Editor’s note: After this piece was ignored by CounterPunch and rejected by Dissident Voice, which told me “Thank you for your submission to Dissident Voice. I am sorry but DV will not be publishing this time,” it is being published here.
Recently, Graham Vyse, a staff writer at The New Republic, bellowed with pain, like a deer wounded with an arrow, declaring that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was courting white Trump voters, said something positive about President Donald Trump, refused to vote against Jeff Sessions, and had “blind spots” on identity politics, which was all summed up in the title of “Bernie Sanders Is a Big Letdown.” To put it mildly, Senator Sanders is more than a “letdown” but is a downright imperialist. Maybe the Sandersnistas should have realized that before they looked to their new savior to “fight” the big banks and Wall Street, like Elizabeth Warren, or to stand up to Trump, with Sanders calling him “delusional” even as he voted in favor of Trump appointees John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland “Security”) and James “fun to shoot some people” Mattis (Secretary of “Defense”) on January 20th. Not surprisingly, the same people who supported Sanders were also “shocked” and “surprised” that he would endorse war criminal and corporate slave Hillary Clinton, while not recognizing his deep connection with the Democratic Party’s machinery and establishment.
Sanders’s imperial foreign policy is nothing new. In May 1993, Sanders voted for the use of US troops in Somalia. Years before the intervention, Mohamed Said Barre, who had taken power in a military coup in 1969, originally allied with the Soviet Union as a socialist. By 1977 he was charting his own course, with expansionist desires by declaring war on Ethiopia, then helped by the Soviets, and at that time, the US assisted his country. By 1991, after his methods became more ruthless, a group of rebels drove Barre from Mogadishu, leading to a vacuum in the country and civil discord of monumental proportions. By 1993, when the US intervened, there had been a UN operation (Operation Restore Hope or UNITAF) to provide humanitarian assistance the previous year, under President Bush’s direction, with US troops comprising the major part of the effort, but this faltered, leading to another operation. This ensuing operation, continuing until 1995, was challenged by “rebel” Somali military commander Muhammad Farah Aideed, an individual that the US-led UN force was trying to kill, leading to two Black Hawk helicopters in a fiery battle being shot down. As a result, this incident led President Clinton to pull U.S. troops out of combat not long after and “all U.S. troops left the country in March 1994,” resulting in supposed “curtailed” US interventions in the future, with the UN mission ending on March 1995 even as fighting continued.
This intervention, which was “memorialized” in numerous books and a film, Black Hawk Down, a Hollywood flick which predictably portrayed the Somali people as “wild savages” who don’t know what they are doing, even though Somalis has good reason to be angry about the US military presence. The movie’s pro-military narrative showed that it aligned with the position of Brigadier General John S. Brown who declared that the intervention was about rescuing “a people and a state from anarchy and chaos” and called those who fought in the a supposedly “humanitarian” conflict “heroes.” Such deception was also repeated by the compliant corpoate media, which hyped up the pictures of starving Somalis, of course. As Brendan Sexton III put it, “one of the true tragedies of the war in Somalia [which some rightly call a debacle] was the support that it received from liberals and even radicals,” by which he means people like Sanders. Apart from having the blood of thousands of Bosnians on his hands, Sanders also, by voting for US troops in Somalia, was expressing his consent for the killing of almost 10,000 people in the ground war for Mogadishu before the one-day battle in early October 1993. He was also consenting to the continued destruction of Somalia in a civil war which has raged since 1986, which begun with the Somali rebellion. It continues today with the US military, federal Somali government, and African Union troops fighting against Islamic reactionary groups, continuing the trend of US military intervention on the African continent.
In 1999, he justified the brutal US bombing in Bosnia, voting to use US ground troops in 1995, and quoted a member of the German Green Party, Joschka Fischer, in favor of the campaign. He argued that “if anyone thinks there is a simple solution to this problem [in Bosnia], then you know very little about this problem…[this bombing] means standing up against genocide. It’s a contradiction, but we have to live with it. If we accept Milosevic as a winner, it would be the end of the Europe I believe in.” He went on to, after an audience member told him that he had “sold out,” justify the bombing by declaring that “I ask you to think about what happens to the eight hundred thousand men, women, and children who have been pushed out of their homes!…What do you do to a butcher who has lined up people and shot them?” and then, after saying he opposed a massive ground force in Bosnia, weirdly said, “I don’t know what to do, but I’ll tell you what I am doing, what I am trying to do.” He later said he was “on the phone…with the White House” to help negotiate a settlement, aligning with his defense of Clinton the year before from Congressional Republicans who called for his impeachment.
The bombing in Bosnia was more than a “simple” military operation. It was one of the many military operations the Clinton administration conducted in the 1990s, this one to degrade the infrastructure of Serbia because the socialist-inclined leader, Slobodan Milosevic, had not gained the “green light” from the US before attacking the Albanian minority in the country. These problems were nothing new, as they grew out of the break up of the Yugoslavian republic ten years earlier which led to ensuing conflicts. In the later 1990s, international leaders proposed two terms: NATO control of Kosovo and NATO military occupation of the remaining parts of Yugoslavia. Both were rejected by the national assembly of Serbia, which called for negotiations toward an agreement on Kosovo’s autonomy. But, this was ignored, and US-led bombing began, lasting for 78 days, leading to displacement of 800,000 people after the first three months, and an untold number of killed civilians. Likely as a surprise to some of Sanders’s supporters, he did not mention the Serbian legislature’s proposal, supporting humanitarian imperialism instead, which is part of the reason that Michael Parenti parted ways with Sanders.
Stephen Gowans expanded on the reasons for the bombing, adding that the military campaign was meant to turn Milosevic’s own people against him, that an sanctions campaign was engineered to target areas where Milosevic had strong support, and that Washington spent “$10 million in 1999 and $31 million in 2000 to train, equip and advise an overthrow movement to destabilize the former Yugoslavia and oust Milosevic,” with him being thrown out of power in a “US-UK engineered uprising.” It is also worth pointing out that under the guise of bombing Serbia and parts of Montenegro in 1999 because “US officials said they were convinced the Milosevic government was carrying out a genocide in Kosovo,” the reality was very different. The Western capitalists were mad because Milosevic was a communist who “told the Americans to go fuck themselves” meaning that he refused “to turn Yugoslavia into a western puppet state.” More specifically, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was sanctioned and bombed because, as Gowans put it, it was a “social democracy that resisted a free-market take-over,” not due to the ill-treatment of ethnic Albanians. You can have your different viewpoints about Milosevic and not like him, for one reason or another, but I think this is more accurate that most left narratives on the bombing.
In more recent years, Sanders declared that he supports arming the Kurds or “those people who we can trust” with air support, benefiting arms manufacturers. The imperialist positions don’t end there. He has also supported helping “so-called Syrian moderates” and said that “President Obama is absolutely right in his efforts to judiciously use air strikes, which at this point have shown some success” which sounds like apology for the killing of civilians on Obama’s watch. If these positions don’t cry imperialism, I don’t know what does. Of course, Sanders does not want the drone program to end, saying that “there are times and places where drone attacks have been effective…we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively,” only wanting to “limit” it to his own parameters. This in and of itself is not a surprise, as Sanders voted to confirm Harold Koh as Legal Advisor for the US State Department, a Reagan lawyer who infamously declared that drone killing was legal, a position that Koh took after confirmation but Sanders never expressed an objection to.
Some readers may be saying that Sanders is a “social democrat” and harshly criticizes the banks (and their crimes), but that, even if it is not an act and is thoroughly genuine, pales in comparison to his imperialist positioning. Sanders has, on record, supported sanctions against Iran, declared that Iran is on the stage to “obtaining a nuclear weapon” despite evidence from US and Israeli intelligence agencies to the contrary, voted against closing the Guantanamo Bay Prison in 2009, saying it is “complicated” and should be decided by a presidential commission even as he says rhetorically that the prison should be shut down “as soon as possible,” and said that the F-35 program in Vermont is “very controversial” and “incredibly wasteful” but is still supporting it regardless. If that isn’t enough, Sanders, beyond his declarations against ground troops, didn’t oppose Obama’s “anti-ISIS” bombing campaign, saying to bourgeois progressive commentator Thom Hartmann that the US should be involved. He told Hartmann that his “solution” was a multilateral international effort where “these guys in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, these multi-multi-billionaire authoritarian countries who have made huge amounts of money from oil” should help fight ISIS. This ahistorical and ignorant position ignores that US imperial proxies across the Arab World, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar, along with other Gulf autocracies, have made the Syrian civil war more bloody with their support of reactionary terrorist groups, and such a policy would reinforce these authoritarian states while further destabilizing the Middle East.
Such positions make his declaration that he is “kind of conservative on getting involved in all kinds of wars abroad” have a different meaning than one would first perceive, showing that his “admission” that he is “not a pacifist but…always understood war is the last recourse” and that he he “understand[s] the cost of war” to be deceptive at best. He seems to be contradicting himself in supporting the “anti-ISIS” war, admitting in 2014 that “while we focus all of our attention on ISIS, the middle class in this country continues to collapse.” Despite saying that, he has taken a pro-military, and purportedly antiwar, position, declaring that “our guys are doing a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances” even as he called for the Afghanistan war to end while declaring that the US should have “the strongest military in the world” and should act militarily if “people threaten the United States…threaten our allies or commit genocide,” supposedly using military force only as the “last resort.” That sounds like blatant imperialism regardless of what “good” you can say about Sanders.
To add to this, Sanders said that we should support “those elements in China fighting for a democratic society” or the elements backed by the US government, argued that it is his “strong opinion that Bashar al-Assad has to go” since he is “a terrible dictator at war with his own people” meaning that the US should still support “opposition groups,” and told Bill O’Reilly that “the entire world has got to stand up to Putin. We’ve got to deal with sanctions, we’ve got to deal with freezing assets,” calling for isolating Putin and Russia politically and economically, and calling for “international corporations [that] have huge investments in Russia” to pull them out, to punish Russia. That means he would be right at home with the Russophobic rhetoric supporting US imperialism in the media, by the intelligence agencies, and by politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties.
At this point, it should be clear to any reasoned person that Sanders doesn’t oppose the imperialist agenda of the murderous empire. He is much more than a “big letdown,” but is a pimp for empire. There is much more to say about Sanders, with this article only scratching the surface. Anyone with sense should remember this as Sanders continues his milquetoast opposition to the Trump administration just like the rest of the Democratic Party, which is, as a result, showing its uselessness with each passing day of 2017.