Bernie Needs Your Help
Bernie needs some help in creating a credible foreign policy that puts America on a path to dealing with the excesses, abuses and failed policy of previous administrations. His foreign policy also has to support his economic goals. It seems unlikely that the US can continue to support the enormous costs of military engagements, the ongoing costs of sustaining the veterans of those engagements, the costs of nation building in the countries where the US has destroyed infrastructure and created political chaos as well as the costs of an oversized global military footprint to maintain US hegemony at the same time as enormous investments are needed at home to rebuild infrastructure and provide for the needs of citizens.
If you are one of the millions of people who are tired of the endless wars of choice, the war tactics and equipment that seem to keep showing up in the hands of domestic police, the encroachment of the surveillance state on virtually everybody - among other things, then getting Bernie to commit to correcting those wrongs is the right thing to do.
Politicians never listen better than when they want something from you. This is the time to make your favorite politician a better representative of your interests.
It will have the benefit of making Bernie a better candidate. Whatever you think of #BlackLivesMatter, they engaged Bernie - and his platform, his performance on the stump and his currently proposed legislation are better for the challenge.
Guns and Butter
Lyndon B. Johnson was the last president with a truly ambitious social agenda and a simultaneous commitment to making and escalating a war. Johnson thought that he could have both guns and butter:
President Lyndon Johnson, with a large Democratic majority in Congress after the 1964 elections, enacted sweeping reforms in education, health care, and transportation, along with landmark civil rights legislation. But the pressure of spending on the Vietnam War — the guns vs. butter debate of the 1960s — eventually brought this last, great program of genuine American liberalism to a halt and scuttled the hopes of its architect for a second presidential term. ...
Johnson believed that he could have both guns and butter. “We are a country which was built by pioneers who had a rifle in one hand and an ax in the other,” he proclaimed. “We can do both. And as long as I am president we will do both.” ...
History could have marched down a different path in 1965. After all, as a candidate in 1964, Johnson argued that “we don’t want to get involved in a nation with 700 million people [China] and get tied down in a land war in Asia.” As president, however, Johnson did exactly that: committing U.S. ground forces to Vietnam in 1965. This decision ultimately doomed his presidency and the Great Society. We’ve been living with the Considerably-Less-Than-Great Society of the neoliberals and neoconservatives ever since.
Candidate Bernie Sanders has also laid out an ambitious plan which includes a great deal of social spending. Like LBJ, it is unlikely that Bernie's plans can be executed if he is also spending trillions of dollars on wars of choice, spending nearly $10 million a day on bombing ISIS, maintaining a global empire of bases, spending who knows how much operating secret wars in 135 countries, risking that any one of these special operations could blow up to become another larger war, and continuing the trend of military budgeting:
In the decade following Sept. 11, 2001, military spending increased 50 percent, adjusted for inflation. In comparison, spending on every other non-military program – things like education, health care, public transit, and science –grew by only 13.5 percent over the same time period.
You can probably see how these military priorities can and will crowd out other spending.
In order to protect his social agenda, Bernie needs to create a foreign policy that defines a more circumscribed role for the US military going forward.
Just which interests should the military protect?
Bernie has made a start at a policy statement, but the rough outline needs some alterations and a bit more flesh on the bones.
His opening statement is very nice, and it includes this bit:
Senator Sanders will protect America, defend our interests and values, embrace our commitments to defend freedom and support human rights, and be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm. However, after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the Middle East, it is time for a new approach. We must move away from policies that favor unilateral military action and preemptive war, and that make the United States the de facto policeman of the world.
Kind of boilerplate stuff, but right off, it might be nice for Bernie to have a little discussion of what American "interests" include and exclude. There has been an enormous push for war that seems to have been catalyzed by 9/11. Reports of military plans to create regime change in many mostly Middle Eastern countries that seemed kind of eerie and improbable some time ago now seem prescient. The Bush Neocons' dreams of global domination have given way to Obama's lower-profile, boots on the ground-less, death-from-above bombing and drone invasions of seven countries - 3 more than his predecessor so far. Along with being really good at killing people, Obama seems to have a talent for sabre-rattling having engaged Russia and "pivoted" to China.
Bernie needs to make clear what the US military is to be used for. Is it the traditional role of promoting US business interests, securing US access to resources, maintaining US hegemony, or to "spread democracy" by destabilizing governments? Is it simply a machine to make money for war industries as Pope Francis indicated in his recent speech to Congress?
One would hope that the answer to all of those questions would be a resounding "no." Given that Bernie says that he wants to have a new approach that eschews unilateral actions and preemptive wars - which is the current doctrine, he needs to describe that new approach with much more specificity.
One of Bernie's recent ideas about moving away from unilateral military action has been to demand that ruthless, serial human rights abuser Saudi Arabia make war in Syria, providing the troops and support to "battle for the soul of Islam," and "win that war with our support." He thinks that the US should "continue air strikes," and "use special operations forces when we can."
Bernie does not appear to really be calling for multilateral action here so much as he seems to be calling for other people to get their hands dirtier and pay more of the costs of a war that the US is quite culpable for instigating and continuation of which (regardless of who pays for it and supplies ground troops) supports the current US policy aims.. Implicit in Bernie's approach to this conflict is that regime change in Syria, possibly followed by a struggle to remove the excess jihadis is still the goal of his policy, he just wants the dirty work done by a proxy.
Bernie's policy needs to specify when (or if) it is appropriate to use military action to accomplish regime change. Further, Bernie's policy should correct our relationships with "allies" like Saudi Arabia's brutal regime that fund groups like ISIS.
While we're on the topic of allies with dubious human rights records, Bernie's current policy statement rightly calls out Israel for its disproportionate violence against Palestinians and the widespread Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians. A credible policy must see to it that US law, the Arms Export Control Act is faithfully executed when countries like Israel egregiously violate the terms under which they receive enormous amounts of US military aid. It's hard to see how the US could, as Bernie suggests, credibly play a leading role in creating a two-state solution when it turns a blind eye towards Israel's war crimes committed with American weapons. Brokering a peace deal requires the broker to be fair and even-handed. Bernie's policy statement should also stop participating in the hypocrisy of railing against Iran about its non-existent nuclear weapons while turning a blind eye to Israel's significant nuclear arsenal and refusal to admit that it has nuclear weapons, much less act like a responsible member of the world community and join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Surely a nuclear weapons-free world should be a foreign policy goal of any progressive (or socialist) government. Continuing to enable Israel's irresponsible behavior certainly undercuts any credibility that the US might have when negotiating with other nations to stop nascent development programs or for the purposes of reductions in established stockpiles.
Defending American values
Bernie says that along with our interests (undefined) he is going to defend our values. If he is to defend our values, then he needs to do more than include some statements about torture being wrong and unacceptable as "official policy." A credible foreign policy should not only stop American torture which continues at Guantanamo - but also commit to investigate and prosecute war crimes including torture as US treaties demand, rather than continuing to sweep it under the rug.
Unless the US does the right thing by coming clean about its past offenses and creates a transparent process to punish wrongdoers, the moral standing that Bernie laments our loss of will not return.
Bernie also laments the loss of moral standing over the actions committed at the Guantanamo detention center and says that we must close it. He does not, however, articulate what is to be done with the people who are incarcerated there. In order to retrieve our lost moral standing, again, there must be a transparent process that investigates what was done to the Guantanamo detainees, whether the evidence collected against them was collected under torture or is otherwise suspect and would not hold up under the scrutiny of a real court (as opposed to a military tribunal of questionable competence).
While we're on the subject of defending our values, Bernie should make clear that in defending our interests, relentlessly combating terrorists and protecting America, certain un-American values exhibited by previous administrations need to be corrected. To wit, Bernie's policy must make clear that the unconstitutional role of the president as judge, jury and drone executioner will not continue - there must be no more presidential "kill lists." Bernie should also make clear policy on disappearances (extraordinary rendition) and maintaining secret foreign prisons. While we're at it, Bernie ought to define what an "imminent threat" is in plain language, given that its meaning seems to be quite different for the government than it is for regular people. Further, Bernie will need to explicitly commit to reining in the Pentagon's assault on the first amendment, granting itself the power to hold journalists as "belligerents." Bernie will also need to eschew and work to revoke the unconstitutional powers granted by the NDAA to indefinitely detain people without charge.
There are obviously many things that I have failed to include here that need to be included in the foreign policy statement of a candidate. My focus here was to focus on correcting some of the many egregious errors of recent administrations, pushing for transparency and fostering the recognition that Bernie's social agenda cannot be implemented without addressing the shortcomings of American foreign policy which is currently over-dependent on the insertion of a bloated and costly military into situations whose solutions are political, not military.
Even a cursory glance at Bernie's foreign policy agenda reveals that it is shallow and lacking in any sort of specificity. Bernie's supporters and the voting public deserves a better effort from Bernie.
Give him a hand, or perhaps better, a push.