By Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action & Jon Rainwater, Executive Director, Peace Action West
After 15 years of war, the next president of the United States will inherit daunting foreign policy challenges. Sadly, many of those challenges were fueled by an “act first, think later” U.S. military policy in places like Iraq and Libya that has backfired. At the same time, the new president will need to sustain diplomatic initiatives started by President Obama including the Iranian nuclear deal and peace talks to end the Syria war.
We need a president that can cultivate diplomatic openings while turning the country away from an over-reliance on the blunt military instrument. Bernie Sanders has vocally opposed this military-first foreign policy and the sprawling quagmire the U.S. is enmeshed in. That’s why Peace Action PAC is endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders for President in the Democratic primary.
Sanders didn’t just get the Iraq war vote right. Then and now, he’s had the foresight to predict the dangers of a military-first foreign policy.
Bernie Sanders has been a leading voice in Congress against risky U.S. military adventurism. Sanders was prescient in describing the pitfalls of the Iraq war that so many of his colleagues were blind to. Sanders predicted the high cost of the war for the U.S. in terms of lives and wasted resources. He had the foresight to accurately predict that a U.S. invasion of Iraq could lead to sectarian conflict and he argued that the ensuing chaos could support the rise of extremism.
Sanders has continued to point out when blunt military tools only make the complex conflicts in the Middle East worse. He opposed plans to bomb Syria over concerns about chemical weapons use. He voted against the disgraced program to arm “moderate” Syrian rebels that resulted in some U.S.-trained rebels taking their weapons stockpiles and joining the ranks of extremists.
Sanders now opposes sending U.S. ground troops to Syria and warns of a potential quagmire. There are already roughly 6,000 Americans involved in the fighting in Iraq and Syria and most of the leading presidential candidates are calling for more. Sanders also opposes the proposed “no-fly-zone” in Syria which many experts feel would endanger civilians while risking a direct conflict with Russia that could spiral out of control.
Sanders supports a truly diplomacy-first foreign policy
Sanders is not afraid to take bold positions on behalf of diplomacy and conflict resolution. He was a vocal and visible leader in the debate about the Iran nuclear deal and forcefully rebutted the deal’s critics like Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, like President Obama, he wants to build on the Iran deal to help reduce tensions in the Middle East. Recently, when Sanders expressed cautious optimism about normalized relations with Iran he was immediately pounced on by opponents as naive — despite the fact that allies like Canada and Europe are eagerly moving towards economic and diplomatic normalization with Iran. We need someone who can seize and sustain diplomatic openings.
Sanders has articulated a much more cautious approach to regime change and military intervention than the other leading candidates for president. In the run up to the Gulf War (1991) and the Iraq War (2002) he pushed for a diplomatic resolution. He is also resisting the growing saber rattling and talk of a new Cold War by some U.S. and Russian politicians. Sanders instead calls for a diplomatic approach to the conflict in Eastern Europe.
Sanders’s campaign is also making a critical strategic point that the country needs to hear: If the military fight against extremism in the Middle East continues to be led by the U.S., the extremists’ recruitment narrative — and thereby their lasting power — is strengthened. In the long run that makes us all less safe. Most experts agree that only political and diplomatic solutions can bring stability to Iraq, Syria and Libya. But Sanders is the rare elected official willing to resist the climate of fear that leads to band-aid military tactics. He instead champions the tools that can really keep us safer.
Sanders is taking on Pentagon bloat
Bernie Sanders is one of the leading voices in Congress in the fight against wasteful Pentagon spending. He has opposed the special war-funding account that is being used as a “slush fund” for the Pentagon. He’s repeatedly pointed out that the Pentagon’s out of control spending is based on Cold War era military thinking and weapons systems. Sanders also points out that the Pentagon budget is so mismanaged that the Pentagon is unable to say where they actually spend all their money.
Sanders knows that diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and economic development are often more effective security building tools than military intervention. He’s pushed to reform security spending by cutting wasteful Pentagon weapons systems and foreign arms transfers to increase spending for programs that work to prevent conflict and build stability.
Getting Big Money out of our politics is as important for a progressive foreign policy as for domestic priorities. Economic fairness and truly secure communities are linked.
Sanders is the only candidate challenging the power of the military-industrial complex and their campaign contributions. Pentagon industry insiders are reaping record profits for weapons systems that aren’t needed given our real twenty-first century security needs. Meanwhile other needs that also contribute to real security for U.S. communities are starved for funds.
Sanders has smart, concrete proposals for an accessible education system; for fixing our crumbling infrastructure; for investments in clean energy and a healthy of the environment; and for a strong, resilient universal health care system. In the twenty-first century these things are part of what makes our communities truly safe and secure. It will be very difficult to fund those proposals without taking on entrenched interests that benefit from a military budget that currently gobbles up half of discretionary expenditures.
“I would ask all of my colleagues to remember what Eisenhower said [about how the military-industrial complex robs from social investments] and understand that today, when we have this bloated and huge military budget, there are people who are talking about massive cuts in food stamps, massive cuts in education, massive cuts in affordable housing, cuts in Social Security, cuts in Medicare, cuts in Medicaid. I would argue very strongly that before we cut from the elderly and the children and the sick and the poor, maybe we take a hard look at this bloated military budget.”
— Bernie Sanders on the floor of the U.S. Senate, December 2013
In support of Sanders’ low donor campaign, Peace Action asks its supporters to donate here: