Building of the momentum from the Occupy Wall Street and other ascendant social movements, Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed democratic socialist, is the most progressive candidate to seriously contend for the Democratic Party nomination since George S. McGovern in 1972. However, he has been too veiled in the realm of foreign policy, emphasizing only occasionally his opposition to huge military budgets, while noting his support in the first Democratic Party debate for ill-conceived wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo. One hopes that Sanders, the political insurgent and conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, will challenge the 1% in foreign policy and prevailing paradigms more.
Below are 13 ideas for a more progressive foreign policy that Sanders should promote, starting with the next debate. In a profile in Time Magazine, Sanders stated that it is imperative that people make their voices heard and protest outside the offices of Congressmen blocking progressive reform. This is especially important in the realm of foreign policy, where progressive change will have to be pushed from below and Bernie himself prodded.
First Do No Harm: In addressing major world crises, Sanders should adopt as his mantra the title of David Gibbs’ important book, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, 2009). Gibbs shows how the United States and Germany blocked diplomatic solutions to the Balkan crisis in the early 1990s while supporting Islamic fundamentalist and even neo-Nazi elements equally as vicious as Serb leader Slobodan Milosovic who had been vilified in Western media. The Clinton administration in turn caused great harm through its bombing campaigns, which killed scores of civilians and intensified ethnic operations by the Serbs in Kosovo. Gibbs’ book has important lessons for American policy in dealing with conflicts raging in the Middle East where regional and diplomatic solutions should be sought rather than Special Forces and bombing campaigns which only sow more violence, hatred and “blowback” and lead the U.S. into alliance with vicious, undemocratic forces.
President Obama’s announcement that he is extending the troop presence past his presidential tenure is a disgrace and Sanders should come out saying he will pull all troops out and private contractors when he is elected.
The bombing of a Doctor’s Without Border hospital in Kunduz on October 4th exemplifies the great harm caused by U.S. militarism, with the Taliban having grown stronger after years of American intervention. However brutal the Taliban may be, American allies are equivalent or worse, having been implicated in torture, beheading, abuse of women and the keeping of child sex slaves. When a Special Forces officer, Dan Quinn, beat up a militia commander who had chained boys to his bed, he was fired. Quinn told the New York Times: “The reason we are here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people how they were taking away human rights. But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did – that was something village elders voices to me.” This statement exemplifies the immorality and futility of American policy which needs to be transformed. President Obama’s announcement that he is extending the troop presence past his presidential tenure is a disgrace and Sanders should come out saying he will pull all troops out and private contractors when he is elected.
End Fossil Fuel Dependency and Stop Military Funding to the Saudis: Bernie has spoken out strongly against the dangers of climate change and need to reduce our carbon footprint and transition to a clean energy economy to save the planet for our children. He should further emphasize that reduction of dependency on fossil fuels could allow us to pursue a non-imperialistic foreign policy in the Middle-East which would mean dismantling the military base presence that has caused so much “blowback” (recall it was the stationing of military bases on Muslim Holy Ground near Medina and Mecca that angered Osama bin Laden) and ending lavish military aid programs that have sustained oppressive dictatorships.
The case of Saudi Arabia is most instructive. Beginning in the early 1970s, Washington literally sold its soul for Saudi crude as CIA agent Robert Baer has written, providing billions in foreign aid sometimes through the cover of private mercenary corporations to sustain the Saudi Royal family which has crushed all dissent while serving as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” according to a 2009 cable from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed by Wikileaks. The Obama administration provided a record $60 billion arms deal to the Saudis, supplying cluster bombs and other high-tech equipment that has been used to suppress human rights in the bombing of Yemen in opposition to a Houthi-rebellion. A genuinely progressive presidential aspirant should call for an end to the special relationship with the Saudis which points to the double standards of the War on Terror and would go hand and hand with the transition away from dependency on fossil fuels.
Bring Back the Hope for Civilian Conversion of Scientific Laboratories and Military Manufacturing Plants: During the Vietnam War, a movement emerged calling for the conversion of scientific laboratories and industrial plants that manufactured military-related technology to civilian uses. There is great necessity today to mobilize American scientific genius and industrial capability to solve pressing social problems including environmental degradation and climate change which should be an urgent priority. The United States currently spends more on the military than at least the next ten countries combined and is fixated with militarizing outer-space and trying to outpace geo-political competitors, most notably China and Russia, in the development of robotic technologies and advanced satellite and information systems and cyber-warfare capacities. Pentagon planning documents outline the goal of miniaturized and fully autonomous drones by 2030 armed with switchblades and mounted rockets which can make decision without human intervention. Another super-weapon closer to operational use is the Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle Defense which can fly thirteen thousand miles per hour at twenty miles altitude and deliver 12,000 pounds of payload 9,000 miles from the United States within an hour, destroying any target anywhere in the world on 30 minutes notice without need for an airbase. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is meanwhile focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning research along with computer simulation models and nano-particles capable of creating super-powerful explosions over a small surface area. They have also explored the possibility of launching a laser from space to shoot down ballistic missiles and hurl solid tungsten or titanium rods from satellites at terrestrial targets (“rods from God”) that could travel so fast (7,200 miles per hour) they could take out hardened bunkers as effectively as nuclear weapons without the radio-active fall-out. Imagine if the genius involved in producing these Franksteinian creations were mobilized for solving climate change and curing intractable diseases like cancer. Surely they could do it!
Sign on to the UN Treaty against Mercenaries: Sustaining wars which most Americans do not want to serve in, Private Military Contractors (PMC’s) have been implicated in massive human rights violations while corrupting democracy by financing political campaigns. In 2012, DynCorp International which trained police in Afghanistan and Iraq gave over $300,000 to Super PACs, 52 percent to Republicans, and California Analysis Center Incorporated (CACI), a contractor implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, $137,000 to Republicans compared to $21,000 for Democrats. Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) which helped press the case that WMDs existed in Iraq and was the lead contractor on a $1.2 billion government surveillance program, gave over $200,000 and another $344,000 in 2014, 66% to Republicans. This at a time when the San Diego based company known as NSA-West was taking control over the domestic drone market and developing biometric technologies adopted for social control purposes
A 1989 UN treaty, which the U.S. did not sign, prohibits the recruitment, training, use and financing of mercenaries, or combatants motivated to take part in hostilities by private gain, with PMCs claiming exclusion on the grounds that they play a combat support role. Sanders’ should reject the latter logic and state that he would sign the provision on his first day of office. Sanders should also push for Congressional investigations along the lines of the 1930s Nye commission on corporate war profiteers (“merchants of deaths” as they were then called) and 1970s Church committee hearings on CIA abuses which would help raise public awareness about the threat to democracy bred by the privatization of military and intelligence functions and serve as a groundwork for legal prosecution of war criminals.
Adopt A New Human Rights Program That This Time Will be Implemented: With the fraying of the Cold War consensus following the end of the Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter was elected to the presidency in 1976 promoting a human rights based foreign policy, calling for cutting backs on aid to dictatorial regimes and a reigning in of the CIA. However, his policy was only implemented selectively in practice, with his administration providing $2.3 billion in military aid to ten nations cited by Amnesty International for systematic human rights violations (Guatemala, Indonesia, El Salvador Morocco, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand) along with $6 billion to Saudi Arabia and at least $12 billion to the Shah of Iran while sustaining police aid through the cover of the Drug Enforcement Administration. As historian James Peck has pointed out, Carter mainly succeeded in crafting human rights into a “new language of power and potent ideological weapon for extending Washington’s global reach,” largely by focusing on abuses in the Soviet Union or Soviet client states. A progressive Sanders administration should re-invoke Carter’s rhetoric and be prodded to follow through this time. American forces currently train 100,000 soldiers annually in 180 countries, strengthening the power of the military in relation to other sectors and often promoting methods of torture and assassination that contribute to a poor human rights climate. The latter program should be discontinued and foreign aid channeled towards civilian functions and blocked for regimes that violate human rights. The drone war should also be definitively ended along with the practice of assassination.
Sanders should advocate for an end to the War on Drugs which has contributed to monumental human rights abuses.
End the War on Drugs: As synonymous with the above strategy, Sanders should advocate for an end to the War on Drugs which has contributed to monumental human rights abuses. In 2009, Obama unveiled Plan Mérida, a $1.7 billion dollar assistance program to Mexico modeled after Plan Colombia with a heavy emphasis on militarized policing. With drones guiding Mexican military and police raids, the United States supplied electronic signals technology, ground censors, voice recognition gear, cell-phone tracking devices, data analysis tools, computer hacking kits and airborne cameras that could read license plates from miles away. Private companies including DynCorp and L-3 communications performed vital intelligence and police training functions. Videos surfaced showing private contractors employed by Risks Inc. training an elite police unit in what appeared to be torture techniques. Many of the weapons provided under Mérida actually bolstered the arsenal of the cartels responsible for perpetrating grisly violence who recruit their enforcers from among police and military officers trained by the United States. They have also been used by the Mexican army to suppress peasant uprisings in Chiapas and Oaxaca provinces driven by rampant inequalities and to force the displacement of peasants to make way for megaprojects by multi-national mining corporations.
Almost none of the money in Plan Mérida was devoted to anti-poverty programs capable of providing opportunities for Mexico’s poor, who see joining a criminal gang as the only way of obtaining wealth and status in society. Drug supply rates were little affected overall as corruption skyrocketed among law enforcement personnel at the U.S.-Mexican border, with Mexican government officials long allowing the cartels to launder their profits and finance their political campaigns. Journalist Anabel Hernandez has written that “what Mexico has experienced in the last decade is not a war on drug traffickers but a war between drug traffickers, with the government taking sides for the Sinaloa Cartel.”
Dismantle the Global Military Base Network: According to official statistics, the Pentagon in 2015 possessed 4,855 military bases valued at over $879 billion including 587 in 42 foreign nations which occupy over 24.9 million acres of land and consist of over 276,770 buildings compromising 2.2 billion square feet. These numbers exclude massive building and troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and secret or unacknowledged facilities in Israel, Kuwait, the Philippines and elsewhere including a secret missile station in Kabwe, Zambia.
Starting with the late Chalmers Johnson’s landmark, The Sorrows of Empire, numerous studies have documented how U.S. troops live a colonial-type lifestyle that is materially superior to the surrounding populations whom they often treat with scorn, abusing prostitutes, and carrying out training exercises that ravage the environment or cause too much noise. Soldiers have further driven over children with tanks and committed rape. The bases generally point to the imperial underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy which should be repudiated.
Repudiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Push for Peaceful Cooperation Rather than a military “pivot” and New Cold War with China…and Russia:The historian Alfred W. McCoy writing on Tomdispatch.com portrayed the TPP free-trade agreement as a master-geopolitical stroke by the Obama administration to counter-balance China’s rise by drawing key Asian countries into the America orbit while strengthening U.S. multi-national corporations and business interests. This may be true, however, as we have seen with the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it is sure to intensify the problems of corporate outsourcing that has decimated America’s working class and lead to further environmental degradation (which McCoy does acknowledge). Allying against popular forces demanding the removal of military bases in Okinawa and Cheju-do Island in South Korea, whose history during the Korean War was callously ignored (Cheju was the site of a major massacre by U.S. and ROK forces), the United States should be pursuing a course of cooperation rather than ushering in a new era of the “Great Game.” The competition for control of resources in Africa is especially troubling, with the Africans sure to benefit very little if anything is to be learned from history.
The situation with Russia threatens global conflagration furthermore, with the United States expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and intervention in Ukraine having provoked Vladimir Putin. A shift in strategy is needed to avoid another full-fledged Cold War which as Mikhail S. Gorbachev noted of the 1917-1990 version “made losers of us all.” It channeled the resources of the United States and Russia into a destructive military competition that resulted in devastating proxy wars and cutbacks in social programs, thus eroding prospects for a more decent society.
Stop Arming the Israelis to the Teeth and Recognize Palestinian Rights to Statehood: Noam Chomsky’s classic book, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians is among the best in detailing how the Israeli government sacrificed security for territorial expansion after the 1967 Six-Day War and how its leaders became emboldened mainly as a result of the extensive military aid provided by the United States. Over the last decade, the American government has provided an estimated $3.1 billion in annual military assistance to Israel including General Dynamics F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters and another $504 million to develop the Iron Dome missile defense system. The United States furthermore engages in intelligence sharing and joint-military and police training exercises, while training the security of forces of Hamas’ rival, Fatah, in the occupied West Bank as part of a divide and conquer strategy. The fruits of this strategy can be seen in the endless violence and repression, manifested most recently in the outbreak of a possible third Palestinian intifada. The crisis in the occupied territory has had global implications, fueling animosity towards the United States and political extremism in the Arab world. It is long past due the United States stop arming Israel to the teeth and begin to serve as an honest rather than dishonest broker in a revitalized peace process, recognizing the Palestinian right to statehood.
Finance the Education of the American Public About World Affairs: Programs should be established in schools, libraries and museums to present international perspectives on world affairs and to promote the works of authors like the late Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky, Alfred W. McCoy, Alexander and Andrew Cockburn, David Vine and others who have written honestly about American foreign policy in the world. Alternative publications that undertake independent investigative reporting should also be financed and supported.
Finance a Museum That Honors American Peace Heroes: A museum should be built in Washington next to the Holocaust museum honoring American peace heroes who spoke out against ill-conceived wars and stood for peace. This will help educate and inspire people. The museum should profile people like Eugene V. Debs, Abraham J. Muste, Randolph Bourne, Jeannette Rankin, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammed Ali, Donald Duncan, David Dellinger, Paul Robeson, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin and many others.
Promote Open Transparency in Government and the Release of Classified Information Along with Reparations Aid:This should include release of all documents pertaining to clandestine Cold War interventions, with apologies offered to governments in victim countries like Congo, Chile, Laos, Cambodia and others. Adequate reparations should also be provided for land mine clearance and clearance of bomblet and undetonated ordinance remnant from the Cold War which continues to cripple and maim scores of civilians while stifling economic development.
Free Chelsea Manning and other whistle-blowers who exposed government malfeasance and war crimes.
More suggestions could be added to this list, but wouldn’t it be great indeed for a bona-fide presidential contender to voice these suggestions.