Even as the Pentagon is announcing the embrace of “drone swarms,” Bernie Sanders is saying that he wants to reign in use of drones. This weekend, he told Martha Raddatz on This Week With George Stephanopoulos:
RADDATZ: Would you do away with the drone program? Would you do away with the drone program because you have clearly had problems with that. You didn’t vote for CIA director John Brennan because of the drone program and how it was run.
SANDERS: I think what you — Martha, what you can argue is that there are times and places where drone attacks have been effective, there are times and places where they have been absolutely countereffective and have caused more problems when they have solved. When you kill innocent people, what the end result is that people in the region become anti-American who otherwise would not have been.
So, I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case.
The context of this statement was a discussion of the use of force. Sanders had just told Raddatz that “I get very nervous about my Republican friends who keep implying that the only way we could do that is through another war. War is the last resort, not the first resort.” Sanders did admit, “yeah, there are times when you have to use force, no question about it.”
For some (progressive) critics, this will be Bernie Sanders refusing to end the drone program and therefore embracing the idea of endless war. For other (conservative) critics, this will be seen as Bernie Sanders making America weak by showing hesitation in the use of force. Republicans inculcated on George W. Bush’s 1 Percent Doctrine want war on demand, war on any pretext, war for the sake of war.
They might not want to hear it, but Republicans, like Al Qaeda, prefer endless war. They have become their enemies.
That might work for a terrorist organization. It cannot work on the global stage when you are the world’s sole remaining superpower.
There is obviously a vast gulf between the two positions – Sanders and Republicans – and there is no doubt that Sanders characterized the Republican position accurately. They want war with Iran. Their complete lack of alternatives to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal proves this. And from what Sanders said, the world could expect a less aggressive United States under his administration. Under Obama, we already have a less aggressive United States than under President Bush.
You can broaden the subject to look at other candidates. Sanders wants to further restrict the use of drones. Ben Carson wants to use them on our own borders. North Dakota police, perhaps presaging the future, have weaponized their drones:
— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) August 31, 2015
Polls show Carson gaining on Trump. Maybe Republican voters find drones more exciting than walls? In Hollywood, drones chase people and blow them up. Walls…well, they’re just walls.
Raddatz pointed out that Sanders’ campaign site fails to address either foreign policy or national security. Sanders responded that he has “been focusing, quite correctly, as you’ve indicated, on the economy, on the collapse of the American middle class, on massive income and wealth inequality.” However, he allowed that Raddatz was “absolutely right, foreign policy is a huge issue.”
And this is not the first time Sanders has addressed foreign policy issues on TV. He told Ed Schultz back in May that the Islamic State has to be stopped but that he opposes the employment of U.S. ground forces in the region, that “Two wars is enough.”
At that time, he voiced support for “airstrikes and special missions.” Asked by Schultz if he would continue President Obama’s drone policy, Sanders answered, “Yes and no,” pointing out that killing civilians is counter-productive. Drones are “one tool in the arsenal,” he said, that have at times “clearly backfired on us.”
The problem here is not what Raddatz said, or even the suggestion that Sanders has so far failed to address national security and foreign policy. He clearly has.
The problem lies in what she failed to say – about the utter absence of a viable foreign policy position from ANY of the Republican candidates. It is great that Sanders got some air time on national TV during a time when usually only Republicans are given a voice.
However, the mainstream media must begin asking Republicans some tough questions. Raddatz did not just ask Sanders and then let it go, but continued to demand specifics. Republicans, by contrast, get off lightly, and to date, for example, Walker has not had to clarify how treating the Islamic State like a labor union is going to accomplish any worthwhile goals in the Middle East.
Thomas H. Naylor wrote at Counterpunch back in 2011, that Sanders “behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.” It claimed, “Sanders, not unlike President Obama, thinks drones are cool.”
Others have similarly critiqued Sanders’ positions on foreign policy, and the best of these might be Jesse Walker on Reason.com, who calls Sanders “a dove in the 80s, something more complicated since then,” with a record “far less interventionist than Hillary Clinton’s.” Clinton has in the past defended the use of drones as an effective anti-terrorist weapon.
In the coming weeks we will no doubt see the evolution of a Bernie Sanders foreign policy. For now, it is obvious it will be a far more moderate foreign policy than the chickenhawk positions of his potential Republican foes, one that will favor diplomacy over war, and further safeguards on the use of drones, making him more moderate in his approach than even than Barack Obama.
Republicans have accused Obama of apologizing for America. The question is, will Sanders, like Obama, now find himself being attacked from left and right both?
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.