Bernie Sanders would, overall, if pressed a typical amount, be a dramatic improvement over 45 out of 45 past U.S. presidents. But that’s a low bar.

When it comes to foreign policy, it ought to go without saying that Trump, Biden, and Buttigieg are walking catastrophes. A bit of research suggests that Elizabeth Warren is pretty much a true believer in slightly modified catastrophe. But what about Bernie Sanders?

I think that, as he is right now, Sanders would, overall, if pressed a typical amount, be a dramatic improvement over 45 out of 45 past U.S. presidents. But that’s a low bar. I’m delighted with his domestic policies and with the prospect of watching the corporate media squirm as he wins. And I think Sanders has improved enough on foreign policy, in part in response to this demand, to support him now.

I also think that LBJ would have been pretty good on domestic policy if he’d resisted militarism and understood the connections between the two, and I wonder whether Sanders understands that lesson or rather has internalized the corporate-media notion that it’s anti-militarism that hurts your domestic agenda.

Sanders evolved in recent years from his 2016 campaign mode of insisting that Saudi Arabia ante up its fair share of the cost of global wars, as if wars were a public service, and never mentioning the financial cost of militarism when asked about funding domestic programs, to trying to end the war on Yemen (and one on Iran), saying he’d move some completely unspecified amount of money out of the military, and listing the military industrial complex in the list of the forces he’d be challenging as president.

But lately, the military industrial complex has vanished from Bernie’s speeches, suggestions from his staff that he would push to end Afghanistan or one of the other wars have never materialized, he’s never indicated within 10% or $100 billion or at all how MUCH money he would seek to move to human and environmental needs from the military budget, he’s never spoken of mass murder as a moral problem, and — while he no longer talks about war as a public service that foreigners aren’t helping to fund, he still talks about foreign policy as a matter of bringing recalcitrant foreigners into line.

When Sanders does speak about the financial cost of militarism, he says that as president he will wrangle up the world’s nations and convince them to start spending money on climate protection rather than militarism. One can’t help cheering for such a statement, because it’s so bizarrely almost wonderful coming from a presidential candidate. But it’s only almost, because it conveniently omits the real problem. The United States is the biggest war maker and the biggest weapons dealer. If the U.S. were to stop selling weapons, many nations’ military spending would plummet. If the U.S. were to stop spending quite so much on weapons, it would spark a reverse arms-race.

When the Sanders campaign sent out a survey asking people what issues they cared about, and foreign policy was nowhere to be seen, a friend of mine emailed a complaint and got back a response. The response from the Sanders campaign included this:

“Around the world, dictators are rising up to exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances in order to gain power and personal wealth. In RussiaChinaHungarySaudi Arabiathe Philippines and elsewhere, authoritarian leaders are rising to power. They are hostile to democracy, dismantle the free press, they sow hatred toward ethnic and religious minorities, and they use government to benefit their own selfish financial interests. And they find comfort and support in the words and deeds of President Trump. They are the powerful and wealthy few tyrannizing powerless poor people everywhere.

“As Bernie has said: ‘There is a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence. Right-wing authoritarians backed by a network of multi-billionaire oligarchs are forming a common front. We who believe in democracy must join together to build a progressive global order based on human solidarity.’

“Bernie is calling for a new international coalition to fight to rebuild democracy. We must:

  • Build a sustainable energy future, not enrich fossil fuel companies who profit from destroying the air, land and water that our children and grandchildren will depend on.
  • Devote our resources to fighting diseases, not building weapons of mass destruction.
  • Break up the information monopoly in which a handful of multinational media giants, owned by a small number of billionaires, control the flow of information on the planet.
  • End the practice of multinational corporations stashing over $21 trillion in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes while working families suffer.
  • Create trade agreements that benefit working people, not the corporations that oppress them.”

This is admirable in proposing a popular global movement, and in caring about the fate of people in other countries without using that care as an excuse to bomb them. Both of those are very rare things. Also, not putting Iran or North Korea on the list of problems is stunning.

But, notably absent from the above list of steps to take regarding Russia, China, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines, is the idea that the United States could cease arming and training their militaries.

The U.S. government facilitates the sale of U.S. weapons to each of those countries except Russia. (See Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Arms Trade Database, and “Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales And Other Security Cooperation Historical Facts: As of September 30, 2017.”)

The U.S. government also provides military training to all of those problem governments, no exceptions. (See the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Military Training Report: Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018: Joint Report to Congress Volumes I and II, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Congressional Budget Justification: FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: SUPPLEMENTARY TABLES: Fiscal Year 2018.)

The U.S. government also provides funding for the militaries of each of those governments except Russia. (See on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Congressional Budget Justification: FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: SUMMARY TABLES: Fiscal Year 2017, and Congressional Budget Justification: FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: SUPPLEMENTARY TABLES: Fiscal Year 2018.) Compare the outrage one hears about this in the U.S. media with the fury one encounters over providing hungry people with food.

The shift I would most like to see in Senator Sanders’ approach to the world is one away from the fantasy of the United States leading troublesome foreigners toward the light, instead focusing on undoing the ongoing destruction that has been normalized and made invisible and in which the U.S. government has been leading the way for decades.

With that in mind, I think Bernie Sanders would benefit his campaign and our little planet by answering these questions:

  1. What would you like the U.S. discretionary budget to look like? With 60% now going to militarism, what percentage would you like that to be?
  2. What program of economic conversion to peaceful enterprises would you support?
  3. Would you end, continue, or escalate U.S. war making in: Afghanistan? Iraq? Syria? Pakistan? Libya? Somalia?
  4. Would you end the exemption for militarism in Kyoto, Paris, and other climate agreements?
  5. Would you sign / ratify any of these treaties: Paris Climate Agreement? Convention on the Rights of the Child? International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights? International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights optional protocols? Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women? Convention Against Torture optional protocol? International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families? International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance? The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities? International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries? Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court? Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity? Principles of International Cooperation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition, and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity? Convention on Cluster Munitions? Land Mines Convention? Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? Proposed treaties banning the weaponization of space and banning cyber crimes?
  6. Would you halt or continue expenditures on the production and so-called modernization of nuclear weapons?
  7. Would you end weapons sales and the provision of military training and funding to any governments? Which?
  8. Would you close any foreign bases? Which?
  9. Would you halt or continue the practice of murder by missiles from drones?
  10. Do you recognize the ban on war, with exceptions, contained in the United Nations Charter? And the ban on threatening war?
  11. Do you recognize the ban on war, without exceptions, contained in the Kellogg-Briand Pact?
  12. Will you end discriminatory bans on immigrants?
  13. Should actual, non-military, no-strings-attached foreign aid be eliminated, reduced, maintained, or increased? How much?
  14. 84% of South Koreans want the Korean War ended immediately. Should the United States block that?
  15. Should NATO be maintained or abolished?
  16. Should the CIA be maintained or abolished?
  17. Should the ROTC be maintained or abolished?
  18. Should domestic police forces be trained by, collaborate with, and be armed by militaries?
  19. Should the U.S. military pay sports leagues, secretly or openly, to celebrate militarism?
  20. How large should the U.S. military’s advertising budget be, and how much should the U.S. government spend promoting the concepts of nonviolent dispute resolution and the abolition of war?

This article was originally published at DavidSwanson.org on January 28, 2020.