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Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?

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Ashley Smith’s “A Socialist in the Senate? The Unfortunate Truth about Bernie Sanders,” (November 15, 2006) tells the tale of how the political Left gets thrown under the relentless wheels of the military-industrial complex by supporting candidates who do not consistently serve the interests of peace. The decimation of the forces for peace is predictable as they are sacrificed and offered up to the gods of electoral politics. The marginalization in each electoral cycle of the Left is a testament to how relentless the political/economic system is in guaranteeing its outcomes vis-à-vis war and peace.

A few years ago an email communication from Senator Elizabeth Warren, a steadfast supporter of an economic egalitarianism and regulation of the forces that control capital, left me with the same sense of how business as usual about U.S. war making has all but captured and controlled dissident voices. Only those on the fringes (not the fringe of significant and importance) of the political process are left to stand and are effectively marginalized and silenced. In the email the senator expressed her steadfast support of the war on terrorism.

While vigilance is an intelligent policy, the paths leading to the so-called war on terror are littered with counterproductive foreign and military policies. It is impossible to deny, in just one example, that U.S. support of religious fundamentalists in the 1980s in Afghanistan led in a direct line to the attacks of September 2001. As a result, we have witnessed over 13 years of endless wars. Mario Puzo’s admonition to “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer,” needed to be  recognized in U.S. foreign policy.

Sanders’ socialist beliefs and actions evolved into almost complete support of the Democratic Party after leaving the stage of Vermont politics and entering the national arena. Smith points out that Sanders voted with Democrats more consistently than many other Democrats: Ninety-eight percent of the time at the writing of Smith’s article. Sanders’ support for Democrats soon was reflected in their financing of his campaigns.

And here is where Sanders greatest equivocation has come. In spite of claims of being antiwar, his “hawkish” support of Clinton’s military actions in the 1999 Kosovo War caused one of his advisers to quit. When antiwar activists occupied Sanders’ office in 1999 because of that support of Clinton’s war policies, he had them arrested.

In 2001, Sanders did not support the vote in Congress to oppose the war in Afghanistan. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stood alone! This vote was followed by his support for appropriations to support both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2003 he supported the resolution that gave support to George W. Bush in both Iraq and in the larger war against terrorism, although Sanders has been a critic of the Iraq War.

Then Sanders supported only a gradual withdrawal from Iraq. When impeachment was on the so-called table against George W. Bush in 2006, he said that impeachment was “impractical.”

Sanders, like his Democratic allies, has supported Israel’s aggressive Middle East policies against Palestinian statehood. He supported HR 282, the Iran Freedom Support Act, which was similar to the resolutions leading to the Iraq War. Indeed, it appears that Sanders is even to the political Right of many liberal Democrats!

An article in the Huffington Post, “President Bernie Sanders Will Save America From Endless Counterinsurgency Wars and Protect Our Nation’s Veterans,” (July 7, 2015) is laudable for its recognition of Sanders’ support of military veterans, but is way off of the mark as far as what Sanders might accomplish against the thoroughly militarized foreign policies of the government. Presidential candidates of the past such as Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, and George McGovern have strongly and bravely criticized the militarized policies of the government and were left in the political dust.

My Facebook pages are loaded with posts on a daily basis lauding Bernie Sanders as the savior of the Left, yet some of his actions in Vermont, and in both the House and Senate, are at odds with the Left/populist image that he attempts to put forward. Whether or not Sanders has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president is debatable, but readers ought not to count on him to push back on the militarism and military actions that have become routine under both Democrats and Republicans who occupy the presidency. Even President Eisenhower, who warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, went along with the expansion of that juggernaut. And the beat goes on, as does the march of empire and greed, and the wars continue.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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