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Hedging His Bets Bernie Sanders Votes Maybe on the War

Bernie Sanders Hedging His Bets

by RON JACOBS

The US House of Representatives recently voted to endorse Bush and Rumsfeld’s war on Iraq. They did this under the guise of a bill nominally supporting the troops that, in reality, endorses Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Only 11 congresspeople voted against the bill and 22 stood aside. The rest of the so-called representatives of the people outdid many of their constituencies in their unabashed support for America’s latest imperial war. Indeed, many of those congressmembers who voted for the this resolution and the war represent districts where the sentiment continues to be against the current violence in the Gulf region. Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in Vermont, which is represented by its lone “independent” representative, Bernard Sanders .

Upon receiving notice of Sanders vote, I immediately called his office and registered my dismay. Within days, I received a letter from the office wherein Sanders reminded me that he voted against the October 2002 resolution granting GW Bush authority to use whatever force it required to take over Iraq. He wrote that he believes history will prove this to have been the correct vote. Further to his credit, before Sanders cast a yes vote for the most recent resolution, he entered a short speech into the Congressional Record decrying the partisan nature of the resolution. He went on to state further that he did not support the Bush administration’s policies that “led us to where we are today.” After stating his support for the UN inspections regime and reminding the House of the “phenomenon of blow-back,” Sanders attacked the GOP leadership for cutting veteran’s benefits in the same session they voted to create more veterans.

There seems to be some kind of contradiction here. Sanders may have voted against the budget that cut these veteran’s benefits, but by voting to support Bush’s war (no matter how much he protested it), history will most likely judge him to have sided with that leadership. Like a baseball line score, when one looks back at a legislator’s voting record, s/he only sees the “yay” or the “nay.” There is no play-by-play account–your team either has the winning score or the losing score. No details are provided about runners on third who got thrown out at the plate or an incredible pitching performance. Likewise, when history looks back on Bernie’s vote for this resolution, they will see that he cast his lot with the GOP hawks, and not the Democrats and others who voted against the bill, despite their support for the human beings wearing America’s uniform in Iraq.

At one time, Sanders claimed to be a socialist. When he was elected mayor of Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington, in 1980, his victory was almost universally cheered by left and progressive folks in the US. Since he moved to Washington six terms ago, however, those cheers have diminished, especially amongst those who know him bes–his fellow Vermonters. It is time the rest of the country wakes up to this truth: Sanders Sanders is not a socialist and is not that progressive, especially when it comes to matters of war and peace. Instead, Bernie’s politics are reminiscent of the Social Democrats of Germany during and after World War I. Despite a popular groundswell against that war, the Social Democratic leadership supported the war against the wishes of many in their own party. Then, during the failed revolution of 1919 against the German government, it was some of that same leadership that diverted the revolution from the masses and had Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht killed, precisely because these two revolutionaries exposed the duplicity and anti-worker policies of the Social Democrats.

This is not the first time Sanders has supported America’s wars. For those of us with a memory longer than the average US news reporter, we can remember Bernie’s staunch support for Clinton’s 100-day bombing of Yugoslavia and Kosovo in 1999. I served as a support person for a dozen or so Vermonters who sat-in in his Burlington office a couple weeks into that war. Not only did Sanders refuse to talk with us via telephone (unlike his Vermont counterparts in the Senate-Leahy and Jeffords), he had his staff call the local police to arrest those who refused to leave until Sanders spoke with them. The following week Sanders held a “town meeting” in Montpelier, VT., where he surrounded himself with sympathetic war supporters and one university professor who opposed the war and Bernie’s support for it. During the question and answer part of the meeting, Sanders yelled at two of the audience’s most vocal opponents to his position and told them to leave if they didn’t like what he had to say. They chose to remain and point out that Bernie’s style of democracy seemed awfully authoritarian.

After the bombing of Yugoslavia had ended and the US plan to Balkanize the Balkans neared its completion, I received many emails and calls regarding our sit-in at Bernie’s office and opposition to his politics of war. Most of these messages came from outside of Vermont and considered what we did to be counterproductive. After all, the messages stated, Sanders went to Chiapas to support the Zapatistas and he’s against the various free trade agreements and the WTO. He’s more of an ally than a foe, isn’t he?

My answer to these challenges is that I’m not sure. So called progressive politicians who do not draw the link between corporate America’s wars and its attack on social security, health care, the minimum wage, forty- hour work week, and other issues working people consider important are doing us a disservice. The wars fought by the US military are ultimately fought for one reason only–to maintain and expand the power of corporate America at the expense of workers and the poor around the world. Didn’t neoliberal writer Thomas Friedman write, “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force Navy and Marine Corps.”

As the reader can tell, Friedman thinks this is a good thing. Judging from Bernie’s support for the current war on Iraq, the sanctions against that country, and his support for previous US adventures in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, one wonders if Sanders thinks so, too. Is this what progressives want to support? If not, I urge you to send Sanders a letter opposing his war support (no matter how lukewarm it might be) instead of a donation the next time you get a mailing in his name. Perhaps he will listen and mount a movement in Congress to end funding for the folly in Iraq. After all, in his letter to me, he wrote: “Please be assured that I will remain a strong voice for peace during these difficult times.” Leading a congressional movement that calls for an immediate ceasefire and refuses to fund Bush and Rumsfeld’s folly in Iraq is a good place to use that voice.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.

He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu