Bernie Sanders Calls Out ‘International Oligarchy’
After mobilizing millions of supporters around progressive policies at home, Senator Bernie Sanders unveils a foreign policy vision that criticizes US militarism and ‘international oligarchy’
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. During last year’s presidential primary, Senator Bernie Sanders mobilized millions of people behind his vision for a progressive society at home. Well, today, in his most extensive comments on the topic to date, Sanders outlined his vision for how the U.S. should engage with the world.
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 oligarchic form of society, where a small number of extraordinarily powerful and wealthy special interests exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of this country and the entire world.
AARON MATE: In his speech, Sanders criticized U.S. foreign policies, past and present. He said support for the ongoing Saudi war on Yemen will haunt the U.S. and called the so called global war on terror a disaster. Sanders highlighted U.S. backed coups in Iran and Chile as examples of actions that cause “incalculable harm.”
But there were some key omissions from Sanders’ speech. On North Korea, Sanders failed to mention the overlooked U.S. role in the crisis that exists today. And despite taking a bold stance on the campaign trail in defense of Palestinian rights, Sanders didn’t mention them in his speech today.
I am joined now by Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy, Robert welcome.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Good to be with you.
AARON MATE: Thanks for joining us. So, let’s start with what I thought was the heart of Sanders’ speech, in that little brief clip we just played there, talking about the oligarchic interests at the heart of U.S. power, not just domestically but shaping decisions around the world. Your thoughts on that aspect of Sanders’ speech.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Well, I think it’s very positive, it’s something that is talked about too little. And speaking about foreign policy, as this thing that sort of exists over there, as if it’s not related and influenced by the same dynamics that we deal with in talking about domestic power. Bernie has been very good about that, and it’s talked about, when Bernie as in this speech and other examples, talks about foreign policy, talks about things that others usually don’t talk about. Like inequality. Like corporate trade agreements. Like U.S. policy at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Like the challenge of climate change and dependence on fossil fuels. So, that’s a very strong and important card that Bernie brings to the table and I was glad to see that today.
AARON MATE: You know, one thing that Sanders has done pretty tirelessly, is connect the amount of resources that go into exerting U.S. power around the world, to what that means for people at home, in terms of depriving people of basic rights, like healthcare. And on that front, let’s go to a clip of him talking about this.
BERNIE SANDERS: Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities at a time when we already spend more on defense than the next 12 countries combined. Foreign policy is about authorizing a defense budget of some 700 billion dollars, including a 50 billion dollar 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.
AARON MATE: You know Robert, this is an issue where Sanders, tacitly at least, isn’t critiquing just Trump and the Republicans, but also his fellow Democrats because just this week, as Republicans are trying this last ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act yet again, the Senate, although they’re sparring over healthcare issue, the Senate came together by overwhelming numbers. I think it was like 89 to 8 or 89 to 9, to pass a massive military spending increase. Something like 700 billion dollars, tens of billions more than Trump had even asked for. So, Sanders is there going after not just Trump, but also a bipartisan consensus when it comes to spending so much money on military action overseas.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately, the dynamic in Washington for the most part is that most Democrats have supported increasing military spending. Generally, most Democrats have said increases in military spending should be matched by increases in domestic spending. That’s been kind of the line. Few have dared to say no, actually, there is no need for increasing military spending, and it doesn’t have to be the case that, of course we need to build military spending, but we also need to do domestic spending too. So, he is getting out, ahead, in front. I think the vote in the Senate doesn’t necessarily … it’s not that bad because the vote on the final bill, that’s not really where the decision was made.
But, it is true, unfortunately that too many Democrats are too soft on Pentagon spending. And it does reflect that same domestic power dynamics. There’s just huge corporate interests in Pentagon spending. It’s already more than half the budget, a lot of that money is going to powerful corporations that are lobbying for that budget, and it gets called security. But just as spending more money on healthcare, it doesn’t necessarily make us healthier, spending more money on the military doesn’t necessarily make us more secure.
AARON MATE: Robert, I don’t get that point, about the Senate version not being the final bill. Because, there’s the house –
ROBERT NAIMAN: No, it is the final bill. I’m saying that the vote on the final bill, that’s not where it was decided what the level of spending will be. Most of the time, most members of Congress vote for final passage on the final military spending bill, whatever is inside it, so nobody can accuse them of voting against the troops or whatever.
AARON MATE: Well, exactly, exactly-
ROBERT NAIMAN: That’s not the meeting where it was decided what the level of military spending would be. That’s all I’m saying. That the thing that you should look for are amendments where somebody said, “Let’s cut the thing,” you really want to know where the fault line was. Somebody introducing them and saying “Let’s cut the level of military spending by 1%”. Look and see how, voted on that. I only say that not to excuse people for voting in favor of the final bill if you want to slam them for that. But I think it risks feeding a kind of defeatism to say that, “Oh my God, everybody in Congress is for increasing military spending. Therefore there’s nothing we can do.” Because the corporations are running it, and …
AARON MATE: I’m not saying there’s nothing we can do. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying either you vote for the final bill or you don’t. Sanders didn’t, he voted against this. But he was in a very, very small minority of Democrats who voted against this massive spending increase. At the risk of being even more defeatist, let’s look at what Sanders didn’t include in his speech. And also what he included that might be worth looking at critically.
I’m struck by constantly how when critics, and prominent critics of US foreign policy speak out against things like the Iraq war or the coup in Iran and Chile as Sanders did. They’ll use at the furthest end of the acceptable spectrum in mainstream criticism is, they’ll use words like, counterproductive. So he called the Iraq war counterproductive. People have a hard time, even someone as principled as Sanders, having a hard time just coming out and saying, “It was illegal, and we had no right to invade a foreign country that did nothing to us.”
ROBERT NAIMAN: Yeah, of course I agree. I mean I agree with every insult. It was illegal it was unconstitutional, it violated the most basic international law. It was immoral, it was based on a lie. Every insult you want of that horrible catastrophe, I’m-
AARON MATE: It’s not an insult, Robert. It’s not an insult, just a description.
ROBERT NAIMAN: No, no. A true insult. It’s a true deserved insult.
AARON MATE: I think it’s a basic description, but okay. It’s semantics.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Absolutely. It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, it was immoral. We can never denounce that immoral, outrageous catastrophe enough. Having said that, I mean it’s always important to understand things relative to context. The context is that Washington, the Foreign Policy attachment, wants to move on and not talk about the terrible crime that took place in 2002, 2003 and what it reveals about, and continues to reveal about the national security establishment in the United States. The people in Congress who voted for it, the people in the national security establishment who supported it and the fact that there was not more dissent at the time among so called foreign policy experts in the media. That is something we should return to again and again. That the leading light … you know Hillary Clinton voted for the war, John Cary voted for the war, Joe Biden voted for the war, Dick Gephardt voted for the war, and this was crucial support and of course as we often see is [apparent] in Washington, all these people were rehabilitated as they should not have been.
Now some of them learned something. Biden learned something, Cary learned something, and they went on in many contexts to become military force skeptics and big champions of the Iran nuclear agreement, which was a key contrast that Bernie correctly made in his speech between the illegal destructive Iraq war with all the death and destruction to Iraqis, and to Americans and to the region, versus the Iran nuclear deal which did not kill a single human being, did not cost money and which is working and certified as working to this day and which Trump and the Republicans are currently attacking.
That’s a tremendously important distinction that he made. I also thought something that was really key about this speech was that he invoked what might be called the classical tropes of liberal internationalism. Talking about the support of diplomacy, internationalism, international cooperation, while separating that from the classical tropes of liberal interventionism. Regime change, the wars in Libya and Syria, and Iraq. In fact as noted that had a lot of democratic support. These wars that had nothing to do with the United States, that were not authorized by the United Nations, that there was this fig leaf of concern when in fact unleashed tremendous destruction. This is a tremendously important point going forward, for putting forward a vision of a truly progressive foreign policy which is not a foreign policy of liberal interventionism using human rights as an excuse for bombing, invading and occupying other people’s countries in violation of international law and the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution.
AARON MATE: Speaking of tropes, I thought Sanders certainly adopted one when it comes to Russia, when he talked about “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”. He criticized Trump for not mentioning that in his speech to the U.N.
As admirable as Sanders is on so many issues, I find it amazing that it’s impossible right now, it seems impossible inside the Washington consensus for even someone as progressive as him to simply question, perhaps, U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, to consider that possibly the U.S. has played a role when it comes to expanding NATO after the end of the Cold War despite promises that it wouldn’t, in supporting a coup inside neighboring Ukraine, and now when it comes to this Russiagate stuff everyone seems to take it as … they seem to take it on faith because the U.S. intelligence community, a few elements of it said so. That Putin interfered in our election in this mass campaign. No one seems troubled by the fact that there still is no hard evidence. I’m wondering your thoughts on that, Robert.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Well some people are troubled. To tell you the truth I’m even more troubled by the hypocrisy on that. That troubles me much more. The fact that nobody disputes that that which it is alleged, the Russian government did in the United States, United States does as a matter of course, and has done for decades in Russia and around the world.
But I would be totally delighted, and I’ve agitated for this, let’s pass a bill in Congress saying that from now on, the entire U.S. intelligence community and the military, and the State Department are prohibited from engaging in any of the activities that people are complaining that Russia did in the U.S. You know Clapper came to Congress and testified, and he said we have a glass houses problem. Other people testified in Congress said that, at the time. That’s been pushed aside. I think that should be front and center. Not only of course do we have a right to know what exactly the proof is of the different allegations that are around, but what exactly is the moral authority of the people of the United States to get on their high horses about this, if it is true that as a matter of course the U.S. is doing this around the world?
Of course when in any case one is talking about hypocrisy one should say, how do you want hypocrisy to be resolved? I don’t want the resolution to be everybody does it and we should just accept that. I think we should have an agreement that we don’t want Russia to do this in the United States or anywhere, but we don’t want the United States to do this in Russia or anywhere. But that of course is the conversation that the deep state doesn’t want to have because they regard it as an entitlement to interfere with other people’s elections and political processes all over the world. I think that’s the discussion that we ought to be trying to have.
AARON MATE: Robert, the only problem I have with your comparison there is I don’t think there’s any parity at all, even if all the allegations against Russia are 100% correct. This is an obvious leftist point but in Chile or Iran the U.S. didn’t hack into some emails, there weren’t emails back then but into some cables and then release them to the Iranian or Chilean public and say “hey look, this is what this person is doing so don’t vote for them”. In those cases-
ROBERT NAIMAN: No, but in other cases-
AARON MATE: The U.S. instilled violent coups, so on that front let’s hear from Bernie Sanders talking about Iran.
BERNIE SANDERS: In 1953, and I would say the vast majority of the American people don’t know this, but in 1953 the United States on behalf of western oil interests, working with the United Kingdom, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh, and the re installation of the Shah of Iran who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In other words we overthrew a democratically elected government, installed an undemocratic, unpopular one. 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?
AARON MATE: Bernie Sanders posing some questions that few of his colleagues, if any are willing to ask. Robert, we have to wrap so your final thoughts here, and I guess my question to you, what I wonder is, listening to Sanders there’s so much admirable in what he says. But if he’s still at the same time advancing several tropes, taking on faith things about the U.S. role in the world that aren’t true, ignoring for example the U.S. role in areas like North Korea and Russia where the U.S. has played a major role, if not the defining role, the definitive role in stoking tensions and fueling the crises that we face with these countries today. What are our prospects of forming a truly just foreign policy as is the name of your group? Your thoughts on that.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Well I would just say this. Next week we expect a bipartisan resolution to be introduced in the House of Representatives, invoking the War Powers Resolution to force a floor vote and debate on ending U.S. participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. UNICEF says there’s a child under five dying of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes. This is caused by the Saudi war and blockade, which would not be possible without U.S. military participation. Not just the army but the refueling and the targeting and the U.S. diplomatic cover at the United Nations.
Bernie called this out in his speech today, which is something that you never would’ve heard from Hillary Clinton in a speech like this. I’m very hopeful that next week we can really turn a corner on that. I don’t expect, I’m 52 years old. I don’t expect to live to see a just foreign policy. But stopping U.S. support for the Saudi genocide in Yemen, if we could do that in the next month I would say, “kill me now so I can die happy”.
AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Robert Naiman of the group Just Foreign Policy. Thanks very much.
ROBERT NAIMAN: Good to be with you.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.