Perhaps the most ample source of attacks on Sanders from what I’d call the further left, which will include many ex-friends in the weeks to come, concerns Imperialism. Sanders has voted for defense budgets and endorsed some U.S. imperial adventures in the past. He was reticent about Israel’s brutal oppression of its Arab citizens, as well as the Palestinians whose land it occupies.
I have a theory. It is that Sanders decided he could do more good with lukewarm foreign policies for the sake of industrial-strength domestic social-democratic advocacy. This has carried over into the campaign. In a nutshell, Bernie punts on foreign policy. It’s an inversion of what used to be said about Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who embraced segregation while upholding liberal views on foreign policy during the Vietnam War.
It’s a mark of the poverty of our national debates about Israel and Palestine that Bernie’s appeal for elementary fairness in re: the Palestinians has been received as some great breakthrough. Of course it should be welcome, as far as it goes. But it needs to go much further.
Perhaps the greatest misgivings about Ms Clinton pertain to her views on foreign policy. Her superior knowledge should not be in dispute. Sanders’ messages on terrorism and the Middle East were repetitive, simplistic, and frankly embarrassing. All that ‘coalition’ bullshit. By contrast, Clinton is well-informed and positively worrisome. I’m more concerned about somebody willing to play with dynamite than someone whose instinct is to back away from it. Reluctance to use mass lethal force is the greatest virtue in foreign policy, and on this scale, Sanders ranks higher. Obama, too.
I read a great book about Afghanistan, forgot the title. Efforts to conquer it by great powers—Great Britain, Russia, Persia—tended to come to grief. Disastrous experiences for the British gave rise to a phrase I would nominate as a model. A disinclination to meddle was given the grand title by chastened British imperialists of “the doctrine of masterly inactivity.” The U.S. could use more of this mastery, but I fear it will elude Ms Clinton.
I had the bad judgement to watch “London Has Fallen” the other night. (It was free on Fios.) It begins with a war crime committed by the U.S. government–the droning of a wedding party. In an effort to kill a notorious arms dealer, some hundred or so innocent civilians are blown up. I doubt it will surprise anybody to know that in the end, the bad guys get their comeuppance. What was a little astonishing, however, was the closing speech by (of course) Morgan Freeman, playing veep. The basic thrust of it was, the U.S. has the right to go where it likes and do what it wants, in effect justifying the atrocity that launches the movie. Liberal Hollywood!
A summary statement of U.S. imperial perversity from an official source was once offered by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She said the U.S. is the “indispensable nation.” It falls to us, in this view, to make peace, by lethal force and mass death when necessary. This is the Democratic Party take on “American exceptionalism.” Subsequent to the U.S. onslaught against the Milosevic regime, Ms Albright and another hero of liberal interventionism, General Wesley Clark, were observed grubbing around in the Balkans for business opportunities.
It is not well-appreciated that the Clinton Administration greased the skids for the Bush-Cheney misadventure by upholding sanctions against Iraq, in effect maintaining a state of war. Absent the Obama deal with Iran, the U.S. could have been on a similar path once again. Would Hillary have made that deal? Fortunately we may never need to speculate.
By virtue of his immeasurably enhanced national prestige, Sanders is positioned to lead the peace movement. Instead of punting on third down, he can make it a practice to keep driving forward. I want to be optimistic, so this is where I hope he goes.