Bernie Sanders was not so favoured and fashionable at the international stage, until he ran for the Democratic presidential election nomination in 2016. The 2016 election was also remarkable in terms of the opposition he gained. However, his overly left wing political assertiveness struck a chord with the Democratic American youth, and other disenchanted voters, who believed that America was under a ‘new revolution’ under his aegis. They went out in large numbers to support him, but his eventual defeat to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic elections was called as ‘one of the greatest upsets in modern political history.’
In reality, the election gimmick which Sanders used as a Democratic presidential candidate was to foster a motivated, rapid, growing interest in socialism, that would be channeled behind the Democratic Party, where it could be trapped so that it could lose its bearings. The white liberal imperialist Americans called his political strategy as ‘a softer imperialist approach with the liberal version of what passes off as socialism in the US’. By the rightists, in their red baiting accusations, he was called as a ‘pinko communist’, who reimagined some form of pro Soviet communism.
However, his ideals of ‘democratic socialism’ seem to be fraudulent, because he cannot claim to oppose policies of financial oligarchy, in his own country, while endorsing wars fought on their behalf abroad, in a quest where American capitalist class maintain their dominance. Beneath the sounding rhetoric, Sanders is actually pro capitalist.
As for Sanders alleged socialism, when he tried to manifest his support for universal healthcare for all Americans, and his support for free public education, social positions that he shared with western allies such as Canada, he didn’t call for any broader socialist measures, such as nationalisation of electricity, phone companies, the oil industry, or major US banks or corporations. So, his political slogan was never ‘socialist’ in its truest sense, that he wanted the Americans to believe.
Since then, the Vermont senator has been actively involved as a political commentator on American foreign policy. However, the real Bernie Sanders is someone, who is not an anti-war mongrel at all. His unblemished past records stand a testimony for this. He is often seen wrangling anti-Semitism accusations for his vocal chord in support for Palestinians, but the U.S. lobby and American public, in their amnesia, seem to forget that Sanders is hundred percent pro-Israel. He declared that with an interview with CNN. He also claimed to have written books in Israel, spent his youth at Israeli kibbutz Shaar Haamakim, in 1963, with a Zionish group Hashomer Hatzair, on the lands of Palestinian villages of Sheikh Bureik and al-Harthiya, where people were forcefully evicted in the 1930s for settler colonists, even though the Zionist group was defined by US conservatives as a ‘Stalinist one’. He even has family in Israel.
Despite Sanders declaring Netanyahu’s policies as ‘unjust’ would not override the fact that banished Palestinians would not be allowed to come back to their homeland, even on Israeli political policies that are not based on a rightist spectrum. The fact remains that Israel, in its inception, was formed on racial grounds, and on quintessence of Jewish supremacy.
On establishment of Israel, he once commented: ‘I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.’ Sanders, as an individual cannot claim to have a moral voice, when he sees it right in establishing a State by displacing its native Palestinian Muslims. In a 2014 town hall meeting, Sanders shouted down an antiwar protester, who challenged his support for Israel, even as it was committing egregious crimes against the Palestinian population.
Sanders’ support for protecting Israel was not just in terms of words, but by votes to provide billions in military hardware and aid to the apartheid state in 1997, 1999, and 2004. When Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, Sanders voted in favor of imposing sanctions in order to remove them from power. He has also voted for resolutions in favour of Israeli military actions against Lebanon in 2006, and Gaza in 2014.
In 1993, he supported US military intervention in Somalia to instill a puppet regime. In the 1990s, he supported wars in Haiti by sending marines there. In his political career, Sanders went on to become more hawkish regarding the Balkan wars, as decades passed by. In the Balkan wars, when the administration led a full scale NATO air war against Serbia to force Belgrade to withdraw from its restless, predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo, Sanders was happy to come on board. He voted for a Senate Concurrent Resolution (sponsored by Senator Joe Biden) that authorised president to conduct air operations, and missile strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). When antiwar activists occupied Sanders office in 1999, due to his support for the war, he had them arrested.
He also supported the US war in Afghanistan, despite claiming it to be ‘a mistake’. Since then, he continued to endorse US wars in the Middle East, including a proxy war in Syria, with a decision to support Obama’s inclusion of 250 U.S. troops to that country, purportedly to train, and lend a hand to moderate Syrian rebels, trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Sanders had even endorsed the U.S.-led military campaign against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, by sponsoring and voting for a resolution, condemning Qaddafi, and calling on the UN to pressure him to leave office. When Trump announced a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, in late 2019, Sanders joined in the Democratic led aggressive warlike chorus, condemning the move as a betrayal of Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria.
He also defended a war mongering in Russia, including backing U.S military to Ukraine. In 1998, Sanders voted for the Iraq Liberation Act and another resolution that supported American measures, to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In 1996, he voted in favor of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, which imposes sanctions on persons exporting certain goods, or technology, that would enhance Iran’s ability to explore for extract, refine, or transport by pipeline petroleum resources, and for other purposes. In 2001, he voted to extend the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act. He also supported arming the Saudi Arabian monarchy to fight ISIS. He has refused to end the drone program, but promises to use it ‘very selectively’. The War on Terror also marked the beginning of Sanders support for the war budget, and appropriations to the military in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. As for the oppositions of war in Iraq in 1991, and 2003, they were mostly pro imperialist argumentations.
During Iraq’s invasion in 2003, he commented: ‘UN inspectors in Iraq should be allowed to do their jobs with clearly defined timelines, and that these inspectors should undertake an unfettered search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and destroy them when found, pursuant to past UN resolutions. If Iraq resists inspection and elimination of stockpiled weapons, we should stand ready to assist the UN in forcing compliance.’ But despite his initial opposition to the invasion, Sanders voted in favour of congressional bills to fund the Iraq war, inviting Bush to use force, if necessary.
Moreover, Sanders has publicly voiced support for the use of assassinations and extraordinary rendition, in the so-called war on terror. In 2015, when asked whether anti-terrorism policies under a Sanders administration would include drones and special forces, Sanders replied that he supported “all that and more.” In his interview with NPR, Sanders evaded answering when asked whether he would leave special operations forces in Iraq, after withdrawing ground troops.
Sanders’ support for war is closely connected to his longstanding support for trade war with China, which raises a looming danger of a shooting war with a nuclear power. In fact, his first piece of legislation in Congress was a bill he enacted with Nancy Pelosi opposing favourable trade relations with China. By invoking praise in his speech for presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, the architects of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Sanders concealed himself in the role of Cold War-era anticommunism.
Sanders, in his ‘radical period’, only opposed militarism when it affected the jobs of American workers. During the 1980s, Vermont was one of the largest recipients of Defense Department weapons contracts, such as the General Electric Plant in Burlington, which produced gatling guns, for Central American death squads. When peace activists planned to block the gate to the GE factory on June 20, 1983, Sanders refused to support them and had them arrested. He would use the same rationale when he justified a long-standing support for the F-35 fighter jets, which at 1.5 trillion US dollars was the most expensive program in military weapons history. Sanders had made no secret that he wanted that investment in Vermont, which would provide at least 1400 jobs and $124 million worth of investment.
“If Bernie Sanders is serious about leaving himself leeway to act militarily where necessary, it would be useful to articulate that idea to his supporters in the context of the campaign,” Suzzane Nossel once said, a former State Department official in the Obama administration.
Although, he has not voted for every war authorisation, in his tenure, his stances on war are mixed, murky, complex, which makes it understandable that he’s not a clean slate. It is because when he uses the term ‘necessary wars,’ he is not referring to popular revolutions against bankrupt social orders, or revolts by colonial peoples against their imperial masters. He is referring instead to those wars that are ‘necessary’ to advance the interests of American imperialism.
Naveed Qazi is author of six books. He is the editor of Globe UpFront, and can be mailed at [email protected]