Why aren’t we talking about Sanders’ foreign policy more?

 Election 2016
Bernie Sanders’ Troubling History of Supporting US Military Violence Abroad
Why aren’t we talking about Sanders’ foreign policy more?
By Michael Arria / AlterNet
May 13, 2015

In his resignation letter to Sanders, former staffer Jeremy Brecher explained the Clinton administartion’s position at the time. “While it has refused to send ground forces into Kosovo, the U.S. has also opposed and continues to oppose all alternatives that would provide immediate protection for the people of Kosovo by putting non-or partially-NATO forces into Kosovo,” wrote Brecher, “…The refusal of the U.S. to endorse such proposals strongly supports the hypothesis that the goal of U.S. policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.”

Brecher’s note to Sanders closes with a set of rhetorical questions, “Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take? My answers led to my resignation.”

The attack on Kosovo is hardly the extent of Sanders’ hawkishness. While it’s true he voted against the Iraq War, he also voted in favor of authorizing funds for that war and the one in Afghanistan. More recently, he voted in favor of a $1 billion aid package for the coup government Ukraine and supported Israel’s assault on Gaza. At a town hall meeting he admitted that Israel may have “overreacted”, but blamed Hamas for the entire conflict. After a woman asked why he refused to condemn Israel’s actions, he told critics: “Excuse me! Shut up! You don’t have the microphone.”

Brecher’s entire letter to Sanders can be read below. The bombing of Kosovo killed between 489 and 528 civilians.

May 4, 1999

Congressman Bernie Sanders
2202 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC, 20515

Dear Bernie,

This letter explains the matters of conscience that have led me to resign from your staff.

I believe that every individual must have some limit to what acts of military violence they are willing to participate in or support, regardless of either personal welfare or claims that it will lead to a greater good. Any individual who does not possess such a limit is vulnerable to committing or condoning abhorrent acts without even stopping to think about it.

Those who accept the necessity for such a limit do not necessarily agree regarding where it should be drawn. For absolute pacifists, war can never be justified. But even for non-pacifists, the criteria for supporting the use of military violence must be extremely stringent because the consequences are so great. Common sense dictates at least the following as minimal criteria:

The evil to be remedied must be serious.

The genuine purpose of the action must be to avert the evil, not to achieve some other purpose for which the evil serves as a pretext.

Less violent alternatives must be unavailable.

The violence used must have a high probability of in fact halting the evil.

The violence used must be minimized.

Let us evaluate current U.S. military action in Yugoslavia against each of these tests. Evil to be remedied:

We can agree that the evil to be remedied in this case — specifically, the uprooting and massacre of the Kosovo Albanians — is serious enough to justify military violence if such violence can ever be justified. However, the U.S. air war against Yugoslavia fails an ethical test on each of the other four criteria.

Purpose vs. pretext: The facts are incompatible with the hypothesis that U.S. policy is motivated by humanitarian concern for the people of Kosovo:

In the Dayton agreement, the U.S. gave Milosevic a free hand in Kosovo in exchange for a settlement in Bosnia.

The U.S. has consistently opposed sending ground forces into Kosovo, even as the destruction of the Kosovar people escalated. (While I do not personally support such an action, it would, in sharp contrast to current U.S. policy, provide at least some likelihood of halting the attacks on the Kosovo Albanians.)

According to the New York Times (4/18/99), the U.S. began bombing Yugoslavia with no consideration for the possible impact on the Albanian people of Kosovo. This was not for want of warning. On March 5, 1999, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema met with President Clinton in the Oval Office and warned him that an air attack which failed to subdue Milosevic would result in 300,000 to 400,000 refugees passing into Albania and then to Italy. Nonetheless, “No one planned for the tactic of population expulsion that has been the currency of Balkan wars for more than a century.” (The New York Times, 4/18/99). If the goal of U.S. policy was humanitarian, surely planning for the welfare of these refugees would have been at least a modest concern.

Even now the attention paid to humanitarian aid to the Kosovo refugees is totally inadequate, and is trivial compared to the billions being spent to bomb Yugoslavia. According to the Washington Post (4/30/99), the spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Macedonia says, “We are on the brink of catastrophe.” Surely a genuine humanitarian concern for the Kosovars would be evidenced in massive emergency airlifts and a few billion dollars right now devoted to aiding the refugees.

While it has refused to send ground forces into Kosovo, the U.S. has also opposed and continues to oppose all alternatives that would provide immediate protection for the people of Kosovo by putting non-or partially-NATO forces into Kosovo. Such proposals have been made by Russia, by Milosevic himself, and by the delegations of the U.S. Congress and the Russian Duma who met recently with yourself as a participant. The refusal of the U.S. to endorse such proposals strongly supports the hypothesis that the goal of U.S. policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.

Less violent alternatives: On 4/27/99 I presented you with a memo laying out an alternative approach to current Administration policy. It stated, “The overriding objective of U.S. policy in Kosovo — and of people of good will — must be to halt the destruction of the Albanian people of Kosovo. . . The immediate goal of U.S. policy should be a ceasefire which halts Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians in exchange for a halt in NATO bombing.” It stated that to achieve this objective, the United States should “propose an immediate ceasefire, to continue as long as Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians cease. . . Initiate an immediate bombing pause. . . Convene the U.N. Security Council to propose action under U.N. auspices to extend and maintain the ceasefire. . . Assemble a peacekeeping force under U.N. authority to protect safe havens for those threatened with ethnic cleansing.” On 5/3/99 you endorsed a very similar peace plan proposed by delegations from the US Congress and the Russian Duma. You stated that “The goal now is to move as quickly as possible toward a ceasefire and toward negotiations.” In short, there is a less violent alternative to the present U.S. air war against Yugoslavia.

High probability of halting the evil: Current U.S. policy has virtually no probability of halting the displacement and killing of the Kosovo Albanians. As William Safire put it, “The war to make Kosovo safe for Kosovars is a war without an entrance strategy. By its unwillingness to enter Serbian territory to stop the killing at the start, NATO conceded defeat. The bombing is simply intended to coerce the Serbian leader to give up at the negotiating table all he has won on the killing field. He won’t.” (the New York Times, 5/3/99) The massive bombing of Yugoslavia is not a means of protecting the Kosovars but an alternative to doing so.

Minimizing the consequences of violence. “Collateral damage” is inevitable in bombing attacks on military targets. It must be weighed in any moral evaluation of bombing. But in this case we are seeing not just collateral damage but the deliberate selection of civilian targets, including residential neighborhoods, auto factories, broadcasting stations, and hydro-electric power plants. The New York Times characterized the latter as “The attack on what clearly appeared to be a civilian target.” (5/3/99) If these are acceptable targets, are there any targets that are unacceptable?

The House Resolution (S Con Res 21) of 4/29/99 which “authorizes the president of the United States to conduct military air operations and missile strikes in cooperation with the United States’ NATO allies against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” supports not only the current air war but also its unlimited escalation. It thereby authorizes the commission of war crimes, even of genocide. Indeed, the very day after that vote, the Pentagon announced that it would begin “area bombing,” which the Washington Post (4/30/99) characterized as “dropping unguided weapons from B-52 bombers in an imprecise technique that resulted in large-scale civilian casualties in World War II and the Vietnam War.”

It was your vote in support of this resolution that precipitated my decision that my conscience required me to resign from your staff. I have tried to ask myself questions that I believe each of us must ask ourselves:

Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take?

My answers led to my resignation.

Sincerely yours,

Jeremy Brecher

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Bernie Sanders: Silent partner of American militarism – World Socialist Web Site

Bernie Sanders: Silent partner of American militarism

By Patrick Martin
27 August 2015

Bernie Sanders now leads frontrunner Hillary Clinton in polls of Democratic voters in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, and he is closing the gap in Iowa, the first caucus state, and in national polling as well. The Vermont senator continues to attract large crowds, favorable media attention (including a flattering front-page report in the New York Times August 21), and a flood of campaign contributions.

The flaccid and unimaginative media punditry has largely ignored a significant void in the Sanders campaign. The White House aspirant has offered not the slightest hint of what he would do as commander in chief. Four months into the campaign, Sanders makes little or no reference to foreign and military policy in his stump speech. The subject of foreign policy is not even addressed on the Sanders campaign web site, which lists 10 topics, all of them concerned with domestic policy.

A report on Yahoo News August 24 raises the question of “How President Bernie Sanders would handle foreign policy.” It begins by taking note of this curious fact: “Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, has a special ‘War and Peace’ section on his official website, detailing his views on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East peace process. Bernie Sanders, the contender for the Democratic presidential nomination … doesn’t.”

The report goes on to detail the positions that Sanders has taken on a range of foreign policy issues, based on his voting record as a congressman and senator. His profile is typical of liberal Democrats, supporting the Clinton administration’s war against Serbia in 1999 and the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while voting against the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq in 2002. Sanders criticized Obama’s bombing of Libya in 2011—mainly because he did not seek congressional authorization—but backed his bombing of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Sanders is a down-the-line supporter of the state of Israel, repeatedly endorsing Israeli onslaughts against the Gaza Strip, most recently the savage bombardment of July-August 2014 which killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. At an August 2014 town hall meeting, Sanders notoriously demanded that audience members “shut up” when they questioned his support for Israel’s criminal actions.

He is a vociferous opponent of China in both economic and foreign policy, and backed the US intervention in Ukraine to foment a coup spearheaded by fascist elements to overthrow the pro-Russian government and set up a pro-Western stooge regime. “The entire world has got to stand up to Putin,” Sanders declared last year, at a time when the warmongering campaign in the US and European media was at its height.

Yahoo News summed up the candidate’s foreign policy profile as follows: “The picture that emerges is less that of a firebrand anti-war radical than a pragmatic liberal who regards military force as a second choice in almost any situation—but a choice that sometimes must be made.”

CBS News, in a profile of Sanders last week, noted his general alignment with the foreign policy of the Obama administration, including its war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its nuclear agreement with Iran, and its decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

The continued silence of Sanders on foreign and military policy has become something of an embarrassment to some of his left-liberal supporters. In a commentary published earlier this month on the web site of Al Jazeera America, media critic Norman Solomon, after expressing enthusiastic support for Sanders on domestic and economic issues, complained of the candidate’s refusal to address issues of militarism and military spending.

Solomon continues: “The same omissions were on display at an Iowa Democratic Party annual dinner on July 17, when Sanders gave a compelling speech but made no reference to foreign affairs. Hearing him talk, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is in its 14th year of continuous warfare. Nor would you have the foggiest inkling that a vast military budget is badly limiting options for the expanded public investment in college education, infrastructure, clean energy and jobs that Sanders is advocating.”

Sanders is not only generally aligned with Obama administration foreign policy, he has refused to specify a single weapons program or Pentagon project that he would cut or eliminate if elected in 2016. He is a longstanding backer of the most expensive US weapons program, the $1.4 trillion F-35 fighter jet, some of which are to be based in Burlington, Vermont, his hometown.

The so-called “socialist” has voted repeatedly for vast Pentagon appropriations bills, maintaining funding of the wars he was (rhetorically) opposed to, as well as funding for the CIA, NSA and the rest of the vast American intelligence apparatus, the infrastructure for police-state spying against the American people.

So right-wing is his record on foreign and military policy that even his most craven apologists, the pseudo-left groups Socialist Alternative and the International Socialist Organization, have been compelled to complain about it, although this has not stopped them hailing the Sanders campaign as a huge advance and openly supporting a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

In a lengthy profile of Sanders, Dan LaBotz of the ISO describes Sanders’ foreign policy views as “a big problem,” adding, “What this record makes clear is that Sanders has no consistent and principled position against US imperialism.” This is a gross distortion: Sanders is a longtime proven defender of US imperialism, not a half-hearted or inconsistent opponent.

LaBotz continues: “Sanders’ program makes no mention of the military. While he calls himself a socialist, Sanders’ foreign policy and military policy remain in line with corporate capitalism, militarism, and imperialism.”

In other words, Sanders has nothing in common with the internationalist principles on which genuine socialism is based. He is cut from the same cloth as Tony Blair, the British “Labor” prime minister who was the junior partner of George W. Bush in perpetrating the criminal war in Iraq, and François Hollande, the French “Socialist” president who is Obama’s junior partner in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and throughout Africa.

Source: Bernie Sanders: Silent partner of American militarism – World Socialist Web Site