‘No Wars for the Billionaire Class’: A look at a possible Sanders foreign policy

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(Photo: Flickr / [Gage Skidmore] )

As the Democratic primary intensifies there has been increased focus on Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy outlook. In addition to questions about his advisors, there has also been discussion of what a possible Sanders foreign policy could look like. Earlier this week we reported on political scientist Stephen Pampinella’s vision of a “post-hegemonic” foreign policy. There has been discussion in other venues as well. Writing in the Washington Post Katrina vanden Heuvel says “The country deserves a far broader debate about American security” than has taken place so far and urges Sanders to promote a “new, real security agenda” that challenges climate change, global economic policy and U.S. policy promoting regime change.

Daniel Denvir conducted a survey of liberal and progressive foreign policy analysts for Salon to try to identify a “Bernie Doctrine.” He mostly just found confusion:

“Both parties essentially agree on the need for us to continue on our interventionist path,” emails James Russell, a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey. “This is utter madness.”

Russell continues:

“Sanders is missing an opportunity here to separate himself from the ‘corporate’ mindset of the Democratic foreign policy establishment — which is really the Council of Foreign Relations — a group full of people who were cheerleaders in the Iraq War —  the greatest strategic disaster for the US since Vietnam. Sanders has correctly identified the critical issue of today on the domestic front — which is income inequality and the impact of corporate money in politics, but he’s not carving up the low-hanging fruit in foreign policy.”

I put the question of what a possible Sanders’ foreign policy could look like to Phyllis Bennis, the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bennis shared the following via email:

A theme for Bernie’s foreign policy doctrine could be reduced to a very simple point that links directly to his longstanding focus on economic inequality: No Wars for the Billionaire Class.

That theme addresses issues of the overarching power of the arms producers, especially their over-paid CEOs (perhaps recalling an earlier era when war profiteering was actually illegal, as well as immoral), as well as the oil industry and the role of the US military in deploying troops and building bases all too often for the purpose of protecting the interests of and thus further enriching the already super-rich.

It’s a whole new 21st century way of understanding both President Eisenhower’s warning about the power of the  military-industrial complex, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s warning about the deadly triplets of militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.

On military aid to Israel & Egypt —

Sanders once said “I have a problem with appropriating $2 billion to Egypt and $3 billion to Israel. Let’s take care of some of the problems we have at home first.” He should reaffirm that, making clear that foreign aid is an important part of US policy, and should remain so.  But Israel is a wealthy country. And the entire $3.1 billion each year we send to Israel every year – anticipated to go up to $5 billion a year beginning in 2018 – goes directly to the military, already by far the most powerful in the region. Most of the aid to Egypt – about half of it – goes to the military also. Congress rightly restricted military aid after the 2012 coup, supposedly so that it could be sent only after Egypt made explicit steps towards democratizing. That hasn’t happened, so it’s unfortunate that the administration still decided to release F-16s, Harpoon missiles and Abrams tanks to the Egyptian military.

A Sanders administration would know that four and a half billion dollars worth of military aid could much better be used at home for health care, jobs, education, and more. Plus maybe some additional aid to poor countries who really need our help with some of their social crises.

On relations with Iran after the nuclear deal —

The nuclear deal with Iran is a great example of the power of diplomacy – present and future. It represents a huge victory of diplomacy over war. Sanders should reaffirm how crucial it is that we remain engaged with Tehran to insure that the terms of the deal are implemented on all sides.  Indeed we should be trying to expand the narrow terms of the deal to a broader new understanding with Iran where we share common interests in the region – such as ending the war in Syria, ending instability in Iraq, and beyond. I think Sanders believes that Iran’s government recognizes that Iran’s own interests should lead to easing tensions with the United States, indeed with the West as a whole.  And he certainly knows that any military action against Iran would threaten an incredibly dangerous, rapidly escalating war across the region and beyond – the only ones who would benefit from such action would be the CEOs of the arms manufacturers and the oil industry. A Sanders administration would commit to avoid that, and instead to always engage in the tougher, slower, less telegenic – but ultimately more fruitful – work of diplomacy to achieve our goals.

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net