The Annual Westminster College Green Foundation Lecture has been the site of many a well-known foreign policy presentation, including Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech and Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1992 lecture on the end of the Cold War. Continue below the transcript for an analysis of the Sanders speech featuring Norman Solomon, and links to further commentary from John Nichols and Mehdi Hasan.
Click the hyperlink above to view the video at its source.
Transcript of Bernie Sanders’ Green Foundation Lecture, September 21, 2017
Let me begin by thanking Westminster College, which year after year invites political leaders to discuss the important issue of foreign policy and America’s role in the world. I am honored to be here today and I thank you very much for the invitation.
One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to speak here is that I strongly believe that not only do we need to begin a more vigorous debate about foreign policy, we also need to broaden our understanding of what foreign policy is.
So let me be clear: Foreign policy is directly related to military policy and has everything to do with almost seven thousand young Americans being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands coming home wounded in body and spirit from a war we should never have started. That’s foreign policy. And foreign policy is about hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying in that same war.
Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities. At a time when we already spend more on defense than the next 12 nations combined, foreign policy is about authorizing a defense budget of some $700 billion, including a $50 billion increase passed just last week.
Meanwhile, at the exact same time as the President and many of my Republican colleagues want to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit. While greatly increasing military spending they also want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of children and seniors.
Foreign policy, therefore, is remembering what Dwight D. Eisenhower said as he left office: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
And he also reminded us that; “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway….”
What Eisenhower said over 50 years ago is even more true today.
Foreign policy is about whether we continue to champion the values of freedom, democracy and justice, values which have been a beacon of hope for people throughout the world, or whether we support undemocratic, repressive regimes, which torture, jail and deny basic rights to their citizens.
What foreign policy also means is that if we are going to expound the virtues of democracy and justice abroad, and be taken seriously, we need to practice those values here at home. That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia here in the United States and making it clear that when people in America march on our streets as neo-nazis or white supremacists, we have no ambiguity in condemning everything they stand for. There are no two sides on that issue.
Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs, it is directly connected to economics. Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country. This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little – and when we advance day after day into an oligarchic form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful special interests exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of the world.
There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. There is no justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street, giant multi-national corporations and international financial institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout the world.
At a time when climate change is causing devastating problems here in America and around the world, foreign policy is about whether we work with the international community – with China, Russia, India and countries around the world – to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sensible foreign policy understands that climate change is a real threat to every country on earth, that it is not a hoax, and that no country alone can effectively combat it. It is an issue for the entire international community, and an issue that the United States should be leading in, not ignoring or denying.
My point is that we need to look at foreign policy as more than just the crisis of the day. That is important, but we need a more expansive view.
Almost 70 years ago, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood on this stage and gave an historic address, known as the “Iron Curtain” speech, in which he framed a conception of world affairs that endured through the 20th century, until the collapse of the Soviet Union. In that speech, he defined his strategic concept as quote “nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands.”
“To give security to these countless homes,” he said, “they must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny.”
How do we meet that challenge today? How do we fight for the “freedom and progress” that Churchill talked about in the year 2017? At a time of exploding technology and wealth, how do we move away from a world of war, terrorism and massive levels of poverty into a world of peace and economic security for all. How do we move toward a global community in which people have the decent jobs, food, clean water, education, health care and housing they need? These are, admittedly, not easy issues to deal with, but they are questions we cannot afford to ignore.
At the outset, I think it is important to recognize that the world of today is very, very different from the world of Winston Churchill of 1946. Back then we faced a superpower adversary with a huge standing army, with an arsenal of nuclear weapons, with allies around the world, and with expansionist aims. Today the Soviet Union no longer exists.
Today we face threats of a different sort. We will never forget 9/11. We are cognizant of the terrible attacks that have taken place in capitals all over the world. We are more than aware of the brutality of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups.
We also face the threat of these groups obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and preventing that must be a priority.
In recent years, we are increasingly confronted by the isolated dictatorship of North Korea, which is making rapid progress in nuclear weaponry and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Yes, we face real and very serious threats to our security, which I will discuss, but they are very different than what we have seen in the past and our response must be equally different.
But before I talk about some of these other threats, let me say a few words about a very insidious challenge that undermines our ability to meet these other crises, and indeed could undermine our very way of life.
A great concern that I have today is that many in our country are losing faith in our common future and in our democratic values.
For far too many of our people, here in the United States and people all over the world, the promises of self-government — of government by the people, for the people, and of the people — have not been kept. And people are losing faith.
In the United States and other countries, a majority of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they used to. They see big money buying elections, and they see a political and economic elite growing wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer.
So when we talk about foreign policy, and our belief in democracy, at the very top of our list of concerns is the need to revitalize American democracy to ensure that governmental decisions reflect the interests of a majority of our people, and not just the few – whether that few is Wall Street, the military industrial complex, or the fossil fuel industry. We cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home.
Maybe it’s because I come from the small state of Vermont, a state that prides itself on town meetings and grassroots democracy, that I strongly agree with Winston Churchill when he stated his belief that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.”
In both Europe and the United States, the international order which the United States helped establish over the past 70 years, one which put great emphasis on democracy and human rights, and promoted greater trade and economic development, is under great strain. Many Europeans are questioning the value of the European Union. Many Americans are questioning the value of the United Nations, of the transatlantic alliance, and other multilateral organizations.
We also see a rise in authoritarianism and right wing extremism – both domestic and foreign — which further weakens this order by exploiting and amplifying resentments, stoking intolerance and fanning ethnic and racial hatreds among those in our societies who are struggling.
We saw this anti-democratic effort take place in the 2016 election right here in the United States, where we now know that the Russian government was engaged in a massive effort to undermine one of our greatest strengths: The integrity of our elections, and our faith in our own democracy.
I found it incredible, by the way, that when the President of the United States spoke before the United Nations on Monday, he did not even mention that outrage.
Well, I will. Today I say to Mr. Putin: we will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia. In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.
When we talk about foreign policy it is clear that there are some who believe that the United States would be best served by withdrawing from the global community. I disagree. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we have got to help lead the struggle to defend and expand a rules-based international order in which law, not might, makes right.
We must offer people a vision that one day, maybe not in our lifetimes, but one day in the future human beings on this planet will live in a world where international conflicts will be resolved peacefully, not by mass murder.
How tragic it is that today, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal poverty, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons of destruction.
I am not naïve or unmindful of history. Many of the conflicts that plague our world are longstanding and complex. But we must never lose our vision of a world in which, to quote the Prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
One of the most important organizations for promoting a vision of a different world is the United Nations. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped create the UN, called it “our greatest hope for future peace. Alone we cannot keep the peace of the world, but in cooperation with others we have to achieve this much longed-for security.”
It has become fashionable to bash the UN. And yes, the UN needs to be reformed. It can be ineffective, bureaucratic, too slow or unwilling to act, even in the face of massive atrocities, as we are seeing in Syria right now. But to see only its weaknesses is to overlook the enormously important work the UN does in promoting global health, aiding refugees, monitoring elections, and doing international peacekeeping missions, among other things. All of these activities contribute to reduced conflict, to wars that don’t have to be ended because they never start.
At the end of the day, it is obvious that it makes far more sense to have a forum in which countries can debate their concerns, work out compromises and agreements. Dialogue and debate are far preferable to bombs, poison gas, and war.
Dialogue however cannot only be take place between foreign ministers or diplomats at the United Nations. It should be taking place between people throughout the world at the grassroots level.
I was mayor of the city of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980’s, when the Soviet Union was our enemy. We established a sister city program with the Russian city of Yaroslavl, a program which still exists today. I will never forget seeing Russian boys and girls visiting Vermont, getting to know American kids, and becoming good friends. Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance. The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world. Good foreign policy means building people to people relationships.
We should welcome young people from all over the world and all walks of life to spend time with our kids in American classrooms, while our kids, from all income levels, do the same abroad.
Some in Washington continue to argue that “benevolent global hegemony” should be the goal of our foreign policy, that the US, by virtue of its extraordinary military power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the disastrous Iraq war and the instability and destruction it has brought to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.
The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of “America First.” Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability, and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges.
Here’s a truth that you don’t often hear about too often in the newspapers, on the television, or in the halls of Congress. But it’s a truth we must face. Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government. It is far harder, however, to know the long term impact that that action will have. Let me give you some examples:
In 1953 the United States, on behalf of Western oil interests, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and the re-installation of the Shah of Iran, who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created. What would Iran look like today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What consequences are we still living with today?
In 1973, the United States supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Chile Salvador Allende which was led by General Augusto Pinochet. The result was almost 20 years of authoritarian military rule and the disappearance and torture of thousands of Chileans – and the intensification of anti-Americanism in Latin America.
Elsewhere in Latin America, the logic of the Cold War led the United States to support murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, which resulted in brutal and long-lasting civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
In Vietnam, based on a discredited “domino theory,” the United States replaced the French in intervening in a civil war, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese in support of a corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government. We must never forget that over 58,000 thousand Americans also died in that war.
More recently, in Iraq, based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we upended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we’ll be dealing with for decades to come.
These are just a few examples of American foreign policy and interventionism which proved to be counter-productive.
Now let me give you an example of an incredibly bold and ambitious American initiative which proved to be enormously successful in which not one bullet was fired — something that we must learn from.
Shortly after Churchill was right here in Westminster College, the United States developed an extremely radical foreign policy initiative called the Marshall Plan.
Think about it for a moment: historically, when countries won terrible wars, they exacted retribution on the vanquished. But in 1948, the United States government did something absolutely unprecedented.
After losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the most brutal war in history to defeat the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Japanese imperialism, the government of the United States decided not to punish and humiliate the losers. Rather, we helped rebuild their economies, spending the equivalent of $130 billion just to reconstruct Western Europe after World War II. We also provided them support to reconstruct democratic societies.
That program was an amazing success. Today Germany, the country of the Holocaust, the country of Hitler’s dictatorship, is now a strong democracy and the economic engine of Europe. Despite centuries of hostility, there has not been a major European war since World War II. That is an extraordinary foreign policy success that we have every right to be very proud of.
Unfortunately, today we still have examples of the United States supporting policies that I believe will come back to haunt us. One is the ongoing Saudi war in Yemen.
While we rightly condemn Russian and Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter in Syria, the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia’s destructive intervention in Yemen, which has killed many thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis in one of the region’s poorest countries. Such policies dramatically undermine America’s ability to advance a human rights agenda around the world, and empowers authoritarian leaders who insist that our support for those rights and values is not serious.
Let me say a word about some of the shared global challenges that we face today.
First, I would mention climate change. Friends, it is time to get serious on this: Climate change is real and must be addressed with the full weight of American power, attention and resources.
The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, climate change is caused by human activity, and climate change is already causing devastating harm throughout the world. Further, what the scientists tell us is that if we do not act boldly to address the climate crisis, this planet will see more drought, more floods — the recent devastation by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are good examples — more extreme weather disturbances, more acidification of the ocean, more rising sea levels, and, as a result of mass migrations, there will be more threats to global stability and security.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement was not only incredibly foolish and short-sighted, but it will also end up hurting the American economy.
The threat of climate change is a very clear example of where American leadership can make a difference. Europe can’t do it alone, China can’t do it alone, and the United States can’t do it alone. This is a crisis that calls out for strong international cooperation if we are to leave our children and grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable. American leadership — the economic and scientific advantages and incentives that only America can offer — is hugely important for facilitating this cooperation.
Another challenge that we and the entire world face is growing wealth and income inequality, and the movement toward international oligarchy — a system in which a small number of billionaires and corporate interests have control over our economic life, our political life, and our media.
This movement toward oligarchy is not just an American issue. It is an international issue. Globally, the top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 99% of the world’s population.
In other words, while the very, very rich become much richer, thousands of children die every week in poor countries around the world from easily prevented diseases, and hundreds of millions live in incredible squalor.
Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.
But economic inequality is not the only form of inequality that we must face. As we seek to renew America’s commitment to promote human rights and human dignity around the world we must be a living example here at home. We must reject the divisive attacks based on a person’s religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, country of origin, or class. And when we see demonstrations of neo naziism and white supremacism as we recently did in Charlottesville, Virginia, we must be unequivocal in our condemnation, as our president shamefully was not.
And as we saw here so clearly in St. Louis in the past week we need serious reforms in policing and the criminal justice system so that the life of every person is equally valued and protected. We cannot speak with the moral authority the world needs if we do not struggle to achieve the ideal we are holding out for others.
One of the places we have fallen short in upholding these ideas is in the war on terrorism. Here I want to be clear: terrorism is a very real threat, as we learned so tragically on September 11, 2001, and many other countries knew already too well.
But, I also want to be clear about something else: As an organizing framework, the Global War on Terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership. Orienting US national security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate policy for the most powerful nation on earth. It responds to terrorists by giving them exactly what they want.
In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards regarding torture, indefinite detention, and the use of force around the world, using drone strikes and other airstrikes that often result in high civilian casualties.
A heavy-handed military approach, with little transparency or accountability, doesn’t enhance our security. It makes the problem worse.
We must rethink the old Washington mindset that judges “seriousness” according to the willingness to use force. One of the key misapprehensions of this mindset is the idea that military force is decisive in a way that diplomacy is not.
Yes, military force is sometimes necessary, but always — always — as the last resort. And blustery threats of force, while they might make a few columnists happy, can often signal weakness as much as strength, diminishing US deterrence, credibility and security in the process.
To illustrate this, I would contrast two recent US foreign policy initiatives: The Iraq war and the Iran nuclear agreement.
Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the war in Iraq, which I opposed, was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude.
In addition to the many thousands killed, it created a cascade of instability around the region that we are still dealing with today in Syria and elsewhere, and will be for many years to come. Indeed, had it not been for the Iraq War, ISIS would almost certainly not exist.
The Iraq war, as I said before, had unintended consequences. It was intended as a demonstration of the extent of American power. It ended up demonstrating only its limits.
In contrast, the Iran nuclear deal advanced the security of the US and its partners, and it did this at a cost of no blood and zero treasure.
For many years, leaders across the world had become increasingly concerned about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. What the Obama administration and our European allies were able to do was to get an agreement that froze and dismantled large parts of that nuclear program, put it under the most intensive inspections regime in history, and removed the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon from the list of global threats.
That is real leadership. That is real power.
Just yesterday, the top general of US Strategic Command, General John Hyden, said “The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements the we signed up for.” We now have a four-year record of Iran’s compliance, going back to the 2013 interim deal.
I call on my colleagues in the Congress, and all Americans: We must protect this deal. President Trump has signaled his intention to walk away from it, as he did the Paris agreement, regardless of the evidence that it is working. That would be a mistake.
Not only would this potentially free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program, it would irreparably harm America’s ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements. Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president and an irresponsible Congress might simply discard that agreement a few years later?
If we are genuinely concerned with Iran’s behavior in the region, as I am, the worst possible thing we could do is break the nuclear deal. It would make all of these other problems harder.
Another problem it would make harder is that of North Korea.
Let’s understand: North Korea is ruled by one of the worst regimes in the world. For many years, its leadership has sacrificed the well-being of its own people in order to develop nuclear weapons and missile programs in order to protect the Kim family’s regime. Their continued development of nuclear weapons and missile capability is a growing threat to the US and our allies. Despite past efforts they have repeatedly shown their determination to move forward with these programs in defiance of virtually unanimous international opposition and condemnation.
As we saw with the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, real US leadership is shown by our ability to develop consensus around shared problems, and mobilize that consensus toward a solution. That is the model we should be pursuing with North Korea.
As we did with Iran, if North Korea continues to refuse to negotiate seriously, we should look for ways to tighten international sanctions. This will involve working closely with other countries, particularly China, on whom North Korea relies for some 80 percent of its trade. But we should also continue to make clear that this is a shared problem, not to be solved by any one country alone but by the international community working together.
An approach that really uses all the tools of our power — political, economic, civil society — to encourage other states to adopt more inclusive governance will ultimately make us safer.
Development aid is not charity, it advances our national security. It’s worth noting that the U.S. military is a stalwart supporter of non-defense diplomacy and development aid.
Starving diplomacy and aid now will result in greater defense needs later on.
US foreign aid should be accompanied by stronger emphasis on helping people gain their political and civil rights to hold oppressive governments accountable to the people. Ultimately, governments that are accountable to the needs of their people will make more dependable partners.
Here is the bottom line: In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between governments, but between peoples. A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world, with “all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands,” as Churchill said right here, 70 years ago.
In my view, every person on this planet shares a common humanity. We all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water and breathe clean air, and to live in peace. That’s what being human is about.
Our job is to build on that common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us up and set us against each other. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us, “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.”
My friends, let us go forward and build that tomorrow.
For an insightful analysis of Sanders’ speech, here’s a Real News Network interview by Aaron Mate with Norman Solomon, longtime media and political analyst and frequent critic of Sanders from the left. Transcript below.
Click the hyperlink above to view the video at its source.
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. For a while now, Senator Bernie Sanders has face calls to bring his sweeping progressive message to foreign policy. Well on Thursday, Sanders delivered a major speech on that topic.
BERNIE SANDERS: This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little. And when we advance day after day into an oligarchy form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful and wealthy special interest exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of this country and the entire world. So when we talk about foreign policy and our belief in democracy at the very top of our list of concerns, is the need to revitalize American democracy to ensure that governmental decisions reflect the interest of a majority of our people and not just the few, whether that few is Wall Street, the military, industrial complex, or the fossil fuel industry. We cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home.
AARON MATE: Joining me now is Norman Solomon, an author and a co-founder of RootsAction.org. During the primary, RootsAction wants to petition urging Sanders to speak out on militarism and corporate power.Welcome, Norman!
NORMAN SOLOMON: Hi! Thank you!
AARON MATE: Hi. Did Sanders speak out yesterday sufficiently in your view on what you wanted him to talk about, militarism and corporate power?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well it’s a huge step forward in terms of his public statements on foreign policy and war. I think it is probably the best speech by a US senator in a long time on that subject, which speaks badly for the US Senate as a whole, to put it mildly, but it’s real progress for Bernie Sanders. During his presidential campaign, he was so great on economic class issues. He became very forthright in denouncing racism, institutional bias against people of color. He was so eloquent on the basic fault line of corporate capitalism as it dominates so much of personal and social life in such destructive ways. And yet, he was so reticent to really take on the military-industrial complex. It was very fitting that in his speech on Thursday he used that phrase attributing to ties and how we’re going ahead to hammer on it.I think if we look in retrospect at the Bernie Sanders of the 2016 presidential campaign, if he had challenged Wall Street to the so limited extent to which he was willing to criticize the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, we would have heard stuff from Bernie like, “Well you know Wall Street has its excesses and it’s counter-productive sometimes, and I have some concerns about it, and there’s some bad decisions that have been made on Wall Street.” That was sort of the tenor of his presidential campaign vis-a-vis US militarism. I think it’s great that in his speech he has gone and deep. That’s real progress not only for Bernie Sanders, but also his capacity to educate people.Aaron, that’s something else that I want to be sure I mention. During his presidential campaign or 2015 and last year, Bernie was a tremendous force for educating the younger generation, every generation about what corporate power means; how destructive it is; how the oligarchy, and he wasn’t afraid to use that word; how the oligarchy is sitting on the windpipe of the first amendment and of democracy. And he really foreclosed to a very large extent his willingness to educate the American people about US militarism. And so I hope that his speech now is not just a one-off, but is the beginning of his amplitude around these issues ongoing.
AARON MATE: You mentioned the word counter-productive, and I actually want to go to an example of Sanders saying that during his speech. He’s talking about US foreign policy decisions like the Iraq war and this was what he said.
BERNIE SANDERS: … in Iraq based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. The United States invaded and occupied the country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we up ended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we will be dealing with for decades to come. Now these are just a few examples, just a few, of American foreign policy and interventionism, which proved to be counter-productive.
AARON MATE: So that’s Bernie Sanders. Norman, his words there talking about Iraq as being counter-productive. I mentioned this in a segment yesterday, which is that I’m always surprise when even people as principled as Bernie Sanders can use a word like counter-productive when it comes to something like the Iraq war, which if we’re being honest, was simply just a crime. There was no basis for it. There was no mistaken analysis. It was based on lies. But it’s hard for people in issues of foreign policy, even people who are staunch progressives to take a hard line stance, a principled stance when it comes to foreign policy abroad. I want to know your thoughts on that.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well politicians even the best of them and on the national stage, Bernie is pretty much the best, still are trying always to think about their audience and what they’re willing or apt to to hear and absorb. I think it’s the role of progressives across the board to be willing and able to speak those truths that when we look at a war that is mass murder and totally unjustified; in another context, Bernie used the phrase mass murder to condemn war in a generic sense, that we don’t need to say well and also was counter-productive. I mean it’s wrong to base a war on lies and slaughter people, whether it’s “counter-productive” or not.I think that many US politicians, particularly of the liberal band, will say that a policy is counter-productive and they’ll stop there, and that’s all they’ll say, which is a moral argument and then there’s a dispute about whether it was productive or not, and the slaughter of people, and based this on falsehoods is not even dealt with. I think in this case, if you put Bernie’s statements in context of his speech that closed to an hour, he did make profound moral arguments as well. It doesn’t concern me all that much compared to the way politicians usually just talk about productivity and leave it there.
AARON MATE: Right. Speaking of what distinguishes Bernie Sanders from other politicians, in his address, he was critical of US support for the Saudi war on Yemen. And in interview with The Intercept that was published today, Sanders came out and said, “I don’t consider Saudi Arabia to be an ally.” He was harshly critical of Saudi Arabia going against a very entrenched Washington orthodoxy when it comes to that kingdom in the Persian Gulf.
NORMAN SOLOMON: I’m very pleased and very encouraged that Bernie is now so outspoken against the Saudi-US alliance against really the slaughter on just such a horrific scale that the US backs Saudi war in Yemen is engaged in. I have to feel a little bit rye about it because just about exactly two years ago when RootsAction, as you mentioned in the intro, launched a petition urging the then early Bernie campaign to denounce militarism in the spirit of Martin Luther King. He was saying in his early public statements as a presidential candidate that the US should insist that Saudi Arabia “get its hands dirty”.In RootsAction’s outreach and in public statements that I and others with retection were making at the time, two years ago, we emphasized that this was a terrible statement for Bernie to be making. And he said it repeatedly in the summer and fall of 2015 that Saudi Arabia should get its hands dirty, which was way of saying it isn’t just up to the US to be killing in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia needs to be willing to step up to the plate and massacre people on a large scale as well. It was just a terrible, one of the worst things Bernie said in his entire campaign. And he stopped saying it.By the middle of the presidential race, Bernie just no longer said that Saudi Arabia should get its hands dirty. I don’t know how much, if any, role the RootsAction petition had in encouraging him to no longer say that, but I would draw a parallel to his overall trajectory as a past and perhaps future presidential candidate. Bernie’s campaign for president initially was not really tuned in or addressing the issues of institutional racism, of police violence, of matters that Black Lives Matter as a movement we’re addressing. And when Bernie was confronted and challenged around that, he shifted, he changed, he listened. He was respectful. He did what almost all other national politicians, including [inaudible 00:11:01], have refused to do when confronted with grassroots progressive movements about their shortcomings.Bernie listened, and he changed. He became much more forthright and outspoken against all forms of racism in our society. I’d like to think that while unfortunately I didn’t take very much during 2016 campaign that the very strong anti-war, anti-militarism sentiment, even if it isn’t manifested really strongly all that often coherently as a movement that the sentiment and understanding that is so widespread in this country, and not only among progressives but libertarians, against US militarism that Bernie is incorporating that sentiment, that widespread feeling in this country, which he clearly has some affinity for, into his wide and stump speech, if you will. I couldn’t help, Aaron, but think as I watched Bernie’s what I think could be a historic speech on Thursday at Missouri, what would have happened if during his presidential campaign, Bernie had widened his messages beyond the denunciations of corporate power and oligarchy, and the lack of action on climate change. What if he had educated the public against US militarism to the extent that he did against corporate tower? I think it would have been, for one thing, quite possibly stronger result for his campaign, and also would have profoundly changed the consciousness among millions of young people and others that we have now today. So there’s some catch-up work to do, and I’m glad to see he’s jumping in to the job.
AARON MATE: Norman, there very well could be an empirical basis for your analysis there. A few months ago on The Real News, we covered a study that got a little bit of attention, but not very much, showing that in the US, during the general election, there was a correlation between communities that suffered the highest rate of military sacrifice, military casualties, people who died in overseas wars, and their support for Donald Trump, who painted himself during the campaign with his rhetoric as being anti-intervention, criticizing both Democrats and Republicans for the Iraq war, and painting himself as someone who was going to curve that, which of course, he hasn’t. But that at least was his rhetorical device. What you’re saying there, I think, has a solid basis in at least this one dataset that we’ve seen so far.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Yes. That study, I think, was very important and indicated that if the casualty levels of US soldiers had been even a bit lower in three of those what turned out to be swing states that swung for Trump; we were talking about Michigan as I recall, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, then Hillary Clinton may well have won the elections. As a matter of fact, the two professors who did the study said flatly that she would have won if those casualty rates had been lower. In other words, the idealism that causes the Beltway Pundits and the people in Congress, Democrat National Committee and so forth, the idealism that makes it easy for them to collide by the desk, the injuries, the mourning, the grief, the PTSD, the trauma that war has caused in lower-income communities, blue-collar communities, it’s very easy for them to make light of that or just say, “Well the national interest is to go and continue these wars.”Bernie nocked that sort of idealism when it came to their callousness towards the victims of economic inequality. I think it’s so important that we look at the reality on the ground and build progressive movements, including electoral campaigns, from the bottom up tuned in to real people and their real lives, not this sort of plutocracy nonsense that we keep getting, and that almost all of Democrats in Congress seem attuned to.
AARON MATE: Norman, finally, it speaks to who Bernie Sanders is that he was moved in his positions by these grassroots movement, grassroots pressure that you’ve been a part of. But I’m wondering, as we wrap, your thoughts on why it took that to move him in the first place.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well around militarism issues, if that’s what you’re referring to, I think that Bernie and it was sort of an open secret or at least a wide understanding in Washington and elsewhere, he really hadn’t been that interested in foreign policy during the 1990s and the first decade and a half at least of this century. He came out of the left as Mayor Burlington, as he mentioned previously in his speech about one sister city relationship with Russia, but he also was engaged in relationships with people in Nicaragua. He was a solid progressive. He wasn’t rhetorical about it, but he understood that US imperial actions around the world were hypocritical, destructive and unconscionable.When he though went to Congress and then out of the House into the Senate, it became pretty evident that he was into the class issues, trade, minimum wage, economic inequality, and of course, he has been unparalleled in his ability to forthrightly tackle and articulate those issues. And he really set aside militarism as a major concern, and there was very little of that. As a matter of fact, in his presidential campaign, and a lot of what we were saying at the Roots Action, material and petitions and are blessed 100,000 of our supporters and members was that Martin Luther King denounce what he called the madness of militarism, and that Bernie was missing an opportunity to connect in a way that his speech on Thursday did connect corporate power and militarism, and the huge budgets going to destruction through the Pentagon while people at home are suffering, and around the world suffering from lack of healthcare, education, housing and all the rest of it.So as to why he didn’t address all that forthrightly in his presidential campaign, I think that there was a decision he made to focus on “economic issues”. It was a missed opportunity, but as somebody who has run for office myself, I know it can be very difficult to prioritize, so I think it was a mistake on his part. It’s overwhelming to run a campaign. I think it was a historic missed opportunity, but past is prologue. When he can give full voice to what Dr. King was saying about that madness of militarism, it will help to elevate the discourse nationally, and help the relationship between social movements, and what Bernie Sanders is doing.
AARON MATE: Norman Solomon, author and co-founder of Organofaction Norman, thank you.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.
Want more analysis?
Try John Nichols’ piece from The Nation.
Dig deeper still, as Sanders discusses the Palestinian situation and other issues in this interview by Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept, conducted shortly before his Westminster speech.