The surprise Democratic front-runner opposed the war in Iraq but voted through US arms supplies to Israel during last year's Gaza war
The Democratic Party front-runner is not, as expected, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Like her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton now trails an unlikely opponent in both of the two early primary states – Iowa and New Hampshire. Adding to the panic in Clinton-land is the fact her lead is quickly evaporating in South Carolina – the third state to a cast a vote for the eventual Democratic nominee.
In other words, Hillary 2016 is starting to look like a sequel to Hillary 2008. But instead of trailing a charismatic wunderkind with a once-in-a-generation rock star persona and exotic background, Hillary this time around is trailing behind a rarely smiling, frumpy 74-year-old white dude from the northeastern state of Vermont.
Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, is now a genuine threat to Hillary’s dream of becoming America’s first female president.
Bernie 2016 represents a one-man fix to America’s domestic ills. He has promised to reform the campaign finance system, or as he puts it, “Stop the billionaire class owning our politicians.” He has promised to reform the tax code, or as he describes it, “make the rich and the corporations pay their fair share”. He has promised to address the country’s pandemic level of income inequality, or in his words: “The top one percent own more than the combined wealth of the bottom 40 percent.” He has also promised to tackle climate change, the criminal justice system and America’s failed war on drugs.
His liberal populist shtick has him drawing the largest crowds of all 2016 presidential candidates. If Sanders were a Major League Baseball team, his owner would be well pleased with his sometimes 20,000-plus audiences. In the age of political disillusion - remembering the 2014 mid-term election had the lowest voter turn out since the Second World War - the size of the crowds he pulls is a testament to how his domestic policies are resonating deeply with America’s working and middle class.
I mean, let’s be honest - Sanders is no rock star. While Obama enjoyed equally large crowds in 2008, in part no doubt due to the president’s magnetism and soaring rhetoric, audiences at Sanders' events cheer and holler loudly to wonky policy proposals. Where Obama bounced and bounded onto the stage to chants of “Yes we can,” Sanders walks to the lectern with shoulders slumped forward, often only giving up a half-smile to his adorning supporters.
As the cheers die, the moment for Sanders' speech arrives. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss with you a few things.” Sanders then speaks plainly and matter-of-factly about wealth disparity, student debts, reforming Wall Street, breaking up the big banks, voter obstruction, voter turnout, the minimum wage, free-trade agreements and stagnant level wages.
David Graham, a columnist for The Atlantic, attended a Sanders 2016 event in Greensboro, Alabama on Saturday. He said Sanders’ supporters told him “again and again … that what excited them was the sense that he told the truth as he saw it. (Like the candidate, who has studiously avoided attacking Hillary Clinton, few of them named her without prompting; they didn’t have to.) They appreciated that he had been speaking about the same issues throughout his long career and wasn’t beholden to donors.”
What you don’t hear from Sanders, however, is even the mere hint of a foreign policy proposal. When he is asked about how he sees America’s future role in the Middle East, he typically replies, “I voted against the Iraq war.”
Thus to get a feel of how a President Bernie Sanders would lead American muscle overseas, one needs to take a long, hard look at both his senatorial voting record and publicly declared statements.
In short, Sanders’ voting record reads as good news for those who oppose US military intervention in the Middle East. He not only voted against the 2003 Iraq war, but he also voted against the war in Iraq and Kuwait in 1990, notwithstanding the fact Sanders did vote for “the Surge” in 2008.
It’s Sanders’ 2007 vote on a resolution he co-sponsored on Iran that really sets him apart from both Democrat and Republican hawks. The bill titled Resolution 356 was put forward out of fear the Bush administration was gearing up for a military strike against Iran. The bill affirmed that “any offensive military action in Iran must be explicitly approved by Congress”.
In a Senate address, Sanders said, "America's reputation internationally has been severely damaged and critical military, diplomatic and intelligence resources have been diverted from the war in Afghanistan - a war I supported, and a country this administration has increasingly neglected. And now, after so many errors, so many lives, and so much damage, this administration is again raising the prospect of yet another war in the Middle East - this time a war with Iran. I fear this administration has learned nothing from the colossal error, colossal misjudgment in the invasion of Iraq … Recent statements by this [Bush] administration give me concern that this administration is considering just this - an offensive military action against Iran without the consent of Congress.”
In summary, it’s easy to infer from Sanders’ votes on the authorisation of military force that he doesn’t like using it.
So how will a President Sanders deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict? Ok, now it gets a little more complicated. Sanders is a liberal Jewish American who supports the “two-state solution”. At an event last month, Sanders told a reporter, "Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own and the United States should do what it can to make sure that state has a strong economy. Israel is entitled to live in security, not be attacked."
Ok, we have run into our first problem. “Israel is entitled to live in security, not be attacked,” says nothing of the fact that Israel could end threats to its security tomorrow were it to end its illegal occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and its blockade of Gaza. In other words, Sanders, like nearly all the political leaders in DC, has parroted a pro-Israel talking point, i.e: “It’s their violence, not our occupation.”
The Washington Post has pointed out that Sanders has given more or less the exact same answer any time anyone has asked him about the conflict. Disturbingly, Sanders once told his constituents to "shut up" over questions related to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
Even more worryingly, Sanders turned the above pro-Israel talking point into actual US policy when he approved of Israel’s 51-day bombardment and invasion of Gaza. Sanders voted to allow Israel access to US weapons stockpiles in the middle of a siege where more than 80 percent of the casualties were civilians. To arm Israel, the most powerful military in the Middle East, with more missiles against the Palestinians, who are not only locked in an open-air prison, but who also possess no army, air force, navy, or defence systems is truly an unforgivable act.
So would a President Sanders perform as an honest broker for the conflict? “If I were to tell you that I have a magical solution to a problem that has gone on for 50 years, I don't,” Sanders said in an interview earlier this year.
Well, that’s exactly what both the Israeli lobby and Netanyahu want to hear. Not having a solution means a continuation of the status quo, which is just fine and dandy for Israel. If Sanders were an honest broker for peace he’d reach for the very simple solution at hand: one that is called international law. Were President Sanders to abide by and respect international law, he’d demand a cessation of the settlements, a return to the 1967 borders, and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Senator Sanders, that’s not a “magical solution”. That’s international law.