Bernie Sanders on War & Peace
Democratic primry challenger; Socialist Senator; previously Representative (VT-At-Large)
I feared not only the immediate impact of the war, in terms of the death and destruction it would bring, but what it portended for the future. Would war, and more and more wars, be the norm in solving international conflicts in the future? The entire world was united against a small country with a weak army. Surely, I reasoned, there must be a way other than war to achieve our goals and get Iraq out of Kuwait.
Needless to say, that wasn't my view. Clinton, as a former secretary of state, had more hands-on experience in foreign policy than I did, that did not necessarily make her better qualified in that area. In foreign policy, judgment mattered, and on the most important foreign policy issues of our time, my judgment had been better than Hillary Clinton's.
I not only voted against the war in Iraq, I helped lead the opposition to what turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in American modern history. Hillary Clinton, as a U.S. senator from New York, had voted for the war.
Against a great deal of political pressure, I had voted against the first Gulf War. I was worried about the precedent that it was setting in using military force and believed that economic sanctions could have driven Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I believed that war was unnecessary.
Yes, I was willing to concede that Hillary Clinton had more foreign policy experience than I did. No, I did not believe that her record made her better prepared than me to conduct U.S. foreign and military policy.
CLINTON: We have to support Arab & Kurdish fighters. It is important to keep the Iraqi army on a path where they can take back territory. They're doing the fighting. We're doing the support and enabling. I want to continue, and that's what the president is doing.
SANDERS: Let me agree with much of what the secretary said, but where we differ is on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS. Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition. It gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen. I think our task is to make certain that our young men and women in the military do not get sucked into never-ending, perpetual warfare within the quagmire of Syria and Iraq. It must be Muslim troops on the ground that destroy ISIS, with the support of a coalition of major powers.
We checked and indeed it's true. Comparing three different rating systems--the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the CIA--all three agree that Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world. Those three rating agencies don't agree on the exact income levels for other countries, but the United States is rated, respectively, the 9th, 10th, and 12th wealthiest country in the world.
Our rating: Yes, Sanders is correct that the U.S. is funding the defense expenses of a country wealthier than the U.S.
SANDERS: I think we do have an honest disagreement: in the incredible quagmire of Syria, where it's hard to know who's fighting who and if you give arms to this guy, it may end up in ISIS' hand the next day. And we all know--the secretary is absolutely right--Assad is a butcher of his own people, a man using chemical weapons against his own people. But I think in terms of our priorities in the region, our first priority must be the destruction of ISIS. Our second priority must be getting rid of Assad, through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia. But the immediate task is to bring all interests together who want to destroy ISIS, including Russia, including Iran, including our Muslim allies to make that the major priority.
CLINTON: ISIS has developed [since 2014]. There are many other reasons why it has, but I don't think that the US has the bulk of the responsibility. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.
SANDERS: She said the bulk of the responsibility is not ours. Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of al-Qaeda and to ISIS.
Q: You're saying Secretary Clinton, who was then Senator Clinton, voted for the Iraq war. And are you making a direct link between her vote for that or and what's happening now for ISIS?
SANDERS: I don't think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the more than history of the United States.
SANDERS: What the president is trying to do is to thread a very difficult needle. He's trying to defeat ISIS. He's trying to get rid of this horrendous dictator, Assad. But at the same time, he doesn't want our troops stuck on the ground. And I agree with that. But I am maybe a little bit more conservative on this than he is. I worry that once we get sucked into this, once some of our troops get killed and once maybe a plane gets shot down, that we send more in and more in. But I will say this. ISIS must be defeated primarily by the Muslim nations in that region. America can't do it all. And we need an international coalition. Russia should be part of it--U.K., France, the entire world--supporting Muslim troops on the ground, fighting for the soul of Islam and defeating this terrible ISIS organization.
SANDERS: Well, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but I would say that Bush's decision to get us into a war in Iraq unilaterally was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the US. I think sensible foreign policy and military policies suggest that it cannot be the US alone which solves all of the world's [problems].
Q: In all circumstances?
SANDERS: I didn't say in all circumstances. But I think that there's a lesson to be learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, then what a great military power like the United States is about is trying to use diplomacy before war and working with other countries rather than doing it alone. At the end of the day, a military coalition is what will succeed, not the US doing it alone.
SANDERS: Well, yeah, I won't give you the exact number. Clearly, we do not want to see the Taliban gain more power and I think we need a certain nucleus of American troops present in Afghanistan to try to provide the training and support the Afghan Army needs.
CLINTON: I applaud the administration because they are engaged in talks right now with the Russians to make it clear that they've got to be part of the solution to try to end that bloody conflict. And, to provide safe zones so that people are not going to have to be flooding out of Syria at the rate they are.
SANDERS: Well, let's understand that when we talk about Syria, you're talking about a quagmire in a quagmire. You're talking about groups of people trying to overthrow Assad, other groups of people fighting ISIS. You're talking about people who are fighting ISIS using their guns to overthrow Assad, and vice versa. I will do everything that I can to make sure that the U.S. does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country. We should be putting together a coalition of Arab countries who should be leading the effort. We should be supportive, but I do not support American ground troops in Syria.
A: No. In 2002, as a congressman, Bernie spoke extensively about the dangers of going to war in Iraq, and warned about the destabilizing impact that a war would cause and how it might lead to a counter-insurgency like we've seen, first with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and now ISIS: He voted against the resolution that gave President George W. Bush permission to invade Iraq.
Q: How has the Iraq war impacted Bernie's position on dealing with ISIS?
A: In February 2015, in response to a war powers resolution--a formal request by President Barack Obama to authorize a military campaign against ISIS--Bernie said, "I voted against the war in Iraq because I feared very much the destabilizing impact it would have on the region. Today, I very much fear U.S. involvement in an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world."
Bernie views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat and, therefore, supports the recent nuclear deal that will reduce Iran's nuclear capabilities. While the agreement needs to be looked over with careful scrutiny, Bernie has hailed the Iran nuclear deal as a victory "for diplomacy over saber-rattling."
Bernie stands with the majority of Americans in supporting diplomacy as the best method to reach a solution to Iran's nuclear threat. He sees military action as the least favorable approach, noting it's "imperative that we do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution and avoid never-ending war in the Middle East." Even when dealing with hostile nations, diplomatic relations are important: at the height of the Cold War, the US signed treaties with the USSR.
SANDERS: ISIS is a brutal, awful, dangerous army and they have got to be defeated. But this is not just an American problem. This is an international crisis. This is a regional crisis. And I think the people of America are getting sick and tired of the world and the region, Saudi Arabia and the other countries saying "hey, we don't have to do anything about it. The American taxpayer, the American soldiers will do all the work for us." Most people don't know is that Saudi Arabia is the 4th largest defense spender in the world, more than the U.K., more than France. They have an army which is probably seven times larger than ISIS. They have a major air force.
Q: Sure. But they have shown no sign at all that they want to go in and neither have the Jordanians.
SANDERS: The question that we have got to ask is why are the nations in the region not more actively involved? Why don't they see this as a crisis situation?
SANDERS: No. It has to be an international effort.
Q: Would you support arming the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces?
SANDERS: Yes. I think we should arm them--even that's a difficult issue to make sure that the people that we arm today don't turn against us tomorrow. But I think providing arms for those people who we can trust and providing air support is in fact something we should be doing.
Q: Would it be confined to the Peshmerga? I know that you voted against arming and training Syrian rebels. So is there a difference to you between the Peshmerga and the Syrian rebels?
SANDERS: We have been at war for 12 years. We have spent trillions of dollars. We have 500,000 young men and women who have come up--come home with PTSD and TBI. What I do not want and I fear very much is the US getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year. That is my fear.
Somewhere in the Reagan archives, or wherever these things are kept, is a letter from the mayor of Burlington on this subject. There are also official proclamations from the Burlington Board of Alderman, made after long and emotional public hearings. "Stop the war against the people of Nicaragua! Use our tax dollars to feed the hungry and house the homeless. Stop killing the innocent people of Nicaragua."
This was an issue that many of us in the progressive movement felt very strongly about. Not only was the war against Nicaragua illegal and immoral, it was an outrageous waste of taxpayer money. As a mayor, I wanted more federal funds for affordable housing and economic development. I did not want to see taxpayer dollars going to the CIA for an appalling war.
From the very beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, I was of the belief that the US could push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait without having to resort to war. Diplomacy, economic boycott, isolation, financial leverage: we had many means for reversing the invasion. I was not only opposed to the war because of the potential destruction and loss of life, but also because I believe it IS possible for the major countries of this planet, and a virtually united world community, to resolve crises without carnage. If this matter could not be solved without massive bombing & killing thousands of people, then what crisis could ever be solved peacefully?
SANDERS: No. I voted also for the war in Afghanistan, because I believed that Osama bin Laden needed to be captured, needed to be brought to trial.
Q: Yes, sir, I apologize for that, yes, you did.
SANDERS: But I am very concerned about a lot of the war talk that I'm hearing from my Republican colleagues, who apparently have forgotten the cost of war and the errors made in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what I believe, very much, is that the most powerful military on Earth, the United States of America, that our government should do everything that we can to resolve international conflict in a way that does not require war.
Proponents support voting YES because:
Sen. LEVIN: "The amendment requires redeployment be completed within 9 months. At that point, funding for the war would be ended, with four narrow exceptions:"
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
Sen. McCAIN: "This year, after nearly 4 years of mismanaged war, our military has made significant gains under the so-called surge. Overall violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since . Improvised explosive device blasts now occur at a rate lower than at any point since September 2004.
"Al-Qaida's leadership knows which side is winning in Iraq. It may not be known in some parts of America and in this body, but al-Qaida knows. We are succeeding under the new strategy.
"Given these realities, some proponents of precipitous withdrawal from Iraq have shifted their focus. While conceding, finally, that there have been dramatic security gains, they have begun seizing on the lackluster performance of the Iraqi Government to insist that we should abandon the successful strategy and withdraw U.S. forces. This would be a terrible mistake."
Proponents support voting YES because:
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Some of our colleagues thought the Sense of the Senate may have opened the door to some kind of military action against Iran [so we removed some text]. That is not our intention. In fact, our intention is to increase the economic pressure on Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps so that we will never have to consider the use of the military to stop them from what they are doing to kill our soldiers.
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
Sen. BIDEN. I will oppose the Kyl-Lieberman amendment for one simple reason: this administration cannot be trusted. I am very concerned about the evidence that suggests that Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities inside Iraq. Arguably, if we had a different President who abided by the meaning and intent of laws we pass, I might support this amendment. I fear, however, that this President might use the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity as a pretext to use force against Iran as he sees fit. [The same was done with the Senate resolution on Iraq in 2002]. Given this President's actions and misuse of authority, I cannot support the amendment.
Proponents recommend voting YES because:
Our troops are caught in the midst of a civil war. The administration has begun to escalate this war with 21,000 more troops. This idea is not a new one. During this war, four previous surges have all failed. It is time for a different direction. It is time for a drawdown of our troops.
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
This resolution calls for imposing an artificial timeline to withdraw our troops from Iraq, regardless of the conditions on the ground or the consequences of defeat; a defeat that will surely be added to what is unfortunately a growing list of American humiliations. This legislation would hobble American commanders in the field and substantially endanger America's strategic objective of a unified federal democratic Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself and be an ally in the war against Islamic fascism. The unintended consequence of this resolution is to bring to reality Osama bin Laden's vision for Iraq; that after 4 years of fighting in Iraq the US Congress loses its will to fight. If we leave Iraq before the job is done, as surely as night follows day, the terrorists will follow us home. Osama bin Laden has openly said: America does not have the stomach to stay in the fight. He is a fanatic. He is an Islamic fascist. He is determined to destroy us and our way of life.
Title: Condemning bigotry and violence against Sikh Americans in the wake of terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.
Summary: Declares that, in the quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, including Sikh-Americans, should be protected.
"America's reputation internationally has been severely damaged and critical military, diplomatic, and intelligence resources have been diverted from the war in Afghanistan--a war I supported, and a country this administration has increasingly neglected. And now, after so many errors, so many lives, and so much damage, this administration is again raising the prospect of yet another war in the Middle East--this time a war with Iran.
"I fear this administration has learned nothing from the colossal error, colossal misjudgment in the invasion of Iraq. Let me be clear: I am gravely concerned about Iran's activities in the region and its nuclear agenda. But any offensive action against Iran must be approved by Congress.
"Recent statements by this administration give me concern that this administration is considering just this--an offensive military action against Iran without the consent of Congress. Both Pres. Bush and Vice Pres. Cheney have made public remarks about Iran that suggest an administration readying for military aggression. We know Cheney's historic views on fundamental checks and balances in our constitution. They are disturbing."
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Senate Votes (analysis)
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