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‘No Wars for the Billionaire Class’: A look at a possible Sanders foreign policy

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As the Democratic primary intensifies there has been increased focus on Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy outlook. In addition to questions about his advisors, there has also been discussion of what a possible Sanders foreign policy could look like. Earlier this week we reported on political scientist Stephen Pampinella’s vision of a “post-hegemonic” foreign policy. There has been discussion in other venues as well. Writing in the Washington Post Katrina vanden Heuvel says “The country deserves a far broader debate about American security” than has taken place so far and urges Sanders to promote a “new, real security agenda” that challenges climate change, global economic policy and U.S. policy promoting regime change.

Daniel Denvir conducted a survey of liberal and progressive foreign policy analysts for Salon to try to identify a “Bernie Doctrine.” He mostly just found confusion:

“Both parties essentially agree on the need for us to continue on our interventionist path,” emails James Russell, a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey. “This is utter madness.”

Russell continues:

“Sanders is missing an opportunity here to separate himself from the ‘corporate’ mindset of the Democratic foreign policy establishment — which is really the Council of Foreign Relations — a group full of people who were cheerleaders in the Iraq War —  the greatest strategic disaster for the US since Vietnam. Sanders has correctly identified the critical issue of today on the domestic front — which is income inequality and the impact of corporate money in politics, but he’s not carving up the low-hanging fruit in foreign policy.”

I put the question of what a possible Sanders’ foreign policy could look like to Phyllis Bennis, the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bennis shared the following via email:

A theme for Bernie’s foreign policy doctrine could be reduced to a very simple point that links directly to his longstanding focus on economic inequality: No Wars for the Billionaire Class.

That theme addresses issues of the overarching power of the arms producers, especially their over-paid CEOs (perhaps recalling an earlier era when war profiteering was actually illegal, as well as immoral), as well as the oil industry and the role of the US military in deploying troops and building bases all too often for the purpose of protecting the interests of and thus further enriching the already super-rich.

It’s a whole new 21st century way of understanding both President Eisenhower’s warning about the power of the  military-industrial complex, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s warning about the deadly triplets of militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.

On military aid to Israel & Egypt —

Sanders once said “I have a problem with appropriating $2 billion to Egypt and $3 billion to Israel. Let’s take care of some of the problems we have at home first.” He should reaffirm that, making clear that foreign aid is an important part of US policy, and should remain so.  But Israel is a wealthy country. And the entire $3.1 billion each year we send to Israel every year – anticipated to go up to $5 billion a year beginning in 2018 – goes directly to the military, already by far the most powerful in the region. Most of the aid to Egypt – about half of it – goes to the military also. Congress rightly restricted military aid after the 2012 coup, supposedly so that it could be sent only after Egypt made explicit steps towards democratizing. That hasn’t happened, so it’s unfortunate that the administration still decided to release F-16s, Harpoon missiles and Abrams tanks to the Egyptian military.

A Sanders administration would know that four and a half billion dollars worth of military aid could much better be used at home for health care, jobs, education, and more. Plus maybe some additional aid to poor countries who really need our help with some of their social crises.

On relations with Iran after the nuclear deal —

The nuclear deal with Iran is a great example of the power of diplomacy – present and future. It represents a huge victory of diplomacy over war. Sanders should reaffirm how crucial it is that we remain engaged with Tehran to insure that the terms of the deal are implemented on all sides.  Indeed we should be trying to expand the narrow terms of the deal to a broader new understanding with Iran where we share common interests in the region – such as ending the war in Syria, ending instability in Iraq, and beyond. I think Sanders believes that Iran’s government recognizes that Iran’s own interests should lead to easing tensions with the United States, indeed with the West as a whole.  And he certainly knows that any military action against Iran would threaten an incredibly dangerous, rapidly escalating war across the region and beyond – the only ones who would benefit from such action would be the CEOs of the arms manufacturers and the oil industry. A Sanders administration would commit to avoid that, and instead to always engage in the tougher, slower, less telegenic – but ultimately more fruitful – work of diplomacy to achieve our goals.

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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25 Responses

  1. kalithea on February 12, 2016, 2:26 pm

    MLK should have made that quadruplets: militarism, racism, and extreme materialism… and social injustice.

    On the issue of foreign funding: Hello? The entire $3.1 billion to Israel goes to sustaining the Occupation! And the $2 billion to Egypt also goes to sustaining the Occupation next door by keeping in power a military junta that oppresses not only Palestinians but Egyptians as well! This is the face of Zionism: injustice for all, except Jews for Zionism, of course.

    Yes I agree: Of all the clowns in the primary clown parade the only one who looks like he can keep us all safe and prevent WWIII is Bernie Sanders, but unless he is challenged to be more assertive on expressing these ideas, by distancing himself from Zionism, then I’m just not sure which direction he’s heading in; victory or loss.

    Now, about that debate last night…(sigh)

    Judy Woodruff, besides Donald Sussman and Soros you intentionally, conveniently left out Hillary’s biggest funder: the Sabans!

    And of course we have Zionist Hollywood, the hedge fund managers and investment banks bankrolling her campaign as well.

    Bernie should have mentioned that Woodruff left out her most important donor Saban. What a missed opportunity! But no, predictably he just let it slide!

    He needs to be more balsy! When Hillary attacked him accusing him of acting like a Republican with his criticism of Obama; he should have responded: “And it’s very difficult to differentiate you from Republicans on matters of foreign policy, special interest funding and transparency!” But noooo!; again Bernie just let this magnificent opportunity to trounce her accusation roll on by.

    Oh Bernie! Get rid of your Achilles Heel, Zionism, that’s holding back all that unexploited potential!

    Hillary is so scripted, so disingenuous; I just can’t stand her. Her foreign policy is totally Zionist-sucky. She should move to Israel and run for leadership there. At least there she’ll be a major improvement over anything they have to offer.

    I wish an activist daughter of a Palestinian murdered by Israeli soldiers would rise up and send Bernie a video like this.

    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

  2. dx on February 12, 2016, 3:57 pm

    All good points! I find foreign aid particularly galling considering how the budget for things like food assistance get cut repeatedly. Food is a basic need. Several places in the country need water–clean, running water. And health care. I’m having to deal with that in a major way right now, and I can attest that we have no “system.” “The health care system” is an oxymoronic term. Even with insurance, I have spent hours trying to mediate between the insurance company and “the provider” and ambulance companies. And threats from hospitals and doctors about collections.

    Here’s the thing about health care: the President of the United States (Obama) offered to help the Vice President of the United States with medical bills so the Vice President would not have to give up his house in order to pay for his son’s medical expenses.

    Anybody see a problem with that?

    What chance do I have when the Vice President needs help with his son’s cancer treatment?

    I have to deal with cancer treatment, too.

    (And this is AFTER Obamacare was in effect.)

    Tell me how secure Americans should feel when the American President has to offer to help the Vice President with medical expenses!

    We got a bill for $450 to $500 to see a specialist for a 15 minute consult. The insurance company paid 37.50 and we paid 40. What kind of farcical “system” is that? What if I had to hire someone to go to the grocery store to negotiate the price of milk from $255 to $1.99? That’s essentially what’s happening.

    I have been dealing with this for months and it’s truly appalling. And exhausting.

    • Xpat on February 13, 2016, 8:39 am

      dx –
      I’m sorry for your illness and for the needless bureaucratic work you have to put in on top of that. It’s too bad.
      Best wishes.

  3. italian ex-pat on February 12, 2016, 5:25 pm

    One of my comments to the NYT today was about Hillary’s stating that her ‘favorite’
    leader is Nelson Mandela. How ironic – the very face of the anti-apartheit movement!
    Yet she promised she’ll invite Netanyahu to the WH on her first day as president.
    Needless to say, I still don’t see my comment posted.

  4. Kathleen on February 12, 2016, 10:39 pm

    Was so great to hear Bernie bring up the horrific history of the U.S. genocide in Vietnam, overthrowing a democratically elected leader in Iran and came out swinging about Clinton claiming that he voted for the military intervention in Libya. I believe he voted in favor of it going to UN.

    Hope he goes much further with Obama’s (Clinton’s warmongering in LIbya and Syria. How disastrous and deadly it has been.

    What the hell is up with Maollary criticizing Sanders for criticizing Obama on issues that should be criticized. She just wants Sanders and all of us to shut up, get in line and start marching. For those of use who worked our asses off for the Obama campaigns we earned our right to criticize some of this deadly policies. Even if you did not work your ass off you have that very right to criticize our leaders…it is your birthright. WTF.

    And then Hillary claiming numerous times now that she fucking initiated the Iran deal. WTF is that about?

    Let’s hope that Bernie picks up the Leveretts as his top middle east policy advisers. Can folks think of anyone better to be at the top of the foreign policy list for Bernie?

    • kalithea on February 13, 2016, 1:17 am

      And Hillary’s so smug and condescending with Bernie! Look Bernie wouldn’t be my choice by a longshot but I respect him for being his own man and not grovelling for Aipac and Saban like Hillary does.

      However, I disagree with those who think that challenging Bernie on Palestinian rights is somehow demanding purity from him. They can reserve that criticism for demanding high standards on other issues he fails to live up to. But when it comes to the prolonged suffering of Palestinians, people have to demand better from him. 60 years is a long time to wait for this man to speak out for the rights of Palestinians and justice for Palestinians and adopting a position that no longer panders to Israel but gets serious with Israel. The man is already in his seventies for crying out loud! Is he going to look the other way until he joins the Congress in the sky? Oh, I have no doubt he can go out on a limb from there!

      Palestinians have suffered too much already; it’s time to right this wrong. He can’t pretend to be a progressive for social justice and look the other way on the issue of human rights for Palestinians. The contradiction is too glaring. If not now, when? No one should suffer without rights for decades under the military rule of the so-called single democracy in the Middle East. Israel is going the fascist, Apartheid route and it must be stopped now.

  5. Brewer on February 13, 2016, 7:08 am

    I probably shouldn’t comment. I’m a Kiwi and U.S. politics belongs to you guys but from where I sit and from what I understand of the system, I suspect Bernie has some baggage he cannot eject at this stage of the game. He is, however, subtly projecting the right message.
    I don’t think the electorate is ready for a declared platform of disengagement with Israel and such a platform could be hazardous to one’s health, in realtime.
    I find myself trusting the guy’s integrity just as I did Obama’s so who knows. Maybe I’m just steeling myself against a possible one-term Jimmy Carter style Presidency during which the machine grinds every good intention into pulp.
    One thing I am reasonably sure of is that the struggle will not end with a Sanders Presidency

  6. Xpat on February 13, 2016, 8:40 am

    Thanks Adam for filling in this blank.
    Bernie has called out the economic, political and media establishments.
    Is it too dangerous to take on the military?

  7. Theo on February 13, 2016, 1:00 pm

    As I have commented a few days ago, Bernie should not get bogged down with the question of Israel, he should give an answer that later can be interpreted several ways. We all heard politicians talk for a half hour to realize later that he or she did not say anything!
    Our country is controlled by the Military-Industrial Complex, to go against them can be very dangerous. Not only millions of well paid jobs are at risk, but the idea of the USA giving up its leading position in the world, what very few americans want. We produce weapons that never will be used, thousands of tanks, worth billions, are lined up in the desert, so they can be scraped in 10 or 15 years! In addition, those weapons must be used, so we have wars to destroy them and the Pentagon can spend a few billion dollars again! Pity, that all those expensive and fancy weapons did not stop us from losing every single war since WWII!!

    Bernie, listen to people who advise you to stay with domestic policy. Let all others talk about ruling the world, the young nowdays rather want something at home and those are your constituents.

  8. kalithea on February 13, 2016, 5:14 pm

    WWIII is coming! It’s going to ignite in Congress. The most radically conservative justice, Justice Antonin Scalia (rip), just passed away.

    This is going to be a fight for the ages.

    • annie on February 13, 2016, 5:50 pm

      OMG!!! AMAZING! thank the universe!

    • just on February 13, 2016, 6:08 pm


      “Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.

      Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa.

      According to a report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body. …”

      Condolences to his family.

      Sounds as though he left the way he chose to live…

      • Mooser on February 13, 2016, 7:14 pm

        “Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead…”

        And Obama gets to name his replacement on the Bench? Well, well, well.

      • annie on February 13, 2016, 7:16 pm

        i doubt it. gop majority in the senate and they are already saying they will filibuster his nominees and push it off to the next prez.

      • Mooser on February 13, 2016, 7:25 pm

        “and push it off to the next prez.”

        Well, then, I’ll just be grateful for small favors.

  9. just on February 13, 2016, 5:41 pm

    Thanks for the article, Adam.

    Speaking of aiding and abetting war crimes and the grostesque complicity and enabling of same, I just read this in The Guardian:

    “EU criticises British arms sales to Saudi Arabia

    Britain sold close to £3bn worth to the kingdom in the last year and is heavily implicated in the Saudi campaign in Yemen

    Britain faces severe criticism from the European parliament over its continued arms trade with Saudi Arabia amid growing evidence of the Arab state’s indiscriminate bombing of Yemen.

    A vote is scheduled for later this month on a resolution calling for an EU-wide arms embargo on sales to Saudi Arabia but that also specifically criticises the UK.

    The UK government has supplied export licences for close to £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the past year and has even been accused of being involved in the conduct of the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.

    Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen last March in an attempt to push back rebels loosely backed by Iran who have managed to take control of the capital, Sana’a, and force the country’s Saudi-supported president to flee.

    Earlier this month the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, made an unexpected intervention, suggesting countries including the UK had a duty to stop the flow of weapons to Riyadh-led forces.

    Britain has denied allegations that it has influence over the Saudi targeting of bombs in Yemen but admits to being involved in training some of the pilots involved in the airstrikes.

    The European parliament’s resolution condemning Britain’s involvement, on which a vote is due to be held on 25 February, states that the parliament “strongly criticises the intensive arms trade of EU member states with various countries in the region, as in the case of the UK, Spain, France and Germany; calls for an immediate suspension of arms transfers and military support to Saudi Arabia and to its coalition partners.”

    It adds: “Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for weapons and the UK is the biggest supplier of weapons to Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

    An amendment to the resolution, tabled by Labour MEP Richard Howitt, also calls for the imposition of an EU-wide arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.

    MEPs in support of the move believe that passing such motions would be an important step in bringing the bloodshed in Yemen to an end.

    Alyn Smith, an SNP MEP supporting the resolution and amendment, said that there was still a chance that the scheduled vote would not go ahead and it required support from both the socialist and democratic groups of MEPs in the parliament, who are meeting this week to discuss the issue.

    However he added that he believed that if the vote were to be held, it would “certainly” be passed. “We are determined to drag this issue kicking and screaming into the daylight,”…

    A petition in support of the resolution has been set up by the campaign group Avaaz. Danny Auron, Avaaz’s campaign director said “British weapons are being used by Saudi Arabia to bomb children in schools and patients in hospitals.

    “The government has so far ignored calls to end this lethal trade but today hundreds of thousands of people across the world are calling on the EU to bring in an arms embargo across the continent and stop countries like Britain making a killing off these killings.”

    Earlier this month an all-party international development select committee in the Commons called for an immediate suspension of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and an international independent inquiry into the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen.

    A UN report has claimed Saudi Arabia is involved in breaches of humanitarian law in Yemen and the committee said it had heard reliable evidence from humanitarian organisations including the head of Unicef Yemen that the Saudi-led coalition was involved in actions that risked civilian deaths and breached humanitarian law.”

    Of course the US is also “heavily implicated in the Saudi campaign in Yemen”…

    One day (very soon…) I hope to read an article about actions taken against the US and others, too. A day when arms and billions to Israel are both STOPPED and stinging and whopping sanctions are imposed on that cruel Apartheid ‘state’.

  10. Frankie P on February 13, 2016, 6:31 pm


    Is Phyllis Bennis, the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (whatever that means, sounds like gobbledegook), in any way affiliated with Bernie Sanders and his campaign for President? This article, with its army of “possibles”, shines a light on the show business circus that Presidential campaigns have become. Here we have Phyllis Bennis, Daniel Denvir, and Katrina vanden Heuvel parlaying in “maybes”, and giving their opinions of what Bernie’s foreign policy should, or may, or perhaps, or possibly, be. Here we have Adam putting up a headline that has quotes around the phrase “No Wars for the Billionaire Class” next to the name Bernie Sanders. Folks, Bernie Sanders never said that. Question: When did Bernie Sanders say this; the chronology of this statement is essential, and the omission of it is spin:

    Sanders once said “I have a problem with appropriating $2 billion to Egypt and $3 billion to Israel. Let’s take care of some of the problems we have at home first.”

    Isn’t Phyllis Bennis knee-deep in the Alison Weir debacle?

    Did Bernie Sanders say that Putin regrets taking Crimea and should return it to the Ukraine? He has demonstrated a 5th grade level of understanding of foreign policy. Russia will defend Crimea with nuclear weapons, and anyone who doesn’t understand this needs foreign policy schooling. Did Bernie Sanders say that Saudi Arabia should step up to fight Islamic Wahabbi terrorism? What kind of understanding of foreign policy is this? Calling on the single biggest supporter of Wahabbi terrorism to step up and fight it seems somewhat problematic, to be tame.

    Finally, why doesn’t Bernie Sanders just come out and address these issues? Make some statements about foreign policy? It’s like some kind of big mystery. Like the talking heads going on about what HRC said in her Goldman Sachs speeches. She won’t release the transcripts, because she knows it will hurt her in the election. Is Bernie’s foreign policy the same? He won’t comment on it, because he knows it will hurt him?

    We need more straight talkers, people not afraid to tell the truth.

    • on February 14, 2016, 1:46 am

      “Isn’t Phyllis Bennis knee-deep in the Alison Weir debacle? ”

      From my knowledge, based on what I read from Alison’s writing, Ms. Bennis is not a supporter of hers at all. So I don’t see why this should be a problem or a con. I think it should be pro in this case, because Alison is a pro-nativist and a nationalist whose ideology should not be welcome in progressive movements.

    • Theo on February 14, 2016, 11:46 am

      I have the feeling that most people in the west just doesn´t have the faintest idea what Crimea means to the russians and what is Ukraina to them.

      Let´s start with Ukraina. There never was a country called Ukraina, it was always a part of Russia or other powers, like Austria, Hungary, Poland or the Ottoman empire.
      The first russian county was created in Kiew during the 8th century, called Kiewruss, the word ukrajna means border or border area, the ukrainer are called little russians. Knowing this, one can judge the importance of that piece of land to the russian people and to their history.
      The Crimea has a long history of wars and occupations, scyths, mongols, tatars, bulgarians made their home there and later it belonged to the turks.
      During the 18th century Catharina the Great took it away from the turks and since 1783 Sevastopol is the main russian naval base, up to this very days, also well over two centuries. During the 1960s Hruschev, who was an ukrainer, attached the peninsula to Ukraina for administrativ purposes, without getting the approval of the upper soviet, therefore it is not a valid act, and during the 1991 split up of the Sovietunion this was not corrected. To understand the russians, what would we do if California splits from the USA, makes eyes at our greatest opponent, (I do not want to use the word enemy), and San Diego Naval Base would come under foreign control?

      Crimea is populated to 80% by russians and we can bet our last golden eagle that they will never give up the control over that most important piece of real estate!

      • Sibiriak on February 14, 2016, 10:51 pm

        Theo: I have the feeling that most people in the west just doesn´t have the faintest idea what Crimea means to the russians and what is Ukraina to them.

        In terms of territory, Crimea is very important to Russians, (Eastern) Ukraine, not so much. The concern about Ukraine is not about territory, but about the well-being of the Russian-speaking population in particular, as well as the country as a whole, and about the continuing U.S./NATO efforts (color revolutions, propaganda, NATO enlargement, military expansion, missile defenses etc.) to bring all of Eastern Europe under its hegemony and isolate Russia.

        There never was a country called Ukraina, it was always a part of Russia or other powers, like Austria, Hungary, Poland or the Ottoman empire.

        Sounds like, “there never was a country called Palestine, it was always part of…”

      • Sibiriak on February 14, 2016, 11:07 pm

        Theo: Hruschev, who was an ukrainer…

        Correction: Khrushchev was Russian. “Khrushchev was born on April 15, 1894, in Kalinovka, a small Russian village near the Ukrainian border. At age 14 he moved with his family to the Ukrainian mining town of Yuzovka.”


        In his memoirs, Khrushchev spoke highly of Ukraine, where he governed for over a decade:

        I’ll say that the Ukrainian people treated me well. I recall warmly the years I spent there. This was a period full of responsibilities, but pleasant because it brought satisfaction … But far be it from me to inflate my significance. The entire Ukrainian people was exerting great efforts … I attribute Ukraine’s successes to the Ukrainian people as a whole. I won’t elaborate further on this theme, but in principle it’s very easy to demonstrate. I’m Russian myself , and I don’t want to offend the Russians.” [emphasis added]

  11. gingershot on February 13, 2016, 7:18 pm

    ‘No Wars for the Billionaire Class’

    Let’s identify this ‘Billionaire Class’ as ‘Israeli Lobby Billionaires’ when like Saban and Adelson, when they are self identified ‘One Issue’ supporters

    To NOT identify them as such is obfuscation and makes it impossible for the average American to understand their motivations and the power of the Israeli Lobby

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