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If U.S. President were not a mythical position but a serious job, the job interview would include asking the candidates their basic plans of action. This would start with, "What will you encourage Congress to spend a couple of trillion dollars on each year?"
At the moment, about half of federal discretionary spending is spent on one thing, militarism. A basic budget proposal from each candidate would tell us whether they think military spending should go up or down. Some of the Republicans have blurted out that they want it increased. Marco Rubio has lamented a failure to spend $100 billion more, suggesting that he would push for that increase. Rand Paul has denounced that idea, suggesting that he'd maintain or reduce military spending. But none of them has actually laid out a proposed budget in even the roughest terms.
The Democrats have avoided the subject even more. When forced to talk about the military, Senator Bernie Sanders has talked about waste and audits but left us completely in the dark as to what level he thinks spending should be. This is odd, because he talks about creating significant new spending all the time, for things like free college. But he never proposes to pay for such projects by pinching a bit from the military; he always proposes to tax billionaires -- which is always criticized by the media as severely and nonsensically as a proposal to cut the military would be.
CBS hosted a debate this weekend, and I thank them for actually posting a full transcript and a full video that can be fast-forwarded. This allows an interested person to not actually watch the god-awful thing, but to read it and watch the bits that the transcriber marked "unintelligible" or the bits that require particular attention.
Here are a few segments worth paying attention to:
SANDERS: "I think we have a disagreement. And-- the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change-- whether it was in the early '50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile or whether it was overthrowing the government [of] Guatemala way back when-- these invasions, these-- these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I'm a little bit more conservative than the secretary."
That's new and useful. If the U.S. were to stop overthrowing governments, most of the U.S. military could be dismantled. Here's where Sanders finally mentions the military budget:
SANDERS: "Let me pick up an issue that-- a very important issue that we have not yet discussed. This nation is the most powerful military in the world. We're spending over $600 billion a year on the military. [He means just in the Department of so-called Defense alone, not counting Homeland Security, State, Energy, etc.] And yet significantly less than 10% of that money is used to be fighting international terrorism. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons. I think we need major reform in the military making it more cost effective but also focusing on the real crisis that faces us. The Cold War is over and our focus has got to be on intelligence, increased manpower, fighting international terrorism."
The upside here is that Sanders pointed out the military price-tag -- and perhaps the idea of reducing or eliminating the nukes. The downside is that he didn't suggest cutting militarism. He didn't suggest moving money away from militarism. He only proposed to move money, from place to place, within the field of militarism. When asked later about taxing people to pay for college, Sanders failed to mention cutting military spending.
Wanting "cost-effective" military spending, of course, means getting good killing power for your buck. Sanders wants to kill; he just wants to spend as little on it as possible. Whether he ultimately wants military spending reduced, increased, or kept at its current level we just don't know. He talks up foreign evils and the need to fight them enough that one could as reasonably guess he wants an increase as a decrease. But one way in which Sanders wants to be "cost-effective" is by getting other nations to fight wars. Since most of these other nations are armed largely with U.S. weapons, he may also think this is good for business:
"The-- the secretary's obviously right. It is enormously complicated. But here's something that I believe we have to do is we put together an international coalition. And that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations, they're gonna just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are gonna have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are gonna have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the UK, so should France. But those Muslim countries are gonna have to lead the efforts. They are not doing it now."
Elsewhere in the debate he said the U.S. should "lead." Here he wants the "Muslim nations" that "are opposed to Islam" to "get their hands dirty." Saudi Arabia is slaughtering children in Yemen with U.S. weapons, beheading children at home, funding the terrorists Bernie wants it to take the lead in destroying, and shipping poison to the world in the form of oil that will render Saudi Arabia uninhabitable this century. That's not "dirty" enough?
The potential plus side of Sanders always saying he wants someone else to fight wars, even if he doesn't understand who would fight on which side, is that it suggests he might not want the U.S. to fight as many wars. If you contrast that with Hillary Clinton's eagerness to be the toughest militarist on the planet, Bernie wins. If you contrast it with a sane sustainable foreign policy, he loses. If you try to figure out what he actually wants to do in any sort of detail, you clearly have not understood what the point of these horrible debates is.
Diana Johnstone is a writer based in Paris, France. Her past books include Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions. Her new book, which we discuss, is Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton.
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It is entirely possible that President Al Gore would not have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq. President Henry Wallace might very well not have nuked Hiroshima or Nagasaki. President William Jennings Bryan almost certainly would not have attacked the Philippines.
Presidents are pushed into war and held back from war all the time, but they also do some pushing and pulling of their own. Within days of Germany's surrender in World War II, Winston Churchill proposed recruiting German troops into a new UK/US war on the Soviet Union. The idea went nowhere with his own government or allies, except to become the Cold War. But every crazed idea he'd had for years prior to that moment had been deemed acceptable and acted upon, and someone else might not have had the same ideas.
Do the sorts of powerful insiders epitomized by the Council on Foreign Relations usually get their way? Is the United States an oligarchy? Are small differences between electoral candidates magnified and exaggerated? Do both major political parties in the United States back essentially the same sort of militarism? Does a quasi-permanent shadow government within the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc., sometimes circumvent and overrule presidents? Yes, of course, all of those things are true. But individuals also matter.
They would matter less in a democracy. If Congress decided on war as the U.S. Constitution requires, or if the public voted on war as the Ludlow Amendment would have required, or if the United States gave up war as the Kellogg-Briand Pact mandates, then the militarism in the mind of one individual would not decide the fate of so many lives and deaths. But that's not reality now.
A President Lincoln Chafee or a President Bernie Sanders or a President Jill Stein, rather than a President Hillary Clinton or a President Donald Trump, would be one factor among many weighing to some degree against the likelihood of more and larger and more dangerous wars. Whether the chance and possible benefit of electing a better president is worth diverting resources from other anti-war work into the national circus of election obsession is a separate and much more complex question.
This point, that individuals matter, is made in the new book Why Leaders Fight by Michael Horowitz, Allan Stam, and Cali Ellis. They go up against the academic tradition of attempting to explain war decisions through whatever process can most resemble the physical sciences. That tradition has steered far clear of anything as messy as a human being, preferring to ponder game theory or to hunt for non-existent correlations between war and population density, resource scarcity, or anything else that can be quantified.
Having brought the individual back into consideration, the authors of Why Leaders Fight immediately attempt to make that resemble as closely as possible a mathematical equation. Was this national ruler someone who had been in the military, and was he or she in combat? What was their first experience with war? What is their education level? What is their age? What previous job did they hold? Were they raised by good parents? Were they raised wealthy or poor? What was their birth order? Et cetera.
Will all such data ever allow a calculation to reliably predict war mongering or peacefulness? Of course not. Will examinations of enough past leaders along these lines open our eyes to some areas for concern or reassurance? Perhaps. But can such scientistic studies reach the level of being a better guide to what a political candidate might do than is an examination of what that candidate has done and said? I doubt it.
A careful reading of candidates' platforms, speeches, and casual remarks, including what is given prominence and what is omitted, and weighed against what they've actually done in the past, takes one quite far. Add in who's funding them, what party they've sworn allegiance to, how they relate to government and media insiders, how they relate to foreign leaders, how they handle mistakes, how they deal with crises, and one can -- I think -- predict fairly accurately which candidate is going to be a minor or major weight against a war that powerful interests demand, and which candidate is going to be easily pushed into war or, in fact, rush to create one at the earliest opportunity. It's not as though George W. Bush and Harry Truman and William McKinley hadn't advertised what sort of things they planned to do.
Academics bent on making the social sciences into real by-god sciences left out more than the individual politician after all. They left out the wider culture. An older politician eager to make his or her mark before their time is up won't create wars in a culture that honors making peace. An official whose childhood and background statistics suggest they will take great risks would have to take none at all to go along with the routine militarism of the current U.S. government, but would challenge the whole military industry and the whole communications industry by attempting nonviolent solutions to crises. Disarmament is considered risky in U.S. culture, making questionable the expectation that risk-taking personalities will promote militarism. In other words, the interpretation and weighting of the data has to change so drastically with the culture that one is better off just looking at the culture.
President Obama would have heavily bombed Syria in 2013 if not for the weight of U.S. culture against it. President John McCain would not have been free to develop a kill list and a drone murder program without the sort of intense public opposition that meets Republicans who do such things. There can be no question that individuals matter, especially large numbers of individuals actively demanding something. Nor can there be any question that one of those individuals who matter is you.
I know what you're thinking. There is no draft. There hasn't been a draft in decades. They'd let entire Central American nations immigrate, pay recruits six-figure salaries, and let robots fly the drones before they'd create a draft. Crackpot Congress members only bring up a draft as a supposed bank-shot maneuver for ending all the damn wars. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Your government has nonetheless decided that registering men for a possible draft (whether they like it or not, and even though nobody believes there will ever be a draft) is far more important than allowing them to register to vote.
And not just the U.S. government, but most of the 50 state governments have chosen this priority.
Don't take it from me, look at the numbers. If you're male and you get a driver's license in any of these places, you're signed up automatically with, or you're given the option to sign up automatically with, or -- in most cases -- you're required to sign up with the Selective Service System: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
Also Maryland enacted driver's license legislation in 2002, but has not yet implemented it.
This is a work in progress. Some states have yet to climb on board. It's a bit of extra work for state and federal governments, but the technology is pretty simple, and they clearly consider it worth the effort to spread awareness that all men might have to kill on behalf of some war crazed president or Congress, and that -- as the SSS website says -- "It's What a Man's Got to Do. It's quick, it's easy, it's the Law."
Actually it's against any number of laws, including protections of conscientious objectors (you're not offered any choice of that when the process is automated), and including obviously the laws against war -- the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the U.N. Charter.
But what does this have to do with voting? Ruining Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen in the name of "democracy" isn't exactly about voting in the United States, is it?
Well here's the deal. Two states -- two (2), count 'em, TWO -- have just made voter registration as easy as 39 states make draft registration. Those two states make it optional. If you don't want to register to vote when you get a driver's license, you can opt out. So, that's different. And it works for women as well as men. So, that's different, and simpler. And there's no need to interact with the federal government, so that, too, is different and easier. But otherwise it's the same deal. The state division of motor vehicles is identifying you for a driver's license or ID through a more rigorous process than is usually used to register voters. After doing that, it's hardly any extra work to simply consider you registered to vote as well.
Only two states have done this. If you'd like to see which two they are, or if you'd like to click a button to email your state legislators and governor about doing the same, click here.
Now, the federal government doesn't do driver's licenses, but it does do Social Security numbers, and it and many other institutions rely on Social Security numbers as a reliable means of identification. There is no reason that a person possessing a Social Security number cannot be considered eligible to vote. (Making sure that the 8 people who try to drive around voting in more than one state get caught would be identical to how that's done now.) The federal government chooses not to do this. Forty-eight state governments plus various occupied territories choose not to do this, even though it would be far easier than draft registration and even though its connection to actual democracy is much more straightforward.
At least half the country is pretty well disgusted with both of the two big political parties and all of their elected members. And most members of the U.S. House of Representatives are gerrymandered and sponsored into their seats more or less for life or until promotion to the lobbying league. But the general theory holds, nonetheless, that higher voter turnout is better for Democrats than Republicans. The two states that have acted so far have done so with Democratic legislatures and governors. But many Democratic states have not acted yet, and the benefits of acting would be very much to small-d democracy.
With more voters, candidates would have to appeal to more people, including more poor people. More candidates might gain traction. The range of debate would be widened. It would also become easier to place public initiatives on the ballot through the process of gathering the signatures of registered voters. Political polling would more accurately reflect public sentiments, because pollsters would have more registered voters to poll.
In addition, each state government would save the expense of the existing ridiculous system of "registering" people it already knows and has identified. This would free up time and energy and money for other things. "Let's get [people] on the rolls automatically and put all the resources and energy we've put into voter registration into voter education," says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
It wouldn't be just state governments doing that. Every election season, thousands of volunteers for political parties and candidates across the country spend endless hours registering people to vote. They think of this as useful work. Many even think of it as "activism." Let's imagine that work were eliminated. What could those thousands of volunteers do instead? They could educate and organize around the issues and policies they care about. What a gift to democracy that would be! Better than any bloody foreign quagmire I can imagine!
The "senior digital organizer" of Bernie Sanders for President volunteers Aidan King, has this to say:
"I was so excited about Obama. And I still think he's done amazing things. But I wanted more follow-through," says King, listing "drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy," and the increasing influence of money in politics as his main concerns. "I put a lot of stake in authenticity," he says. "And I've been exposed to Bernie's politics and his honesty since I was in diapers."
Was this last week? Was Senator Vitter there?
Because here's Senator Sanders announcing yet again this week, as he's done before, that as president he would murder people with drones. (Yes, he only favors the good drone murders, not the bad ones, exactly what Obama says too.)
There's actually no knock on Sanders' honesty here. There's no indication of inconsistency, no reason to imagine he's lying. He may be 100% USDOD-grade authentic. But what about his staff and volunteers? And what about journalists? Is it responsible journalism to publish an article on people working for Bernie in order to end drone murders and not include any mention of the fact that Sanders is in favor of them? Is it responsible, for that matter, to be reporting on candidates' volunteers prior to and instead of ever reporting on what those candidates would do if elected? The Nation does lots of great reporting, but its interview of Sanders pretended 96% of humanity and 54% of the federal budget didn't exist, and the magazine has never made up for that by reporting on Sanders' foreign policy. So all a Nation reader gets is the golly gee report on the dude just out of diapers who is putting in long hours to end drone strikes by electing Bernie.
"I was so excited about Obama." There's an opening remark that reveals a similar level of misguided ignorance in the past. "And I still think he's done amazing things." One has a heck of a time imagining what those are and how they outweigh what comes next. "But I wanted more follow-through." More follow through? On what? He then lists drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy, and the increasing influence of money in politics." He surely doesn't want more follow through on any of these crimes and abuses and outrages. He wants them halted.
And so do I. So why should I give the poor guy a hard time? Millions and millions of people aren't doing a damn thing for the world. They're sitting on their butts watching TV while Rome burns. Several political candidates openly want to radically enlarge the military (yet again) and launch any number of wars. Why pick on Bernie?
I'm not picking on anyone. I'm well aware of such obvious facts and numerous others. I think such facts are good things to know, no matter what you decide to do about them. I'd just add a few more. You want to spend the next many months calling people on the phone and telling them Bernie is against drone murders, knock yourself out. I just think you should do it with open eyes. You shouldn't actually believe what you're saying.
I'm also of course, as we all are, painfully familiar with the argument that Bernie simply must secretly agree with the progressive views of his volunteers, but that in order to get elected he has to put on a pretense of sucking a good bit, whether it's to please the public or the media or the military industrial complex depending on the variation. We were told the exact same thing about Obama. It didn't work then and it won't work now. You can't pretend someone secretly agrees with you and then expect him to keep the promises you fantasized.
If you look at the facts and adopt for just the moment the crazy hypothesis that you're more or less right about Bernie's authenticity but wrong about his closet anti-militarism, you'll find that he's nowhere near as bad as Obama was, is, and shall continue to be for well over a year more. No mere human is going to out warmonger Hillary Clinton, though Jim Webb and a whole crowd of Republicans will try. You can make more or less the same argument you make to yourself to justify volunteering for Bernie, after facing the facts, as you made before.
So why do I care?
Because there are activists working night and day, strategically, courageously, with pure principles and endless dedication to actually end drone murders, and they need your help, and they need it now. They have built the awareness of these horrors that has led to volunteers wanting to end them. But volunteers volunteer in the wrong places. Instead of joining the peace movement and educating, organizing, lobbying, protesting, reporting, suing, artistically moving, and nonviolently resisting drone murders and the militarism that is risking war with Russia prior to the next corporate-bought election in the U.S. -- instead of following the path that has tended to effect change over recent centuries and needs to do so in Paris next month if the climate is to have any hope, they instead dedicate themselves to one candidate or another, start making apologies for them, start living out fantasies about them, and start arguing with other peace activists who are working their fingers to the bone for some other candidate, or with activists who haven't gone all election yet in a year that has no election in it.
If we ever have real elections we'll need people to work on them, and there's always a chance working on them now will help bring that about, and if you'd asked me months ago I'd have said the media would never let Sanders get this far. So, if you want to do the election thing, go ahead. Do it with Sanders who disagrees with you. Do it with Jill Stein who agrees with you. Do it with one of the others. But do it with a bit of honesty and with awareness that it's not the only thing you could be doing.
That little smoke-filled room where our despair and paranoia incline us to imagine a small number of evil people run the world clearly forgot to keep an eye on the Republican Party.
A popular movement has struggled to stop such looming disasters as the NAFTA-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the ouster of John Boehner as Speaker of the House puts stopping anything into play. While scholarly studies deem the U.S. government to be an oligarchy, based on whom it actually serves, petty partisan squabbling just might come riding to the rescue of democracy -- accidentally of course.
Boehner wasn't insufficiently right-wing for the other Republicans in the House of Representatives, he was just insufficiently obstinate and insufficiently anti-Obama. The new Speaker's mandate will be to oppose to the death anything Obama supports. Obama could publicly throw himself behind keeping Guantanamo open, and the place would be shut by Thursday.
See, from way out yonder beyond the Beltway we sometimes have to squint to see the difference between the two parties. But from their perspective, one party is on a holy mission while the other is evil incarnate. And the minority of Americans who still bother to vote tend to be disproportionately those who also manage to see a big difference between the two parties. So, candidates get elected with the rather stupid mission of first and foremost opposing anything the other party does.
The little-known-fact that usually makes this look like a silly charade but which, if it's taken far enough, could just be our salvation, is that the two parties agree on most of the big stuff. They both want major job-and-environment-destroying corporate trade agreements, for example. They'll scream at each other about abortion but ram those plutocratic deals right through, against any amount of public opposition. Unless, perhaps, they've sworn an oath on what passes for their honor to oppose anything the other party supports.
Now here's where this could get really really good. The majority of what Congress spends money on each year (some 54% of discretionary spending now) is a single item in multiple departments: the military. The global celebration if a U.S. military spending bill were ever blocked would top probably all past human festivals. But how to stop one? A speech by the Pope clearly won't do it. Protesters getting thrown out of committee hearings hasn't done it. Public opinion polls barely register. After 14 years of a particularly disastrous military campaign, Congress seems perfectly content to roll right along. Unless, perhaps, a partisan disagreement can be introduced into the debate. (I'm thinking a Democratic commitment to passing no military spending without full rights for trans-gender soldiers.)
Gridlock is generally lamented by the U.S. media, but when most of what's being done is damaging, we really ought to work to facilitate gridlock. Bailout a bank? No thanks. Subsidize a coal company? I'll pass. Cut taxes on a billionaire? Maybe later.
Of course, this gets us only so far. You can't fantasize about passing good and necessary legislation under gridlock. Congress won't be able to invest in a radical emergency project to save the earth's climate, for example. But if you think that was about to happen, you may want to roll over and stop snoring. Once in a blue moon some smaller piece of desirable legislation comes to a vote. Those would suffer under Congressional gridlock or shutdown. We'd have to work at the state, local, and global levels instead.
But wouldn't it be worth it to be rid of Congress? C-Span could then switch over to live video feeds of police brutality 24-7.
Mike Ferner is a candidate for mayor of Toledo, Ohio.
Mike Ferner grew up in rural Ohio, working on farms much of his youth. After 12 years of Catholic education and a head full of John Wayne movies, he enlisted in the Navy right out of high school in 1969.
During three years as a hospital corpsman he nursed hundreds of wounded soldiers returning from Viet Nam, an experience that radicalized him for life starting with his discharge as a conscientious objector.
Mike has been an independent member of Toledo City Council and a candidate for mayor of his city; an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Communications Director for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy and has served as national president of Veterans For Peace.
Just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he lived there for a month with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation, returning in 2004 for another two months as an independent journalist and wrote "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq" (Prager 2006). His activism includes several arrests for “disturbing the war,” including disrupting a session of Congress.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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He did not, as his spoken comments heretofore might have suggested, make this statement entirely or at all about fraud and waste in the military. He did not even mention Saudi Arabia, much less declare that it should "take the lead" or "get its hands dirty" as he had been doing in interviews, even as Saudi Arabia bombs Yemeni families with U.S. cluster bombs. While he mentioned veterans and called them brave, he also did not turn the focus of his statement toward glorification of troops, as he very well might have.
All that to the good, the statement does lack some key ingredients. Should the United States be spending a trillion dollars a year and over half of discretionary spending on militarism? Should it cut that by 50%, increase it by 30%, trim it by 3%? We really can't tell from this statement insisting on the need for major military spending while admitting the harm it does:
"And while there is no question our military must be fully prepared and have the resources it needs to fight international terrorism, it is imperative that we take a hard look at the Pentagon's budget and the priorities it has established. The U.S. military must be equipped to fight today's battles, not those of the last war, much less the Cold War. Our defense budget must represent our national security interests and the needs of our military, not the reelection of members of Congress or the profits of defense contractors. The warning that President Dwight David Eisenhower gave us about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex in 1961 is truer today than it was then."
That warning, of course, might be interpreted by some as suggesting that investing in preparation for "today's battles" is what produces today's battles.
And which of today's battles would Sanders like to end? Drones are not mentioned. Special forces are not mentioned. Foreign bases are not mentioned. The only hint he gives about future action in Iraq or Syria suggests that he would continue to use the military to make things worse while simultaneously trying other approaches to make things better:
"We live in a dangerous world full of serious threats, perhaps none more so than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Senator Sanders is committed to keeping America safe, and pursuing those who would do Americans harm. But we cannot combat international terrorism alone. We must work with our allies to root out terrorist funding networks, provide logistical support in the region, disrupt online radicalization, provide humanitarian relief, and support and defend religious freedom. Moreover, we must begin to address the root causes of radicalization, instead of focusing solely on military responses to those who have already become radicalized."
Would he end the U.S. war on Afghanistan?
"Sen. Sanders called on both Presidents Bush and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible and for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their own security. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders spoke-out against the rampant corruption he saw, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system."
From that, an American suffering under the delusion that the war had already been ended would be enlightened not at all, and one really can't tell whether Sanders would choose to take any sort of action to end it in reality. Of course, he is a U.S. Senator and is not attempting to cut off the funding.
Sanders' statement is a very mixed bag. He supports the Iran agreement while pushing false claims about "Iran developing nuclear weapons." He criticizes "both sides" in Palestine, but says not one word about cutting off free weaponry or international legal protection for Israel -- or for any other governments. The Pope's call to end the arms trade, which the United States leads, goes unmentioned. He mentions nuclear weapons, but only the nonexistent ones belonging to Iran, not those of the United States or Israel or any other nation. Disarmament is not an agenda item here. And how could it be when he declares, in violation of the U.N. Charter, in his first paragraph that "force must always be an option"?
Sanders offers no details on a shift away from serving as weapons supplier to the world, to serious investment in aid and diplomacy. But he does say this:
"However, after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the Middle East, it is time for a new approach. We must move away from policies that favor unilateral military action and preemptive war, and that make the United States the de facto policeman of the world. Senator Sanders believes that foreign policy is not just deciding how to react to conflict around the world, but also includes redefining America’s role in the increasingly global economy. Along with our allies throughout the world, we should be vigorous in attempting to prevent international conflict, not just responding to problems. For example, the international trade agreements we enter into, and our energy and climate change policies not only have enormous consequences for Americans here at home, but greatly affect our relations with countries around the world. Senator Sanders has the experience, the record and the vision not just to lead on these critically important issues, but to take our country in a very different direction."
Sanders claims, however, absurdly, that he has only supported wars that were a "last resort." He includes among those, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, despite neither having been remotely a last resort. Sanders admits as much, saying, "I supported the use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans." Set aside the fact that it increased the ethnic cleansing and that diplomacy was not really attempted, what he is claiming is a philanthropic mission, not a "last resort." Sanders also says, "And, in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I supported the use of force in Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists who attacked us." Set aside the Taliban's offer to transfer Osama bin Laden to a third country to be tried, what Sanders is describing is hunting and murdering people in a distant land, not a "last resort" -- and also not what he voted for, and Rep. Barbara Lee voted against, which was a blank check for endless war at presidential discretion.
All of this obviously leaves open the possibility of endless global war but suggests a desire not to eagerly seek it out. Also obviously it is far better than Hillary Clinton would say, less than Jill Stein would say ("Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament."), and a bit different from what Lincoln Chafee would say (the latter actually admits the U.S. wars created ISIS and are making us less safe, says he'd end drone strikes, etc.). And of course the whole lot of them are a distraction from the struggle to reduce and end militarism and prevent wars in 2015, a year with no election in it. Still, it's encouraging that a leading "socialist" candidate for U.S. president finally has a foreign policy, even if it hardly resembles Jeremy Corbyn's.
I wonder if people in the United States understand what it means that the Labour Party in London now has a peace activist in charge of it. Jeremy Corbyn does not resemble any U.S. politicians. He doesn't favor "only the smart wars" or prefer drone murders to massive invasions. Corbyn opposes wars, and he works to end militarism. He was over here in Washington recently trying to get a Brit freed from Guantanamo. He chairs the Stop the War Coalition, one of the biggest peace organizations in Britain. He meets with foreign peace activists, like me, who can't even enter the same worldview, much less the same room, with any U.S. leaders.
When Corbyn and I both spoke at a peace event in London four years ago, he was introduced by Andrew Murray as working in Parliament with "a pack of war lords." Corbyn agreed: Parliament is made up of war lords and war criminals, he remarked.
Corbyn at that point credited the Stop the War Coalition with having helped to prevent an attack on Iran in recent years, just as I believed the US peace movement deserved credit, and does so again this year.
Corbyn called the idea that more time was needed to finish a job in Afghanistan a "load of tosh." He also pointed out that the two sides fighting in Libya could exchange parts for their rifles, because they both had rifles provided by Britain.
Corbyn doesn't just call war criminals "war criminals." He intends to see them prosecuted, including Tony Blair, whom Corbyn wants to see face charges for the 2003 attack on Iraq, which Corbyn of course opposed.
Corbyn doesn't just oppose militarism rhetorically. He wants to shut it down. He opposes the Trident nuclear boondoggle and intends to withdraw the UK from NATO. What other NATO members might follow the UK's lead?
Corbyn doesn't just express nice sentiments about a distant future without nuclear weapons. He advocates unilateral disarmament by the UK, in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty.
Corbyn doesn't just muse about non-military solutions in Syria but seeks to find them and to prevent military action that makes crises worse. He plans to halt British airstrikes from planes or drones in Syria. He also mentions the uncomfortable topic of "some of our supposed allies in the region" providing weapons and funding to ISIS -- and proposes to cut that off rather than fueling the fire with more weapons and attacks.
Corbyn is even opposed to the steady buildup of hostility toward Russia, and faults NATO for expanding and the West for creating the crisis in Ukraine. He doesn't excuse actual misdeeds by Russia, but faults U.S. and European aggression and hypocrisy.
And, though this may be difficult for Americans to imagine, Corbyn opposes the mass slaughter of Palestinians by Israel.
Hours after being elected leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn spoke on Saturday at a huge pro-refugee rally in Parliament Square, and blamed the refugee crisis on its cause, declaring that he would not support the past policy of rushing about the world launching wars.
Americans have come to believe that politicians who support, promote, tolerate, or fund wars can be "war critics" by proposing various tweaks to the war machine.
Bernie Sanders focuses on money issues, taxing the rich, spending on the poor, but has thus far been permitted to engage in the general practice of speaking only about the 46% of federal discretionary spending that it not military. Nobody has asked him about the 54% that by the calculation of National Priorities Project is military. Nobody has asked him if Eisenhower was right that military spending produces wars. Here are 25,000 people who want to know whether and how much Sanders would want to cut military spending.
Sanders is silent on the public support for two, not one, great sources of revenue: taxing the rich (which he's all over) and cutting the military (which he avoids). When he is asked about wars and says Saudi Arabia should pay for and lead them, nobody has followed up by asking whether the wars are themselves good or not or how the theocratic murderous regime in Saudi Arabia which openly seeks to overthrow other governments and is dropping US cluster bombs on Yemen will transform the wars into forces for good. Since when is THAT "socialism"?
If you go to Bernie's website and click on ISSUES and search for foreign policy it's just not there. In the United States, candidates for high office are permitted to just be silent on how much they'd cut the military, even within a range of $100 billion. Does Sanders, or do any of the other candidates, favor $45 billion in more free weapons for Israel paid for by the U.S. public whom Sanders usually wants to spare lesser expenses than that? Who knows.
Jeremy Corbyn just won leadership of the Labour Party by promoting socialism at home and abroad. What are we yanks afraid of?