With a tie in last night’s Iowa caucus and possible win in New Hampshire next week, Senator Bernie Sanders is not just a man leading a social movement to restore dignity and justice to the 99%. He’s a viable candidate to become one of the most powerful people in the world.
In no realm will a President Sanders have more power than foreign policy, which under the current formulation in the U.S., allows an American president immense unfettered control and decision-making authority. The so-called imperial presidency not only steers the destiny of the U.S., but often the world.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already proven herself unworthy of this power. Clinton’s judgement and experience has led her to make some historic blunders. Beyond her championing of the 2003 Iraq War is the abysmally stupid decision to champion a war in Libya. Clinton is seemingly incapable of learning anything from her mistakes and will continue to make them, jeopardizing the national security of the United States and consigning the American people to treacherous and immiserating foreign policy commitments.
But what about self-proclaimed democratic socialist Senator Sanders? So far Sanders seems to be running something close to the 2008 Obama campaign—distancing himself from blunders while doubling down on militarism. Obama ran on contrasting the judgement he showed opposing the Iraq War to Clinton’s support for the war, while correspondingly calling for a doubling down in Afghanistan.
Senator Sanders also uses his opposition to the Iraq War as evidence that his judgement is superior to Clinton’s, while correspondingly calling for doubling down on the war with ISIS. But much like Obama did, Sanders couches his commitment to militancy with a parallel commitment to diplomacy saying on his website that he wants to work with “our allies” to combat terrorism in the Middle East and beyond which he defined in the debate as including countries like Saudia Arabia—the hellmouth of Sunni Salafist terrorism. He also intends to continue Obama’s controversial drone program, though he promised to do so “very selectively.”
The Sanders website makes four pledges for a Sanders presidency:
- Move away from a policy of unilateral military action, and toward a policy of emphasizing diplomacy, and ensuring the decision to go to war is a last resort.
- Ensure that any military action we do engage in has clear goals, is limited in scope, and whenever possible provides support to our allies in the region.
- Close Guantanamo Bay, rein in the National Security Agency, abolish the use of torture, and remember what truly makes America exceptional: our values.
- Expand our global influence by promoting fair trade, addressing global climate change, providing humanitarian relief and economic assistance, defending the rule of law, and promoting human rights.
If it sounds like another term of Obama’s foreign policy, at least rhetorically, that’s because it is. Minus the inclusions of fair trade (which would likely have some teeth under a Sanders Administration), it is nearly identical to the principles espoused by President Obama.
The Big Question
This leaves progressives and leftists of all orientations to ask themselves a central question—is Sanders really this hawkish or is it a put-on to win an election? That is a tough question on a number of levels.
Even if one believes Sanders has calculated that the electorate is not ready for a radical change in both the domestic and foreign policy realms and is just trying to neutralize Clinton’s right flank attacks, it means Sanders’ idealism has a troubling opportunist edge that will only be amplified in a position of extreme executive power.
If Sanders is sincere, as he may well be, it means that even if America elects a radical candidate as president the failed war on terrorism will roll on destroying lives and undermining the very democracy Sanders claims he wants to save and expand.
There has been a concerted effort by various forces in American politics to bifurcate domestic concerns from the US’ sprawling global empire. But such a project is pure folly as imperial concerns always invade domestic ones, whether they be budgetary, military, civil liberties, or the limits of state power.
Likewise for Sanders’ foreign policy views, he once held radical stances against U.S. imperialism in Nicaragua. He now offers a rhetorical commitment to a foreign policy akin to Obama’s reformist imperial management program, once described as the “Don’t do stupid shit” approach.
If the American people are genuinely open to some radical re-examining of their society, as the popularity of anti-establishment candidates on both the right and left this cycle would indicate, then one can only hope Senator Sanders is not sincere with his current stated foreign policy views and has made a calculation, and, furthermore, that he is willing to recalculate.
For if this truly is a radical moment, why not go all the way and fight to liberate Americans from the sorrows of empire, as well as the precarity and corruption of a plutocracy?