.S. occupying force to prop-up whichever Western-backed regime is installed next.

Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War, then voted to fund it

According to CounterPunch, “In October 2002, after two years of war on the people of Afghanistan and a series of lies and misinformation, Congress and the White House (with help from Great Britain and a couple other governments) ignored the United Nations and world opinion and invaded Iraq. While Sanders voted against the original authorization to use military force against Iraq, he followed that vote with several subsequent votes authorizing funding of that war and the debacle in Afghanistan.”

Bernie made a noble stand against the Iraq War, but it served only a rhetorical purpose and did not substantiate valid opposition to the catastrophic Bush blunder. Bernie continues to pronounce his dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq while hyping his vote against it to this day. However, his campaign and his apologetic supporters make little of his vote to fund it.

Bernie Supports Israel’s right to defend its military occupation of Palestine

Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine is unanimously supported by Congress and the executive branch, as well as Sanders. Despite his slightly less radical rhetoric against the Palestinian people, Sanders’ voting record shows his full support of what many would call an apartheid regime in Israel. According to Mint Press News,

“Sanders made headlines in August, when a dialogue with pro-Palestine human rights activists at a Vermont town hall boiled over into frustration after Sanders chided Israel for its actions rather than condemning its many war crimes. The interaction occurred near the end of Israel’s brutal assault on the people of Gaza last summer, during which Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted hospitals and U.N. shelters and killed thousands of civilians. Last July, Sanders joined the rest of the U.S. Senate by unanimously voting to support Israel’s actions.”

The conversation was captured on video and is embedded below:

Currently, Bernie Sanders’ platform lacks any meaningful reform on foreign policy

In an interview with ABC at the end of August, Bernie Sanders indicated that he has no intention of ending the U.S. drone assassination program if elected president. The program, which is responsible for countless civilian deaths and the creation of blowback in the form of creating new terrorists, was started under George W. Bush and expanded under Obama. According to The Hill, “Sanders indicated that he would limit the use of drones so that they do not end up killing innocent people abroad, but declined to say that he would end the targeted killing campaign completely.”

“I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case,” said Sanders.

However, Sanders did say he would attempt to limit the program’s civilian casualties though he didn’t say how he would accomplish that.

Bernie Sanders supports the United States’ military relationship with the human rights-destroying Saudi Arabia which uses American-supplied arms to violently crush democratic movements within its borders. Commenting on the Saudis’ role in combating radical Islam, he told Wolf Blitzer that “[T]his war is a battle for the soul of Islam and it’s going to have to be the Muslim countries who are stepping up. These are billionaire families all over that region. They’ve got to get their hands dirty. They’ve got to get their troops on the ground. They’ve got to win that war with our support. We cannot be leading the effort.”

He reiterated this stance in Tuesday’s first Democratic presidential debate. He also made it very clear that he is not opposed to military intervention in Syria, as long as it is spearheaded by a “coalition.” He made it clear that he is fine with the U.S. being a major part of that coalition. Essentially, he toed Obama’s line on Syria, stating he is against putting troops on the ground, but vowing his full support for the proxy war that has displaced 11 million and killed 300,000.

Sanders’ remarks show a clear naïvety on foreign affairs. Ironically, Saudi Arabia, which Bernie wants to support, is the single largest driver behind radical Islam in the world. In fact, ISIS itself is an out-of-control outgrowth of U.S.-Saudi policies in Iraq and Syria.

An essay published in the progressive blog TruthDig entitled, “Bernie Sanders’ Policy Backing Saudi Intervention Needs to Change Now” slams Bernie’s flawed support of the Saudis:

“In discussing ISIS, Sanders invariably has talked about Saudi Arabia as the solution rather than a large part of the problem. It’s couched in language that seems somewhat critical, but the upshot is we need more Saudi influence and intervention in the region. In effect, more and bigger proxy wars, which have already taken the lives of hundreds of thousands in Syria and could even further rip apart Iraq, Libya and other countries.”

The essay further questions Sanders’ logic:

“Why should a U.S. progressive be calling for more intervention by the Saudi monarchy? Really, we want Saudi troops in Syria and Iraq and Libya and who knows where else? You’d think that perhaps someone like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the corrupt Saudi regime—but no, he wants to dramatically accelerate it.”

Saudi Arabia, along with a U.S.-backed coalition of Gulf states, is currently entangled in the Yemeni Civil War. The Saudis have been accused of multiple war crimes in Yemen and recently bombed two weddings in a matter of 10 days, killing up to 160 innocent people.

At the time of writing this article, 11 days after the U.S. bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, candidate Sanders has failed to mention it, let alone condemn it. While many critics have called the incident a likely war crime, Bernie remains deafeningly silent on the issue.

My hope is that this criticism of Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy track record will help the candidate come to terms with his previous failures — and make room for him move closer to a truly anti-war, anti-interventionist platform the one he currently claims to adhere to.

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