Bernie Sanders believes that America can and should no longer be the lone policeman of the world, especially in combating terrorists. According to Sanders, unilateral military actions and preemptive wars in the past few decades have only worsened global diplomacy and created chaos in regions in which the United States is selfishly interested. (Look at Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance.) Therefore, the United States needs to move away from the mentality that we are world police and policies that perpetuate this mentality. Instead of placing this tremendous burden on ourselves, Sanders wants the U.S. and other nations to join forces to make peace a reality.
The fight against ISIS has become a hot-button topic for this campaign as ISIS becomes a huge threat to nations including the United States. Unlike most other candidates, Sanders firmly believes that Muslims must be their own leaders in this fight because “It is incumbent on Muslim nations and communities to confront those who seek to hijack their societies and generations with intolerance and violent ideology.”
Given that the second Democratic debate took place the day after the Paris shootings, many of the moderators’ questions revolved around terrorism. While there is a large debate over how where terrorism occurs influences the severity of the incident in the media, Sanders’ disregard of the atrocity of the attacks made him appear both emotionally unattached and unable to adjust his outlook to current events. Sanders’ views, recounted below, illustrate his focus on preventative counter-terrorism measures. But how does he respond to unexpected foreign policy issues?
Q: What to do in Syria?
CLINTON: I applaud the administration because they are engaged in talks right now with the Russians to make it clear that they’ve got to be part of the solution to try to end that bloody conflict. And, to provide safe zones so that people are not going to have to be flooding out of Syria at the rate they are.
SANDERS: Well, let’s understand that when we talk about Syria, you’re talking about a quagmire in a quagmire. You’re talking about groups of people trying to overthrow Assad, other groups of people fighting ISIS. You’re talking about people who are fighting ISIS using their guns to overthrow Assad, and vice versa. I will do everything that I can to make sure that the U.S. does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country. We should be putting together a coalition of Arab countries who should be leading the effort. We should be supportive, but I do not support American ground troops in Syria.
Q: You have said that you’re not opposed to military action under certain circumstances. And in fact, the one time you voted for military action, I believe, in your career, had to do with Kosovo, which was a humanitarian crisis. Are we at that point, that Syria is such a humanitarian crisis that actually it does justify some military action to stabilize that country?
SANDERS: No. I voted also for the war in Afghanistan, because I believed that Osama bin Laden needed to be captured, needed to be brought to trial.
Q: Yes, sir, I apologize for that, yes, you did.
SANDERS: But I am very concerned about a lot of the war talk that I’m hearing from my Republican colleagues, who apparently have forgotten the cost of war and the errors made in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what I believe, very much, is that the most powerful military on Earth, the United States of America, that our government should do everything that we can to resolve international conflict in a way that does not require war.
Q: Did Bernie support the invasion of Iraq like most other politicians at the time?
SANDERS: No. In 2002, as a congressman, Bernie spoke extensively about the dangers of going to war in Iraq, and warned about the destabilizing impact that a war would cause and how it might lead to a counter-insurgency like we’ve seen, first with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and now ISIS: He voted against the resolution that gave President George W. Bush permission to invade Iraq.
Q: How has the Iraq war impacted Bernie’s position on dealing with ISIS?
SANDERS: In February 2015, in response to a war powers resolution–a formal request by President Barack Obama to authorize a military campaign against ISIS–Bernie said, “I voted against the war in Iraq because I feared very much the destabilizing impact it would have on the region. Today, I very much fear U.S. involvement in an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world.”
Q: You have warned that you think ISIS is dangerous & needs to be stopped.
SANDERS: ISIS is a brutal, awful, dangerous army and they have got to be defeated. But this is not just an American problem. This is an international crisis. This is a regional crisis. And I think the people of America are getting sick and tired of the world and the region, Saudi Arabia and the other countries saying “hey, we don’t have to do anything about it. The American taxpayer, the American soldiers will do all the work for us.” Most people don’t know is that Saudi Arabia is the 4th largest defense spender in the world, more than the U.K., more than France. They have an army which is probably seven times larger than ISIS. They have a major air force.
Q: Sure. But they have shown no sign at all that they want to go in and neither have the Jordanians.
SANDERS: The question that we have got to ask is why are the nations in the region not more actively involved? Why don’t they see this as a crisis situation?
Q: The role so far that the US is playing against ISIS, is that just about right?
SANDERS: No. It has to be an international effort.
Q: Would you support arming the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces?
SANDERS: Yes. I think we should arm them–even that’s a difficult issue to make sure that the people that we arm today don’t turn against us tomorrow. But I think providing arms for those people who we can trust and providing air support is in fact something we should be doing.
Q: Would it be confined to the Peshmerga? I know that you voted against arming and training Syrian rebels. So is there a difference to you between the Peshmerga and the Syrian rebels?
SANDERS: We have been at war for 12 years. We have spent trillions of dollars. We have 500,000 young men and women who have come up–come home with PTSD and TBI. What I do not want and I fear very much is the US getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year. That is my fear.